Pastor Larry James has come out of retirement to serve the congregation at South End Presbyterian Church. James says there was no one available to pastor full-time so he preaches at South End twice a month. James says there is a reason why there’s no full-time pastor.
“One of them was for financial,” South End Presbyterian Church Pastor Larry James said. “And the other is – there is just a shortage of available people to fill the pulpit on a permanent basis, because some of our churches are losing pastors to retirement more so than anything else.”
James says South End is not alone. There are other Presbyterian churches that are without full-time pastors because the church simply can’t afford one. The part-time pastor believes things must change if the church wants more leaders to sign up to lead congregations.
“People don’t turn to the church as much as they used to,” James said. “There was a time when pastors and the church were probably the second in significance in the community – now I think it’s probably the tenth.”
The Presbyterian Church (USA) reported in 2006, the denomination had 13,693 active ministers. In 2016 – that number decreased by roughly 1,500 ministers. James also says there is a decline in ministers going into the seminary to become church leaders. James believes these facts don’t motivate people to join church.
“As the pews have become more empty as we go,” James said. “Then trying to maintain existence is hard – because it requires finances to do it.”
The Presbyterian Church is addressing the issue. Church officials admit there is a shortage of pastors who can afford to go to smaller churches. Rev. Dr. Jan Edminston is the General Presbyter of Charlotte. She recently attended a retreat on church growth. She says to fill the pews, church leaders will have to change their method but not their message.
“A preacher is having to preach to people who maybe don’t know the Bible stories as well as the people who know them very well,” Edminston said. “We’re having to teach pastors how to preach to those diverse congregations.”
James says despite the fact he is part-time, he is willing to do whatever needs to be done to keep the South End church vibrant.
“There’s an investment for me,” James said. “Had I not felt to do this, I wouldn’t have done it in the first place.”
As the Presbyterian churches do their part to keep churches filled, officials believe what their church is experiencing – other denominations are seeing a difference too. The thinking is the church needs to attract millennials to fill the pews.
“They think in a much different way,” James said. “But I think they are looking for the same thing. We all are looking for it – they just have a different way of finding it.”
The two Sundays James doesn’t preach at South End Presbyterian, another pastor from the United Methodist Church graces the pulpit.