“The Pulse” – Interdenominational Effort to Reverse Aging Church Demographics

Four of the nation’s largest mainline denominations have joined together in an effort to reverse the aging demographics of their congregation and clergy. The “Pastoral Leadership Effort (PLSE)” is a three-year project designed to encourage congregations and campus ministries to recruit charismatic youth for future pastoral leadership in the Presbyterian Church USA, Episcopal Church, United Methodist Church and the Episcopal Church USA.

The PLSE, pronounced “Pulse,” is spearheaded by the Atlanta-based Fund for Theological Education, Inc. PLSE provides resource kits designed to equip congregations to establish a “revitalized culture of the call to pastoral ministry,” for young people interested in becoming the “heartbeat of the church.”

According to the Rev. David Fuquay, a United Methodist pastor working with the Fund for Theological Education, “Pulse” looks particularly at “the issues of globalization and the rapidly changing world through technology” in highlighting the many challenges currently facing the church.

Many other liberal churches outside of these four mainline denominations have reported a rapidly decreasing congregation; much of the losses coming from the youth.

The United Methodist Church, the largest among the four partners, has an average age demographic of 57 years. Only 4.7 percent of the church members are younger than 18, while 80.1 percent are older than 40. Fewer than 10 percent of the clergy are younger than 39.

Therefore, “Pulse,” which targets college, high school and younger students for ministry, would provide a fresh opportunity for future growth in the denominations.

"The PLSE project is particularly focused on exceptional young people," Fuquay said, "who typically are pushed toward being engineers or doctors or lawyers. Ministry is not necessarily seen as on par with those professions, and that's a real problem."

These students will be able to integrate the technological advances into the ministry, allowing for a more rapid development of the church.

"We're seeing that young people are going to make a difference in the world with us or without us," said Fuquay. "They have unique gifts our church needs, but we won't be able to receive those gifts if we don't invite them and create that space for them."

The way “Pulse” works, is through the cumulative efforts of congregations and ministries. These groups nominate young candidates for leadership, whom PLSE adds to its database. The organization then track these future leaders for educational preparation, and help them connect with appropriate resources and support. PLSE also provides congregational mentors and access to internship opportunities for the young future leaders. Additionally, each denomination will maintain contact with its own candidates to support their growth.

"We are already seeing the positive results of such efforts as EXPLORATION events, which encourage youth and young adults to consider the call to ordained ministry and Student Forum, which develops leadership skills among our college students," said the Rev. Hal Hartley, the board's director of student ministries, vocation and enlistment.

"PLSE will directly involve congregations in calling forth young leadership for the church and will connect these gifted young people in a seamless web of support from their youth group, through college, and on into seminary," he added.

PLSE is funded by a $2 million grant from the Lilly Endowment. Each of the denominations also contributes funds for the project.

For more information on “Pulse,” please visit: www.thePLSE.org