Growing pains: Adding 100 new congregations is changing the Evangelical Presbyterian Church

For a denomination to expand by 100 congregations in just three years bucks the trend of most North American mainline denominations that are universally in decline.

Some of that growth is the result of church planting, but the vast majority is the result of congregations transferring into the EPC from the larger Presbyterian Church (USA).

According to the report of Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah, since December 2008 the EPC grew from 247 to 287 congregations. Three congregations were dissolved, nine were dismissed, 17 were received into two transitional presbyteries, 29 were received into geographic presbyteries, and six mission churches were planted. The resulting membership numbers rise from 104,315 at the close of 2008 to 113,762 at year-end 2009.

Congregations “new” to the EPC (listed alphabetically by presbytery of receipt) include:

Central South Presbytery
· Faith Presbyterian Church, Germantown, Tenn. (received August 2009 from PCUSA)
· River Community South Church, Gonzales, La. (received January 2010 from NWEPC)
· Covenant Presbyterian Church, Monroe, La. (received January 2010 from PCUSA)
· Munford Presbyterian Church, Munford, Tenn. (received April 2010 as a transitional member)
· Trinity Presbyterian Church, Texarkana, Texas (received April 2010 as a transitional member)

East Presbytery
· Covenant Presbyterian Church, Ligonier, Pa. (received February 2010 from PCUSA)
· Chippewa EPC, Beaver Falls, Pa. (received April 2010 from NWEPC)
· Memorial Park EPC, Allison Park, Pa. (received April 2010 from NWEPC)
· North Point EPC (mission church), Danvers, Mass. (constituted April 2010)

Florida Presbytery
· Lucaya Presbyterian Church, Freeport, Bahamas (received June 2010 from Church of Scotland)
· St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, Freeport, Bahamas (received June 2010 from Church of Scotland)

· Mid-America Presbytery

· Bethel Presbyterian Church, Bethel, Minn. (received October 2009 from PCUSA)
· Grace Hill Church (mission church), Springfield, Mass. (constituted October 2009)
· First Presbyterian Church of Aurora, Aurora, Ill. (received April 2010 from PCUSA)

Mid-Atlantic Presbytery
· Waterbrook Community Church (mission church), North Myrtle Beach, S.C. (constituted September 2009)
· Victoria Presbyterian Church (mission church), Victoria, Va. (constituted October 2009)

Midwest Presbytery
· Attica-Williamsport Presbyterian Church, Attica, Ind. (received May 2010 from NWEPC)
· First Presbyterian Church, Deshler, Ohio (received February 2010 as a transitional member)

Southeast Presbytery
· Greenbriar Presbyterian Church, Manchester, Ky. (received February 2010 from PCUSA)

West Presbytery
· Fowler Presbyterian Church, Fowler, Calif. (received October 2009 from PCUSA)
· First Presbyterian Church, Fresno, Calif. (received October 2009 from PCUSA)
· Trinity Presbyterian Church, Clovis, Calif. (received October 2009 from PCUSA)
· First Presbyterian Church, Roseville, Calif. (received from NWEPC, October 2009)
· Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church, Fair Oaks, Calif. (received from NWEPC, October 2009)
· Springhill Community Church, Belgrade, Mont. (received as transitional member February 2010 from PCUSA).
· Sequim Community Church, Sequim, Wash. (received as transitional member April 2010 from PCUSA)
· First Presbyterian Church of Bakersfield, Bakersfield, Calif. (received as a transitional member May 2010)
· First Presbyterian Church, Jacksonville, Ore. (received as a transitional member June 2010 from PCUSA)

New Wineskins/EPC Transitional Presbytery
· Zion Presbyterian Church, Niagara Falls, N.Y. (received October 2009 from PCUSA)
· First Presbyterian Church of Gridley, Gridley, Calif. (received December 2009 from PCUSA)

National Transitional Presbytery
· First Presbyterian Church, Tallassee, Ala. (received Feb. 2010 from PCUSA)
· Scotland Presbyterian Church, Junction City, Ark. (received March 2010 from PCUSA)

During his oral report to the commissioners of the 30th GA of the EPC meeting at Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church in Englewood, Colo., Jeremiah said, “When I took this position three years ago, there were 185 congregations in the EPC. Now there are 287. In 2007, there were 17 people on your General Assembly staff. There are 17 people on the staff today.”

He twice repeated that although stretched, the level of service provided by the GA staff would not diminish.

As the timeline on the New Wineskins transitional presbytery nears its terminus in June 2012, it is expected that the rate of dismissals directly into EPC geographic presbyteries will rise. As the EPC has adapted to the influx of congregations, accommodations have been made to expedite receipt of churches without compromising the essential standards that distinguish the EPC.

However, several presbyteries now have so many congregations that they are feeling the need to birth new presbyteries. The Presbytery of the West is talking about carving out a Pacific region presbytery that would include the states of Washington, Oregon and California. Two presbyteries are discussing the possibility of grafting off their respective western and eastern edges to form a new presbytery. And the Presbytery of the Mid-America has outlined very specific plans to create a presbytery of Great Lakes going so far as to list the churches that would compromise the new presbytery.

In that context, the assembly approved a committee on administration suggestion that the moderator appoint a study group to meet through June 2012 to study potential changes of presbytery boundaries and/or the creation of new presbyteries. The Study Group will be made up of one representative from each presbytery, including the New Wineskins/EPC Transitional Presbytery. The study group will report and make any recommendations it deems appropriate to both the 31st and 32nd General Assemblies.

The rationale offered to the commissioners included that “the EPC has added about 100 churches since 2007, significantly changing the makeup of current presbyteries. Continued numerical increase is possible over the next two years.

The extent of these demographic changes and the end of the transitional membership period in 2012 necessitates a representative group considering how best to configure presbytery boundaries that reflect the EPC’s new reality.”

The PCUSA General Assembly commissioners will have a similar proposal before them next week as they consider the request of COGA that the moderator appoint a commission with the full powers of the GA to re-district presbyteries in the PCUSA. Where the EPC needs to multiply the number of presbyteries, the PCUSA needs to reduce its number as presbyteries in that denomination are strained by decreasing membership.