Missing the other Presbyterians

john knoxA reader of ours, Fred, left us a note about a pretty shabby story out of the Contra Costa Times, a Walnut Creek, Calif.-based daily newspaper, about declining membership in the Presbyterian church. As a side note, I encourage readers to keep sending us stories like these, the good and the bad. There is no way the four of us can canvas every single media outlet out there, and even some obvious stories in the major outlets slip past us from time to time, so please use that Contact link frequently. Fred says that the reporter on this story, Rebecca Rosen Lum, seems to think there is only one body of Presbyterian churches in this country and that she does not "get" conservative Christianity. Local readers of the newspaper are not informed that there are any conservative churches in the region at all, unless it involves news that is negative or controversial, Fred tells us.

I have my own bevy of issues with the article, the first being its lack of what we in the profession call a nut graph. The lead and subsequent paragraphs tell us little of why we should be reading this story or what those numbers mean:

Community Presbyterian Church in Danville bucks a nationwide trend for the denomination: Its strapping 2,225-member congregation is stretching the seams of its suburban campus.

Five hundred children play relay games and climb rope walls in Vacation Bible Camp. About 250 adults sip latte in each session of the video cafe.

Elsewhere in the East Bay, even Presbyterian churches whose congregations top the national average of 209 are losing more members than they are gaining.

Grace Presbyterian in Walnut Creek lost nearly 200 members from 1996 to 2006. Community Presbyterian in Pittsburg, once a congregation of 180, dropped to 117 during the same period. Ygnacio Valley Presbyterian in Concord had 127 members in 1996 and has 54 today.

The story only mentions Danville's Community Presbyterian Church one other time in the story and that's because the main point of the article is that the Presbyterian Church is dying. That's the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), to be specific.

As a member of the Presbyterian Church in America, I found it downright frustrating that the article failed to mention that there are in fact other Presbyterian denominations out there. Lots of them. But the article is not really about Presbyterians, except for the fact that other denominational struggles are mentioned only briefly. It's really about conservative and traditional Presbyterians abandoning the PCUSA because of what they view as an abandonment of basic biblical teachings. This story is hardly unique to the Presbyterian denomination, as you all know.

But this isn't really news for Presbyterians, at least in the context the story gives us. Presbyterians have always been abandoning each other in the search for doctrinal purity. The various splits go back as far as John Knox of the 17th century in Scotland.

There are many other things to fuss about regarding this article, but I'll leave it at that basic complaint for now.

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