Monday, June 14, 2010

PCA Strategic Plan, II

It was once said, "There are lies, there are damned lies, and there are statistics."  The point is obvious: statistical data can be twisted and manipulated to prove just about anything.  Last year the stated clerk of the PCA reported that for the first time in our history, the PCA lost more members than it gained.  During the last year the Cooperative Ministries Committee has used that data point to craft their strategic plan that they believe will return the PCA to a steady rate of growth.

A summary of the strategic plan was presented at our most recent meeting of presbytery.  Some of the numbers presented looked suspicious to me.  Last week on my day off, I spent some time with our clerk of presbytery and borrowed his copy of the 2008 statistics of the PCA.  While researching one question I stumbled across something else that leads me to make this assertion: The most recent data published on the PCA is not worth the paper it is printed on.  Furthermore, I challenge the premise that the PCA shrank last year for the first time in its history.  And if it cannot be proven that the PCA is shrinking one wonders if any sort of strategic plan is needed.   

Why would I challenge that premise?  What did I discover when I reviewed the 2008 PCA statistics?  I found that less than 45% of all PCA churches and missions submitted statistical reports for the year ending in 2008.  Put differently, nearly 60% of PCA churches did not not submit current data for that same time period.  The Stated Clerk's office, following protocol, simply lists the last data reported (see the qualifier on the last page of the published statistics).  NOTE: I am not alleging that anyone has twisted the PCA statistics as much as they have not interpreted them accurately.

How outdated are the numbers?  There are a number of churches who have not reported data for one or two years.  However, one would be surprised to see how many churches have not submitted data since calendar year 2000, or 1997, or 1991, or 1987.  There is even one church that has not submitted updated information since 1977.   Unfortunately there are congregations with multiple pastors in brand new buildings that have never submitted statistics.  Similarly, there are mission works that have particularized who have not updated their data since their inception. 

Below is a chart that I created to show each presbytery and the percentage of churches and missions that submitted data in 2008.  Each presbytery is listed in the left column.  The next column is the number of churches and missions in that presbytery.  The third column is the number of churches that submitted data for calendar year 2008.  Finally there is a column revealing the percentage of churches in that presbytery who supplied current statistics.  At the bottom is a summary of the data.  Note: I created this file in Excel and imported it here.  I wrestled with the formatting for quite some time and still can't get the columns straight. 

Presbytery                 # Churches             # Church / Missions          % Reporting
                                     / Missions                that reported data
                                                                          in 2008
Ascension                     19                                 11                                        57.89%
Blue Ridge                     16                                  9                                        56.25%
Calvary                           44                                19                                        43.18%
Central Carolina            37                                23                                        62.16%
Central Florida              31                                10                                        32.26%
Central Georgia             17                                13                                        76.47%
Chesapeake                   31                                21                                        67.74%
Chicago Metro              14                                 6                                         42.86%
Covenant                       51                               23                                         45.10%
Eastern Canada             10                                 3                                         30.00%
Eastern Carolina            23                              11                                          47.83%
Evangel                          39                               20                                          51.28%
Fellowship                     15                              12                                           80.00%
Georgia Foothills          16                              10                                           62.50%
Grace                              40                              11                                            27.50%
Great Lakes                   24                              16                                            66.67%
Gulf Coast                     27                              13                                            48.15%
Gulfstream                     11                               5                                             45.45%
Heartland                        9                                3                                             33.33%
Heritage                         19                             11                                             57.89%
Houston Metro              16                             8                                              50.00%
Illiana                             12                               3                                               25.00%
Iowa                               11                               9                                               81.82%
James River                   30                             18                                               60.00%
Korean Capital              25                              1                                                  4.00%
Korean Central             24                               2                                                  8.33%
Korean Eastern            29                               1                                                  3.45%
Korean Northwest      19                                0                                                 0.00%
Korean Southeast       32                               3                                                  9.38%
Korean Southern         18                               0                                                  0.00%
Korean Southwest      28                               1                                                  3.57%
Louisiana                       8                                1                                                12.50%
Metro Atlanta             35                               15                                               42.86%
Metro New York         36                                 7                                               19.44%
Mississippi Valley      48                               20                                               41.67%
Missouri                       24                               11                                               45.83%
Nashville                      19                                 6                                                31.58%
New Jersey                  13                                 8                                                61.54%
New River                    12                                 4                                                33.33%
New York State           12                                 8                                                66.67%
North Florida               16                               11                                                68.75%
North Texas                 38                               10                                                26.32%
Northern Calif.             24                               14                                                58.33%
Northern Illinois            8                                 6                                                75.00%
New England               10                                 8                                                80.00%
Northwest Georgia     16                                 7                                                 43.75%
Ohio Valley                  24                               15                                                 62.50%
Pacific                           17                                 4                                                 23.53%
Pacific Northwest       25                               15                                                 60.00%
Palmetto                       45                               24                                                 53.33%
Philadelphia                19                                  5                                                 26.32%
Phil. Metro West       11                                  5                                                  45.45%
Piedmont Triad          12                                  4                                                  33.33%
Pittsburgh                  21                                12                                                  57.14%
Platte Valley                 9                                  5                                                  55.56%
Potomac                      31                               27                                                   87.10%
Rocky Mountain       27                                10                                                  37.04%
Savannah River         23                               11                                                   47.83%
Siouxlands                 15                                 7                                                    46.67%
South Coast              25                                 7                                                    28.00%
South Florida            24                                 8                                                    33.33%
South Texas              19                               13                                                    68.42%
Southeast Alabama  32                              12                                                     37.50%
Southeast Louisiana 10                               6                                                     60.00%
Southern New England 20                          6                                                     30.00%
Southwest Presbytery 25                          12                                                     48.00%
Southwest Florida       28                           13                                                     46.43%
Suncoast Florida          11                            4                                                     36.36%
Susquehanna                20                         17                                                      85.00%
Tennessee Valley         33                         19                                                      57.58%
Warrior                           24                         10                                                      41.67%
Western Canada           11                           5                                                      45.45%
Western Carolina          32                         15                                                     46.88%
Westminster                  24                          18                                                     75.00%
Wisconsin                       6                            4                                                     66.67%
Totals                1679                745                                      44.37% (745/1679)

Thus, for the year ending 2008 barely 40% of our churches reported statistical data.  Is this enough information to overhaul our denomination?  Hardly.  The fact of the matter is this: no one knows whether the PCA is shrinking, staying the same or actually growing.

Think of it this way: Do you know of any political candidate who concedes an election based on 44% of the vote being tabulated?  Do you know of any CEO who seeks to restructure his corporation based on an annual report with only 44% of his business units reporting their activity for the fiscal year?  Do you know of a cancer patient who is happy his doctor tells him that he is 44% certain that the cancer is in remission?   Do you know of any heart patient who agrees to open-heart surgery based on the cardiologist's 40% certainty that he needs a quadruple by-pass?  Yet, The Cooperative Ministries Committee is proposing this very thing.  My assertion is this: the Cooperative Ministries Committee has neither correctly diagnosed what is wrong in the PCA nor have they prescribed the correct cure (indeed, the 'cure' is probably worse than the illness). 

When we view the data from this perspective it is easy to see that the "S" Graph featured so prominently in the Strategic Plan videos is suspect (kind of reminds me of a certain graph in the shape of a hockey stick that is now being questioned in many quarters, but I digress). 

Until we get more complete data on the state of the PCA the calls for its demise are premature.  Seems to me that we need a task force to ascertain why connectionalism seems to running at such a low ebb in the PCA.


Wes White said...


I think this is one of the best posts I've seen on the strategic plan. Very good work. Wes

Martin said...

Thank you!

This is the kind of data analysis that properly informs any planning process. Thanks for doing the hard digging. Decisions need to be based on facts, not anecdotal evidence.

Wes White said...

Dave, did you notice that we had a net gain of 5,556 last year? I was kind of surprised based on all that I have heard.

chris hutchinson said...


Thanks for taking the time to assemble this. Three comments:

1) From your analysis, does it appear that the churches who do not turn in their stat forms are the ones least likely to be growing anyway, i.e. small rural churches on a possible downturn? Or is there no real way to tell?

2) Here is an idea: instead of predicating a church's vote at GA on their giving to the AC, how about requiring that they turn in their stats before given a vote? If that is not seriously considered, then it would help affirm my suspicions that the whole SP thing is about money for the AC.

3) More concerning to me in the analysis Martin did is the fact that our membership is now way higher than our attendance. To me, a sign of a healthy growing church is one where the attendance is somewhat higher than the membership because it attracting inquirers; and on the other side, it means the church is practicing discipline on non-attenders. This should be our real concern.

Chris Hutchinson
Blacksburg, VA

Dave Sarafolean said...


Just got in last night from a few days away. Drove 800 miles yesterday so I apologize for being a bit fried.

1) Churches that don't file statistics - it is hard to find a pattern. Yes it is true that small, rural churches are stable and don't change much from year to year. So they might not always file annual reports. Additionally, those works often lack administrative help. But you would be surprised at the number of suburban works that do not file statistics. So, I cannot detect a pattern.

2) Linking GA voting to filing statistics - great idea. I don't know if it would fly. That said, the CMC proposal to 'tax' churches based on their size would lead to LESS churches filing annual statistics.

3) Membership higher than attendance. I agree that it would be better to have those figures reversed. I attribute Martin's findings that membership exceeds attendance to lazy Sessions who are not maintaining their membership rolls very well.

One other note: Martin's analysis is very helpful. However, I suspect that it is subject to the same flaw I noted in this blog post. If, only 44% of our churches are in the habit of filing annual statistics then can any year's data be all that solid?

Dave Sarafolean said...


One other comment about #1. I thought that I'd see a pattern of reporting statistics based on the temperament of each presbytery.

For instance, I initially expected to find confessional presbyteries like Ascension with higher levels of compliance than broadly evangelical presbyteries like Northern California. However, both came in at the same level of compliance (about 58%).

chris hutchinson said...


Thanks for the replies. My apologies also on a late reply. All that makes sense. I will say that one group of presbyteries does stand out by their low compliance, of course, and that is the Korean presbyteries. They are not really part of the PCA, and the plan to integrate them has not worked out well so far.

But then, I think we may have brought our presbytery's stats down this year by being late! Oops!