The Presbyterian Church in America adopted a new plan to help the denomination deal with slowed growth and a changing culture.
Delegates who convened for the PCA's General Assembly in Nashville voted Thursday to approve the "Strategic Plan."
The plan consists of: establishing places for civil conversations to allow for theological reflection as an evangelical confessional church in the 21st century; providing more seats at the table as a means of increasing youth involvement and creating routes for more ethnic minorities as well as women to be heard; a funding plan to help support denominational services; and participating in God's global mission.
Newly released statistics show that PCA's membership increased by more than 5,500 to 346,408 in 2009 and the number of churches increased by 47. At the same time, however, the denomination saw fewer professions of faith, fewer Sunday school attendees, and less monetary contributions.
For a number of years, the PCA was one of the fastest growing denominations in America along with the Assemblies of God, PCA Stated Clerk Dr. Roy Taylor noted earlier. Over the last several years, however, growth has slowed and part of it is that the denomination is aging, he said.
Sam Wheatley, senior pastor of New Song Presbyterian Church in Salt Lake City, Utah, commented, "The plan is trying to break a logjam to help us move forward as a denomination," as reported by byFaith magazine, a publication of the PCA.
"One of our values as a denomination is having a view from 20,000 feet instead of 10 feet, as most pastors do day to day," he added.
The Strategic Plan specifically addresses challenges the denomination faces externally with a changing culture, global challenges, as well as internal ones.
The conservative denomination was founded on a commitment to the inerrancy of Scripture as it fought against a growing liberalism in another Presbyterian group. But over the last 30 years, there has been less unity and more debates around what it means to be true to the Reformed faith, the plan points out.
When the plan was released earlier this year by the PCA Administrative Committee, it was met with some criticism.
Some were opposed to requiring voting members to pay an annual fee to the committee, which oversees the operations of the General Assembly. Nevertheless, the funding provision was approved this week.
Clarifying the "civil conversations" provision, Taylor stressed that it does not signify forums where people can "spout off heresy with impunity." Rather, it simply allows for charitable conversations in which difficult subjects and new ideas can be discussed without a vote.
In other business, PCA General Assembly approved an overture dealing with the possible repeal of the U.S. military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. The overture directs the stated clerk's office to petition President Obama and other federal officials for "the protection and meaningful continuance of the free exercise of religion within the armed forces of the United States."
"It is of utmost importance that you take all necessary measures to insure that our chaplains are free, without censure, to preach, teach, and practice in accordance with the beliefs of this denomination," the petition states.
The U.S. House voted in May to repeal "don't ask, don't tell," which bars gays from serving openly in the military, but agreed to wait until a Pentagon study is completed to put any changes into effect.
PCA delegates also affirmed an overture specifying that persons who assist deacons may not be ordained.
The Central Carolina Presbytery had submitted an overture asking that women be stripped of the "deaconess" title some churches were attaching to female assistants. The PCA limits the office of minister, elder and deacon to men but allows females to assist male deacons in mercy ministry. The overture sought to establish a clear distinction between assistants and deacons.
The PCA General Assembly concluded Friday.