Review of “The Presbyterian Church USA, No More Decline ~ Rise and Shine”

The Presbyterian Church USA, No More Decline ~ Rise and Shine, by Reverend Cam McConnell, 2021, 104 pp.

In this short volume retired PCUSA minister Cam McConnell identifies various causes of his denomination’s long fifty-year decline and gives suggestions on ways forward that he hopes will bring renewal. You have to commend a man who loves his church and desires to see its decline reversed. However, while he brings up a few points and ideas that I can agree with, my distance from the author theologically, politically, and generationally resulted in much head-shaking as I read this book.

The causes for decline in the PCUSA that McConnell identifies include (1) big bureaucracy, (2) divisive general assembly pronouncements, (3) the length of time it takes for a church to hire a new pastor, and (4) the existence of interim pastors. However, the greatest problem he sees is the lack of strong leadership. These are all problems no doubt, but the author fails to recognize or admit that much of the PCUSA’s decline can be attributed to its declining theology. The effect of publishing of the Auburn Affirmation (1924) and Book of Confessions (1967) are not mentioned. He does note that many left the PCUSA when the denomination financially supported the Black Panthers and Angela Davis, but he doesn’t mention that others left when they started praying to “mother Sophia” or when they began ordaining homosexual and transgendered pastors.

McConnell is moderate-left politically/theologically and part of the boomer generation. His hero is Dwight Eisenhower and all things about the church back in its glory days in the 1960s. He appreciates that his denomination’s history was “never titling to extremes in any facet of life.” One gets the impression that an “extreme” is anything to the right of Eisenhower. Whether McConnell would admit to any extremism on the left is not clear. He doesn’t seem to so much oppose the leftist politics of the PCUSA, but just laments that the pronouncements it makes are “divisive.” His desire is peace in the church. He writes “most of the Presbyterians sitting in the pews on Sunday morning just want to worship God and come together in the Christian community.”

The solutions McConnell argues for are not likely to solve or even slow down much the decline in the PCUSA. A millennial would surely say “OK Boomer” to his ideas which basically amount to “hire advisors,” “spend more money,” and “try harder.” He positively recounts a “Dr. Harrington” responding to a young minister who asked how she (!) “could possibly relate to what he was saying since he was the pastor of a mega-church in Atlanta with all the resources and the people at his disposal and her congregations was so small and struggled every year to make his budget.” Like its the 1960s, Dr. Harrington says “when he was pastor of a small-town church, he stood in front of the local grocery story at least once a week and introduced himself as the pastor of the Presbyterian church and invited the customers of the store to worship with his congregation. He even followed the mailman and said hello to people on the mail route, told them who he was, and invited them to church.” (p. 45)

What isn’t mentioned in the plan for renewal is doctrinal fidelity, the Gospel, or prayer. Without repentance the PCUSA’s decline will inevitably continue. And without the Gospel, growth is meaningless. McConnell does say “Let’s get back to the basics, beginning with preaching.” But then he advocates non-ordained speakers in church (in place of the minister) including the head football coach and business executives for their “unique and interesting perspectives.” (p.67) The basics, no doubt, should be gotten back to. The basics are the Bible. I pray that the PCUSA gets back there, and right quick.