Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Transformation and Change

The Presbyterian Church (USA) is not an immovable juggernaut. Anything will change when afraid, or in Kotter’s words, when there exists a sense of urgency. In fact, the institution has shown three signs of its re-imagined self.

The first sign of change occurred in the 80’s when declining membership fear fueled a desire to structurally reorganize and geographically run away,. It reunited the sinking Northern with the regionalized Southern churches to the Midwest heartland. Sweet? Not really. It may have reduced overhead costs, but it also effectively marginalized itself from the world marketplace of ideas and commerce in New York. From hardly a voice at all, the reunited church became dumb. (Yes, a double sens, or entendre.)

The second sign of change within the Presbyterian Church was again motivated by fear. The “problem must have a solution” people decided to make evangelism the church’s number one priority. So in 1987, programatic efforts were underway to stop the membership tailspin. Little did they know, but every association and group, including religious ones, were experiencing the same decline (See Bowling Alone). Acting in isolation however, a desperate evangelistic crusade was fought. “Bring the people in and everything will be fine,” mantra fell on deaf ears. Sadly, the denominational decline through the mid 90’s was growing worse. Evangelism fails when motivated by fear.

We are in the midst of the third sign of change within our denomination. With little left to organize, the GA, Synod, and Presbytery Trinity of our church structure is morphing into what is essentially a two-legged stool. The middle judicatories are being gutted leaving presbyteries even more removed from the mother ship. What’s worse, fear of survival has decimated the mission units of the church.

Change is not transformation.

Intentional congregational transformation is a proactive response to change. Signs of change have sociological and demographic indicators. Signs of transformation have missional and contextual indicators.

The Transformation To-Go redevelopment groups ( will explore best practices in order to redirect the congregation’s energy toward the communities it seeks to serve.

Hang on, new signs will direct us on a great ride!

Dr. Kevin Yoho, (email:
Consultant for Congregational Transformation, Presbytery of West Jersey