Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

1001 New Worshiping Communities, a Movement.

Written by: on April 29, 2023

In 2021 the Presbyterian Church (USA) released statistic showing the steady decline of the denomination. Over the last twenty years, membership has decreased but the pandemic exacerbated the decline. The 2021 statistics show current active membership stands at just over 1.1 million, a 51,000-member drop from 2020. Total number of churches in 2021 stood at 8,813, approximately 112 less than 2020.[1]

While there are many reasons for the decline including all of the reasons many churches are bleeding members, after spending most of my life in the PC(USA), I believe a reason for the decline is the inability of the institution to change. Tradition has always been important to the Presbyterian church, order of worship is rarely tampered with, ritual gives a sense of comfort to those who have been part of their congregation for life. But what about those who visit? What about those who have young children or teenagers who don’t find that same sense of “home” in the religious traditions and rituals? What about those with new ideas, new ways of being Church? For many of our PC(USA) congregations, change was not something they would entertain.

In his book, “Cascades: How to Create a Movement that Drives Transformation Change,” Greg Satell explores how to start and sustain transformational change using the power of cascades—small groups that are loosely connected but united by a common purpose. Reading one of the first chapters of this book, all I could think about was how the PC(USA) is being left behind because of the institution’s inability to make significant changes. But as I continued to read I began to think about a relatively new movement within the denomination and how this movement might be the “cascade” Satell is referring to.

In June 2012, the PC(USA) admitted it had a problem, and at the 220th General Assembly declared a commitment to a churchwide movement that would (hopefully) result in the creation of 1,001 worshiping communities over the next ten years. If anything was going to be the “keystone change,” in our dying denomination, this would be it.[2] The church had a clear purpose, a plan for moving forward, and was able to get a wide variety of presbyteries and congregations on board.

The NWC’s would take on new and varied forms of church for our changing culture, primarily seeking to make and form new disciples of Jesus Christ, to change and transform the world.[3]

Today, these NWC’s are a network of loosely connected small groups united by the common purpose of making disciples with over 500 diverse new worshiping communities have formed across the nation. We haven’t made it to 1000, which was the goal ten years ago, but we’re moving forward.

The reason I think this NWC movement has a chance to succeed is because the NWC’s are not focused on “calling the faithful, but on forging a common cause among diverse constituencies.”[4] Leaders of NWC’s form a worshiping community from and unique to their own context. One pastor, a die-hard skateboarder, started a new worshiping community with other skate board enthusiasts. A Cross Fit instructor, began a Cross Fit worshiping community. Worshiping communities have sprouted from yoga classes, amongst under-privileged teenagers, those experiencing homelessness, in restaurants and on college campuses. More than half the new worshiping communities have formed in immigrant communities, with over half of the 500 NWC’s being communities of color. “God is worshiped in 14 different languages throughout the NWC movement.”[5] One does not need to be an ordained pastor to begin a NWC.

While I wouldn’t exactly call this movement a cascade, yet, our prayer is that as more and more people from outside the church, join these new communities, it will move like a cascade throughout the denomination and the Church as a whole.

One of the ways the PC(USA) is able to sustain this movement is through their apprenticeship model. Like Eve Poole discusses in her book, “Leadersmithing,” the New Worshiping Community movement invests heavily in the apprenticeship model because they believe this work cannot be fruitfully done in isolation and having the encouragement of a seasoned leader standing beside you as you learn to do this work is vital.[6]

In Dan Camancho’s book, Mining for Gold, he discusses the importance of coaching for the success of a leader.[7] The NWC movement also provides coaching to its leaders, as “coaching ensures the work is contextual and sustainable, gospel-informed, motivated and inspired.”[8]

Overall, it is yet to be seen if the 1001 New Worshiping Community movement will be a cascade, making a difference in the membership of the PC(USA), but even if it doesn’t succeed in that way, it has already succeeded in others. People, never exposed to the church or who have migrated away from the church are finding their way back to community. Lives are being changed by being in relationship with the body of Christ. Hope is being proclaimed while real needs are being met. Even if the NWC movement doesn’t “save” the denomination, God has used it for good.

[1] Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), “PC(USA) 2021 statistics continue to show declining membership, but also growth in new worshiping communities,” April 25, 2022, https://www.pcusa.org/news/2022/4/25/pcusa-2021-statistics-continue-show-declining-memb/.

[2] Greg Satell, Cascades How to Create a Movement that Drives Transformational Change, McGraw Hill, New York, 2019, 117.

[3] Presbyterian Mission, “About 1001 New Worshiping Communities,” Accessed April 27, 2023, https://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/1001-2/about-1001/#:~:text=About%201001,-1001%20new%20worshiping&text=Primarily%20they%20are%20seeking%20to,over%20the%20next%2010%20years.

[4] Greg Satell, Cascades How to Create a Movement that Drives Transformational Change, McGraw Hill, New York, 2019, 121.

[5] https://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/1001-2/, Accessed April 25, 2023.

[6] https://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/1001-2/training-cohorts/, Accessed April 25, 2023.

[7] Tom Camancho, Mining for Gold: Developing Kingdom Leaders through Coaching, Intervarsity Press, 2019.

[8] https://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/1001-2/training-cohorts/, Accessed April 25, 2023.

About the Author

Kally Elliott

Mom of four. Wanna-be Broadway star. PC(USA) pastor. Wife. Friend. Sometimes a hot mess. Sometimes somewhat together. Is this supposed to be a professional bio?

7 responses to “1001 New Worshiping Communities, a Movement.”

  1. Adam Harris says:

    I didn’t realize that about your denomination, what a creative strategy and over 500 is amazing! Seems like it is working. Do you have set people who go out and mentor those who plan to start one of these communities? Just curious what the coaching process looks like in this. That is probably more than you care to type, but very intrigued, maybe we can talk it through in Oxford!

    • Kally Elliott says:

      Hi Adam, yes we do have set people who coach new worshiping communities leaders. There is an entire arm of our denomination leading the cause and setting up support for leaders and communities. I led a new worshiping community before moving to Bend. The program was still in its infancy while I was leading my group but I did have some supports in place. I’d love to talk more about it with you in Oxford.

  2. Scott Dickie says:

    Hey Kally….very interesting. I think your denomination has correctly identified the reality that the current form of church (whether it’s yours or some non-denominational mega-church) needs to adapt to reach the current and future generations. Over the past year I have stated to our Elders, ‘I believe we are in a 20-30 year mega-shift as it relates to now Christian churches organize themselves in North America…and the churches that can creatively shift will be around in 50 years…and many won’t.” Your NWC’s sound a lot like the sort of shifts that churches need to make. I would be curious to get a link to the vision/implementation documents that your denomination has created if there is such a thing? I’d ‘steal like an artist’ for my own denomination!

    • Kally Elliott says:

      Haha, you’d “steal like an artist.” Great syntopical use of the phrase.

      Here’s a link to one of the websites about the movement. It’s not perfect, and it has a long way to go (I was a NWC leader for about 5 years and it was hard) but I think they are on to something and I do hope it will be the “cascade” we need to keep the denomination alive.


      Note: the video on the page is pretty good. I’d fast forward through the vignettes and listen to what interests you.

  3. mm Tim Clark says:

    Kally this is awesome. I love what your tribe is doing to break out of stuck tradition and reach people.

    Your thinking and reflection on leading in your context is always inspiring for me. I’m glad to be spending the next 2 years in a cohort with you. See you in Oxford.

  4. Kally, I love your critical thinking! It’s part of who you are. Have you noticed that when you comment on how something might need to change, you tend to give an answer or helpful ideas toward a solution. Now, that’s good critical thinking. I’m sooo glad you’re in my peer group!

  5. mm Jana Dluehosh says:

    It matters to that one starfish right? Thanks for all you’ve done to encourage me this last year. I can’t wait to hang out in Oxford. May those 500 churches continue to thrive!

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