The General Assembly Council at its meeting in February voted to recommend to the General Assembly a church wide commitment to Grow God's Church Deep and Wide - to grow in numbers, in discipleship and in diversity. The background to this recommendation begins with this: "The persistent decline in membership of the Presbyterian Church (USA) over the past forty years is a concern to the church at large and to the General Assembly Council. While membership has declined, many congregations and PCUSA ministries are flourishing. As Christians, we are called to ... make disciples of all peoples. ... Rather than give in to a climate of decline, the General Assembly Council believes that a more faithful stance is to take affirmative steps that renew our commitment to advance Christ's gospel in word and deed in our churches, our communities, and throughout the world."
Imagine how exciting it would be if we join together - sessions and congregations, synods, presbyteries, all agencies, entities and networks of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to such a commitment. (Read the full text of the recommendation.)
One exciting place where the church is growing deep and wide is Elmwood Presbyterian Church in East Orange, New Jersey. Seeing it in person, even if just for the glimpse of an afternoon as I had the good fortune to do recently, is inspiring and uplifting. Under Rev. Robert Burkins, Sr.'s leadership and vision, Elmwood has grown to be a congregation of 1400 in three church buildings and the Harambee Community Development Ministry in a fourth location. The most recent of the three church locations began last year as Elmwood combined with a small congregation in an old church building on a busy intersection in Newark. Attendance has grown from a small number to over 100 in a year's time. A large sign that displays lighted messages and even video-like images of the worship inside catches attention and draws people in from the neighborhood. The original church building in East Orange fills each Sunday, while another part of the congregation is worshiping for the time being in a church building a few miles away. The outreach ministry, Harambee Community Development Ministry, is led by Dr. Curtis A. Jones. Truly an "outreach" ministry, Harambee includes a day care center for young children in the community and a women's empowerment ministry in which "women are challenged to champion their own success and to realize self-sufficiency, and thus to become role models for children, other women in their community and other persons whose livelihood is currently stymied by systemic forces." The Music and Video Production Academy is equipped with professionals, studios and equipment for recording and production, and draws at-risk and other urban youth in to learn video, audio, online and broadcast skills to prepare them for "non-traditional and entrepreneurial professional options . . . [and] an escape route from the oft-captivating and imprisoning lure of violence, drugs, and acceptance of mediocrity so often plaguing the inner cities of the Harambee Super-Village of greater Newark, East & West Orange." Elmwood and its ministries emphasize sustainable mission development and community transforming - bringing the transforming power of the Gospel to life by addressing needs and opportunities of the community, in ways that are financially and spiritually sustainable. It's no wonder that many congregations come to see and to learn first-hand from this inspiring and growing ministry.
Read a related feature by Toya Richards Hill of the Presbyterian News Service.