Thursday, July 8, 2010

PCA Strategic Plan - A Tale of Two Charts

Last week the General Assembly passed most of the Strategic Plan as proposed by the Cooperative Ministries Committee (here).  Some of the elements were modified by the Committee of Commissioners on Administration but for the most part the entire thing passed. 

Leading up the floor debate was a question and answer seminar led by Dr. Bryan Chapell and others on the Cooperative Ministries Committee.  I was not able to attend as my committee (Overtures) was called off the floor of the assembly for its own business and when we were finished I was too tired for another meeting. 

Apparently the meeting was a re-hash of the video presentation available at the previous link. The case was made rather strenuously that the PCA is losing its young people. Anecdotal evidence was given along with a chart showing that the number of men preparing for ministry dropped rather precipitously from 599 candidates in 2004 to just 297 in 2008.   Furthermore the case for this drop had to do with 'doctrinal debates' in our denomination that left young men disinterested in studying for the ministry.  Below is a chart showing that drop (double click to enlarge).
Seems like a compelling case that something must be done (i.e. enact the Strategic Plan). However, what's very curious is that the most recent data from calendar year 2009 was available (at the CE&P bookstore) but not used.  If you look at the chart below you will see a remarkable recovery in the numbers of ministerial candidates from 2008 to 2009 (double click to enlarge). 
I cannot explain why the most recent numbers were not used. Perhaps Dr. Chapell did not have time to update his presentation before this meeting. But surely someone (Dr. Taylor???) knew that the figures from 2004 - 2008 didn't tell the whole story.

What might account for this downward trend and subsequent 'recovery'? It is possible that there might have been a legitimate decline in ministerial candidates since 2004 with a significant gain from 2008 to 2009. But another solution is also possible: What if in 2004 and again in 2009 relatively high numbers of presbyteries reported data while in the years 2005 - 2008 less than 50% of presbyteries submitted data? That would just as easily explain the decline as well as the recovery. My point is this: numbers can be used and abused.

I strongly suspect that the number of presbyteries submitting annual data on candidates and licentiates is similar to my findings about the number of churches that are submitting annual data (43.5 % in 2008 and 48% in 2009). Thus, we should take talk about 'trends' with a lot of salt.

I wish that our denomination's Stated Clerk would make public the PCA statistics in a 'Read Only' electronic format so that statistics could be independently analyzed.  We have a host of people in the PCA with expertise in the realm of statistics that could 'mine' the raw data and factor in margins of error.  Until such time I would caution everyone NOT to believe everything they hear about denominational growth or shrinkage. 

Stay tuned for another post on numbers.


Martin said...

Great info David!

I wish the data were available in read only online as well. Other denominations do it.

Nevertheless, do you know if the 2009 data available for purchase online? I'll have to check the PCA online bookstore...


M. Jay Bennett said...

Thanks Dave. This is good to know. Your theory re: percentage of presbyteries reporting is certainly plausible.

Dave Sarafolean said...


I got my copy of the 2010 yearbook at GA (it was in the bookstore). I'm sure that you can call the PCA bookstore and order your own. My clerk of presbytery received his in the mail today. I wouldn't wait too long as they sold out of the 2009 yearbook.

Dave Sarafolean said...


Thanks for your note. I scoured the statistics and cannot find how many presbyteries reported data in 2009 (there isn't a column indicating date information was last reported as there is for churches). My clerk of presbytery said that he is not required to fill out a form for presbytery statistics. He also indicated that the process for reporting candidates and licentiates was not very precise.

chris hutchinson said...


I noticed this increase in candidates while Wed night at GA and pointed it out to Drs. Chappel and Taylor as well as Bill Lyle Thursday morning. None of them were aware of the new number, and when I suggested it might have to do with economy, Dr. Chappel said that there was no evidence for that commonly held belief. But the CMC were charged to study the data through 2008, not 2009.

At the same time, the 2009 numbers say my presbytery has 0 candidates when I know we have at least 15. Mississippi Presbytery with 60 some churches, also listed 0 candidates, so again, the whole thing is a bit suspect when presbyteries are not reporting as they are supposed to.

But bottom line, this increase is very good news for the PCA and all sides should be happy about it.