Presbyterian Church in America Overtakes Christian Reformed Church to Become America’s Largest Evangelical Reformed Body

URNS – For the first time in at least half a century, the Christian Reformed Church is no longer America’s largest evangelical Reformed denomination. According to 1998 official statistics, the Presbyterian Church in America has reached a total of 283,381 members compared to the CRC’s total of 279,029.

The CRC has lost almost twelve percent of its members over the last six years, largely due to controversies surrounding the CRC’s decision to allow the ordination of women and conflicts on other matters such as theistic evolution. During the same period, PCA membership has increased over 22 percent.

Unlike most of the newer conservative Presbyterian denominations, the PCA grew very rapidly. Beginning with approximately 30,000 members, the denomination’s General Assembly in June of this year reported a membership of 283,381 members in 1171 churches. The Christian Reformed Church’s 1998 yearbook reports a membership of 279,029 members in 972 churches and mission works, down from a high of 316,415 members and 981 churches in 1992.

While the CRC has lost 37,386 members totaling 11.8% of its membership in the last six years, the PCA has experienced dramatic growth during the same period, adding 51,809 members for a 22.3% growth since its 1992 report of 231,572 members.

Dr. Paul Gilchrist, retiring PCA stated clerk and member of the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies, noted that early PCA growth was largely through secessions from the Presbyterian Church (US), the southern Presbyterian denomination from which the PCA seceded in 1973 and which merged with the northern Presbyterians in 1983 to form the Presbyterian Church (USA) and from 1983 to 1990 allowed churches to leave with their property.

“About 110 to 120 churches did come in during that period of time,” said Gilchrist. “We have had two or three interesting PC(USA) congregations come with their property more recently, permitted by their presbyteries.”

However, Gilchrist said recent PCA growth was largely through church planting and local congregational outreach rather than by transfers of entire churches from other denominations. PC(USA) ministers are now required to agree with the ordination of women, which the PCA opposes and led to the denomination breaking ties with the CRC. “Women in office is why [withdrawing PC(USA) churches] are often more comfortable in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church,” said Gilchrist.

Gilchrist noted that the PCA has increased its number of mission churches by 30% since 1993 and currently has 185 congregations in various stages of church planting. “The picture I have for the last ten or more years is an aggressive church planting program on the part of the Mission to North America committee; most of the growth since that time has been the aggressive planting of churches with basic evangelism, going out to people who are unchurched and starting basically from scratch,” said Gilchrist. “Not all of those mission churches will become particular churches; in some cases they will peter out, not many will, but a handful will become a church and decide as they develop that they don’t want to become PCA.”

Another key to PCA growth cited by Gilchrist is the work of Reformed University Ministries, a campus evangelism program currently working with US students at 38 universities and international students at five US universities.

Gilchrist also noted that the PCA’s foreign mission program is one of the largest in American evangelicalism, counting 523 full-time career missionaries sent out by the PCA to between 60 and 65 countries and an additional 680 full-time PCA missionaries sent out under other mission boards with the support of local PCA churches.

Gilchrist said PCA growth came less from attention to church planting methods than to implementation of Reformed principles.

“If there is any credit it has to go to the Lord, the Holy Spirit empowering our churches to present the gospel in a gracious and loving way,” said Gilchrist. “Some people water down the gospel in order to get people to accept the Lord. We’re not willing to do that.”

“One of the things we were celebrating in our 25th anniversary in St. Louis is that we are totally committed to be true to the Scriptures, true to the Reformed faith, and obedient to the Great Commission,” said Gilchrist. “I think the Lord has prospered us as we seek to serve Him.”

Unlike the CRC, whose membership is largely of Dutch ethnic background and centered in Dutch ethnic communities and other areas with large Dutch immigrations, Gilchrist said that three-quarters of the PCA’s membership is in the southeast quadrant of the United States While the PCA has over 150 ethnic Korean churches and is actively expanding in the western states and among other ethnic groups, the PCA membership is still centered in the states where the former southern Presbyterian denomination from which it seceded was strongest.

Darrell Todd Maurina Press Officer



North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council Completes Suspension of Christian Reformed Church

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. URNS – The Christian Reformed Church has finally been suspended from the fellowship of conservative Reformed denominations which it helped to start two decades ago.

Hosted this year in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, by the German-heritage Reformed Church in the United States, the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council met in foreign missions and home missions consultations on November 16 and 17, and in full session on November 17 and 18. The first item of business on the full session agenda was the announcement of votes by member denominations on last year’s proposal to suspend the CRC’s membership because of its 1995 decision to allow the ordination of women ministers, elders, and evangelists.

Under NAPARC rules, a vote to suspend a member denomination requires ratification by two-thirds of the national governing bodies of the member denominations. Of the seven NAPARC member denominations, only the Christian Reformed synod voted against suspending the CRC; the general assembly of the Korean American Presbyterian Church failed to vote on the proposal. All other member denominations, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Church in America, Reformed Church in the United States, and Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America, voted to suspend the CRC.

NAPARC has never before suspended a member denomination and therefore has no history of how to deal with suspended members. The rules state only that suspended members may send delegates to NAPARC and that they may not vote.

The Interim Committee proposed that “member churches and/or their respective interchurch relations committees discuss and draw up concrete proposals as to how NAPARC can fulfill its ‘purpose and function’ (d. Constitution, Section 3), for discussion at the NAPARC 1999 meeting and that these proposals be sent to the secretary by the six-week deadline so that they can be distributed for the meeting.”

The newly-elected stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church in America suggested that NAPARC’s purpose could include discussing how the member denominations could or should address pressing social issues in the North American context. “We’re all concerned about the inroads of the contemporary worship movement in the evangelical churches, we’re all concerned about the homosexual lifestyle, but what are we doing pastorally to deal with that?” asked Dr. L. Roy Taylor, noting that one of the PCA’s large churches has an associate pastor dealing specifically with pastoral ministry to homosexuals.

The former OPC stated clerk reminded delegates that not all member denominations dealt with contemporary issues in the same way, and moved to have each denomination submit its study papers on various issues to NAPARC, along with a statement about the authoritative weight which the study papers carry within the respective denominations.

Darrell Todd Maurina, Press Officer