Financial Crunch Hits United Church of Christ

on March 24, 2016

If times are tough for oldline Protestant denominations, they are dire for the United Church of Christ. The 60-year-old denomination announced staffing changes during the UCC Board of Directors meeting held March 17-19 in Cleveland. The changes follow the announced resignation of a top staff member in February and an internal report predicting an 80 percent decline in membership by 2045.

According to newly-installed General Minister and President John C. Dorhauer, there are “multiple financial challenges that could impact the well-being of the national setting” (terminology for the denomination’s national-level staff).

“In discussion about the staffing change, Dorhauer noted that the national setting staff has decreased from over 300 in 2000 to just over 100 today,” a staff report of the Directors’ meeting relayed. Dorhauer also assured the board that he would “distribute the workload fairly among the staff.”

Among the departures was the resignation of J. Bennett Guess, Executive Minister of the UCC’s Local Church Ministries and a member of the UCC’s four-person Collegium of Officers. Guess, the first openly gay person to serve as a national officer of the church, was elected to a four-year term in 2013. The departing official is resigning his position on April 8 to assume a role as vice president of the UCC’s Council for Health and Human Service Ministries.

Guess had worked for the UCC’s national setting holding several positions since 2000, first as Justice and Witness Ministries’ communications minister and, later, as editor of United Church News and the UCC’s news director. In 2007, he was named the UCC’s communication director. The board voted not to immediately replace Guess, but to appoint Dorhauer as the acting executive of Local Church Ministries for a period of six months.

That there are staff cuts isn’t a huge surprise – oldline Protestant churches such as the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and others have been cutting national staff as their adherents’ numbers decline. But two-thirds of national staff gone in the past 16 years is a singular distinction even among the UCC’s struggling peer group.

According to The United Church of Christ: a Statistical Profile (Fall 2015), the denomination had last year 5,116 congregations and a U.S. membership of 943,521 persons. Founded in 1957 as a merger of the Congregational-Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church, the United Church of Christ has lost more than half of its membership in the intervening years.

In June of 2015, the denomination announced that it had entered into an agreement with a Georgia-based property management firm to sell its headquarters and an adjacent hotel that the church owned. The UCC will lease the building back for another two decades. The denomination relocated its headquarters to Cleveland from New York in 1990, a move that was expected to both reduce expenses and bring the church’s national leadership closer to the bulk of its congregations, which are concentrated in the upper Midwest and northeastern United States.

Last summer, UCC Center for Analytics, Research and Data (CARD) studies were released that confirmed dire forecasts. The first, Futuring the United Church of Christ: 30-Year Projections, showed that over the next three decades, the number of UCC congregations will decline from over 5,100 churches today to approximately 3,600 churches. During the same time period, the number of UCC members will drop precipitously, from 1.1 million to just under 200,000 adherents.

The report does not forecast a corresponding decline in total ordained clergy (including retired and emeritus clergy), but does report a drop in those clergy that pastor churches from just under 4,500 in 1985 to 3,000 today, declining to a projected 1,250 by the year 2045.

UCC Membership Projections 2015-2045

  1. Comment by Eternity Matters on March 24, 2016 at 11:16 am

    So the “inclusive” UCC is rapidly shrinking? How can that be? Must be the ejector seats! Or maybe because their “religious” views are indistinguishable from the world’s* and people see no reason to spend time and money on a religion that they can get for free via the mainstream media, entertainment and education industries.

    Couldn’t happen to a more apostate denomination.

    *Churchgoers who support “same-sex marriage” — i.e., the “Christian” Left — have nearly identical views to the world on a host of issues such as abortion, adultery, porn, etc.. It shows who their real father is.

    1 John 2:15-16 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.

    Jude 4 For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

    James 4:4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

  2. Comment by Sashabill on March 31, 2016 at 2:53 am

    In my childhood, my family attended the E & R church (A predecessor body to the UCC), and I later attended the UCC while in high school. I drifted away from the UCC after that, and haven’t been back since. (One of my smarter moves, I suppose!)

  3. Comment by truelinguist on March 24, 2016 at 12:04 pm

    Is that a photo from the UCC itself? Like the other mainlines, they play up how inclusive and racially diverse they are, but in fact they have a lower percentage of minorities than do most evangelical churches (which they frequently refer to, ironically, as “racist”). The UCC and the other mainlines ceased to be Christian churches long ago, they are clubs where white liberals hang out on Sunday mornings, claiming that God has rubber-stamped their political agenda. The Episcopalians made a black man their presiding bishop, a clear example of “gesture politics.” They are not going to attract any more ethnic minorities now than before, nor people of any race.

  4. Comment by Jeff Walton on March 24, 2016 at 1:33 pm

    Yes, this is a photo from the UCC General Synod. According to the UCC’s statistical profile, a significant majority (88.2%) of congregations in the UCC self-identify as White/Euro-American.

  5. Comment by Eternity Matters on March 25, 2016 at 9:42 am

    Good point. Their only diversity seems to be the shades of white guilt among their members. Their deck only contains 52 race cards.

  6. Comment by Goldwaterite on March 25, 2016 at 6:21 pm

    Among mainline liberal Protestants, diversity is merely skin deep. But diversity of ideas? Forget it! Adherence to left-wing political orthodoxy is all that is permitted.

  7. Comment by Judie Bryant on April 13, 2016 at 11:01 am

    truelinguist, could you share with us links to where the UCC has called evangelical churches “racist”? Please don’t make claims on behalf of the denomination unless you can back them up. My UCC church is Christian as is any other UCC church that I’m familiar with. As a UCC pastor, I am acquainted with many UCC clergy and I’ve not found any to be anything other than Christian in their beliefs, faith, and worldview.

  8. Comment by Nutstuyu on June 9, 2016 at 12:00 pm

    Typical liberal. Can’t do their own work and demands others do it for them. Google is your friend ghey lover.

  9. Comment by Amy C on December 30, 2018 at 5:49 am

    But the author of this open letter has no position with the UCC. So how doed this prove your point?

  10. Comment by Pete Leonard on January 17, 2017 at 11:16 am

    Ask them how that they view abortion and gay marriage and you will have the answer. Obey God or Man.

  11. Comment by mbarker12474 on April 13, 2016 at 11:12 am

    Reminds me… here is a photo of the Virginia Conference staff of the United Methodist Church, at conference headquarters in Richmond. This is from several years ago.
    This crowd was always trumpeting their racial uprightness and correct fashion.
    See the photo. Count the non-lilly-white people. And look where they are placed.

  12. Comment by Nutstuyu on June 9, 2016 at 11:58 am

    And way too many women staff too. Nothing against God’s greatest creation, but where women gain greater power in churches, liberal ideologies soon follow.

  13. Comment by Gary Kleeman on March 24, 2016 at 1:57 pm

    The United Church of Christ (UCC) is nothing more than a progressive Leftist group that uses religion as a disguise to advance Socialism. It’s amazing with what they get away with as a “church”.

    The chickens have come home to roost: Jude 1:4 (NRSV) For certain intruders have stolen in among you, … , who pervert the grace of our God …

    Because I don’t support their Leftist agenda, UCC blocked me from Twitter. They are only open and welcoming to those who agree with them.

  14. Comment by Eternity Matters on March 25, 2016 at 9:41 am

    Well said! They say that “God is still speaking;” but isn’t it odd that their “god” is only speaking to the “Christian” Leftist who didn’t believe the real God the first time He spoke?

  15. Comment by Goldwaterite on March 25, 2016 at 6:22 pm

    “Liberals claim to be open and tolerant to all points of
    view but are shocked and offended when they discover there ARE other points of view.” — William F. Buckley, Jr.

  16. Comment by BarryObama2014 on March 25, 2016 at 4:41 am

    Just like the Episcopalian church, the UCC is another case study of churches that embrace liberalism and then self destruct. It’s a sad trend.

  17. Comment by Sasha Kwapinski on October 6, 2017 at 2:53 am

    When people are hungering and thirsting after righteousness, it doesn’t cut it to say “Let ’em eat diversity.”

  18. Comment by Bob Johnson on March 25, 2016 at 8:09 am

    Well in what real world situation would a board declare success, with these abysmal statistics, without people being fired. Only in the UCC’s world. Again year after year we watch as they shrug and turn farther toward their liberal ideals and away from orthodoxy. Do they not have any conscience to the pain that is inflicted on these local churches who’s subjugated Pastors are towing the UCC’s line and wounding there own church in the process? The UCC’s website is an appalling mix of leftist causes while it declares in arrogance and pride that they are somehow more enlightened then the masses. As congregants head for the doors, after they have invested generational time and treasure, I suspect they will never again return.

    Additionally, as I witness in our local conference, lines are drawn and the full court press is on for our churches to adopt the UCC’s dogma of gay marriage. It is literally ripping these churches apart as simple majority votes alienate the smaller but large minority. I would conclude that we will be witnessing some significant congregant losses in the next few cycles of statistics as this sets in.

    Thanks again for another insightful article Jeffrey.

    Former UCC Elder.

  19. Comment by Goldwaterite on March 25, 2016 at 6:17 pm

    The UCC—“The Democrat Party at prayer”. Nothing more.

  20. Comment by Jeff Walton on March 28, 2016 at 10:04 am

    There is direct evidence that disagreements on marriage are hurting the UCC, even though many people outside the denomination assume it is uniformly progressive on social issues. Last year the UCC board voted to send a $50,000 one-time grant to the southern conference, explaining that giving there had decreased after the UCC joined a clergy lawsuit against the state of North Carolina demanding the ability to solemnize same-sex civil marriages. The national setting wanted to reward the southern conference for making what they believed was a prophetic statement, but clearly a good number of congregations and individuals decided that they were not willing to fund such a move by their own conference.

  21. Comment by Wild Biker Bill on April 12, 2016 at 4:37 pm

    “It is literally ripping these churches apart as simple majority votes alienate the smaller but large minority.”

    And let me guess: It is the large minority that pays in the majority of the dollars, so the church they leave behind weakens far faster than simple member numbers would indicate.

  22. Comment by Bob Johnson on April 13, 2016 at 8:51 am

    The simple answer is yes, in the church I attend.

  23. Comment by Bob Johnson on April 25, 2016 at 8:14 pm

    While that statement was anecdotal, that was very much the possible scenario within the church I was involved with. Fortunately we prevailed on the the vote to not allow gay marriage, for now. The pressure is enormous for these UCC churches to follow the denomination and into oblivion. Mean while the local Evangelical non-doms are planting and growing like gang busters all around us.

  24. Comment by thomaswood on March 25, 2016 at 5:58 pm

    My ancestors who founded what eventually became the UCC would be appalled at the current state of the denomination. Respect for the covenant and the individual responsibility that it entailed is gone. Obedience to divine commandments is out of fashion. In their place, left-wing orthodoxy has taken over. One can only mourn the withering of pulpits that once were, as de Tocqueville observed, “aflame with righteousness.”

  25. Comment by Goldwaterite on March 25, 2016 at 6:16 pm

    Barack Obama’s redoubtable pastor, Jeremiah Wright, has a “ministry” within this denomination. Why I am not surprised?
    “A bad tree bears bad fruit.”

  26. Comment by Arbuthnaught on March 25, 2016 at 6:27 pm

    This is even worse than the last estimate I heard for the UCC which was 300,000. PCUSA will not be far behind.

  27. Comment by RealityChecker1 on March 25, 2016 at 10:08 pm

    When they abandoned Christ in favor of anti-Christian ideology, they sealed their fate.

  28. Comment by cken on March 27, 2016 at 12:11 am

    It is not about how many. It is about the Christians who actually and truly follow Jesus by adhering to His teachings. Perhaps the problem with churches is those who are truly asking seeking and knocking are not taught how to mature the soul, grow spiritually, and follow Jesus. Far too many Christians think John 3:16 is a get out of hell free card, when in truth it is only the beginning of your Christian journey. We tend to overlook that go and sin no more concept. At least that is the way it appears because there are many so called Christians who aren’t very Christ like on a day to day basis. Are we preaching follow the rules and do as I say not as I do or are we promoting spiritual growth, the love of God, and the love of neighbor. Furthermore how can we possibly love God when we can’t perceive Him with our five senses.

  29. Comment by TheDreadedGug on March 27, 2016 at 7:08 am

    What wonderful Christians on this thread. Happy Easter to you all.

  30. Comment by gewaite on March 27, 2016 at 2:34 pm

    Celebrate your diversity!

  31. Comment by Jennifer P on March 27, 2016 at 9:15 am

    The United Church of Christ is shrinking because they have replace faith in the risen Christ with faith in the religion of secular progressivism.

    Studies show that even things like gender neutral language chase people away. And, the big things, like rejection of Biblical morality regarding sex and marriage chase far more people away. We see this across the board in the liberal Protestant denominations. And we see it in the individual Catholic parishes with liberal priests.

    The UCC has stopped believing in Christ. There is no reason for it to continue to exist.

  32. Comment by Sashabill on March 31, 2016 at 2:45 am

    This is NOT surprising. If you want to see the direction the UCC is headed, look no further than the Unitarian Church. When people hunger and thirst after righteousness, it doesn’t cut it to say “Let ’em eat diversity.” Or, to phrase it a little differently, When the salt loses its savor, people will trample it under foot — or at least take their religious-spiritual journeys elsewhere! (This from an ex-Unitarian.)

  33. Comment by Guy Montana on April 13, 2016 at 5:49 pm

    Aren’t they the group that believes that if one is not baptized, or is not baptized by them, that those people are going to hell even though there is no Scripture that says baptism is necessary for salvation?

  34. Comment by MikeJ2 on December 25, 2016 at 11:32 am

    No, I think you are referring to Church of Christ, not UCC (a different group).

  35. Comment by Michael Lowery on May 14, 2016 at 10:51 am

    I attended our local UCC church for about two years. I experienced the same exact issues as others on this blog. The elders of the church quickly identify any non-leftist potential new church member and quietly squeeze them out by ignoring them and refusing their attempts to contribute or participate. A handful of lifers keep a tight-fisted control over every detail, hiding behind a committee structure. It would take two decades before a new member ever qualified to join a committee, much less had any influence on the church. The sermons I experienced were racist-sexism-white guilt, intertwining all the popular leftist themes without touching on the root cause (decades of failed government programs) or the obvious, easy solutions (jobs). Demographics of the congregation are 70+ with a few families with kids. One black. Serious budget issues, dipping into reserves. Two decades of deferred maintenance on the buildings. I realized that UCC “inclusiveness” was a sham when I stumbled on to this horror:

    – following the Presbyterians down the road of antisemitism. Proof that the UCC board a. doesn’t know the roots of their own religion, b. don’t know anything about the history of Palestine or Israel, c. doesn’t know anything about terrorism, and d. possibly secret Hitlerites. “Inclusiveness” is fine until you meet a Jew. Makes a travesty of the whole “inclusiveness” thing. I finally realized that the UCC leadership, down to the local level, doesn’t care they are spiritually irrelevant, losing adherents and going broke, the leadership was value-programmed while they were the hippies of 1965-1969, they are still running the UCC with all that Berkeley 60’s stuff as the prime directive. That’s the way it will be until the bank takes the building.

  36. Comment by Nutstuyu on June 9, 2016 at 11:56 am

    But but but there’s sooo many gheys (or so movies and TV tell us), how could they be losing members when they are soooo inclusive?
    BTW, does the UCC allow bi-sexuals to marry who they love yet? #MoreThanTwo #Polysexual

  37. Comment by MikeJ2 on December 25, 2016 at 11:34 am

    Leaving ideology or theology aside, it makes sense that if someone can get all the acceptance/inclusion and lack of dogma they need from the general culture, why bother joining a church? Joining a church is an obligation of time, money, and dealing with people you don’t necessarily like. Starbucks [for example] is equally welcoming and inclusive, and going there with your friends costs only a few dollars.

  38. Comment by Richard benitez on May 15, 2017 at 4:11 pm

    Gee: reading the articles and the comments on state of protestants in good ole USA makes me realize my little Catholic Church with carmelite priests with heaving accent from India is doing good.

  39. Comment by Joy on February 9, 2019 at 10:33 pm

    I grew up in a UCC church in the 60’s and 70’s and loved it. The UCC has changed so much that I don’t even recognize it. I became a Methodist in the 90’s. When the UCC started pushing the liberal agenda including openly homosexual pastors in the early 2000’s, the UCC churches in my area switched back to the Reformed Church affiliation. There were numerous UCC churches in my area but I can’t recall passing even one that has not switched back to the Reformed Church. There are a few about 35 miles away, but the memberships have dropped.

  40. Comment by Jeremiah James on August 21, 2019 at 7:10 pm

    Looks like I will soon be leaving the UCC. Our lesbian pastor resigned and she is now gone. She was probably the worse pastor I have ever encountered. She never engaged in a conversation with me and I felt like she was threatened by me. At a bible study she said that “Christ didn’t have to be crucified, he could have died of old age and we would still all be saved.” She also said that Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism etc. “all a different path up the mountain to god. In a Facebook reply she said, “the government can and should pay for ‘gender reassignment.” I’m glad she’s gone.

    Now an interim pastor is coming in – she’s a lesbian married to another woman. Looks like I’m on the way out the door especially if she pushes this gender neutrality balony. I was reading a page from a UCC church in central NH and one sentence was worded like this, “when Daniel was thrown into the lions den, He/she…” I emailed her – the pastor – and said “Daniel was NOT a he/she!

    We have four UCC Churches here in Concord, NH. Thet are all open and affirming. One has two married gay men as pastors, another has a buzz cut lesbian as pastor, we have another lesbian coming in, and the other UCC is pastored by a married man.

    Quite honestly, I’m tired of the UCC. It seems it’s all about being gay! We have a huge rainbow banner on our churches front lawn. I’m done very soon.

  41. Comment by onlyinamerica on September 6, 2019 at 11:46 am

    Please don’t leave the UCC but pray that we get back to the foundations of Jesus Christ, the cornerstone who was crucified to save us all! Pray that its not about politics or social agendas, but only about Jesus Christ – oh wait, we don’t put that on our websites for the UCC – but we MUST

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