Q: Why do we need a plan to encourage Ruling Elder involvement in the General Assembly?

A: The founders of the PCA recognized the significance of Ruling Elder involvement in the Assembly for the health of the church; but Ruling Elder attendance at the Assembly has been declining steadily for over 30 years as evidence by the following statistics:

    • Ruling Elders haven’t comprised more than 40% of commissioners since 1977.
    • Average Ruling Elder attendance is 32% of commissioners.
    • The average Ruling Elder attendance in the last five years is 24% of commissioners, reaching a low of 21% at Dallas in 2008.

Q: How was this proposal developed?

A: The AC appointed a five member Subcommittee chaired by TE David Silvernail to study this issue and recommend changes to the full Committee designed to reverse this trend, which might serve to decrease the costs of attending General Assembly. The Subcommittee presented its report and recommendations to the AC at its April meeting. The AC adopted the Subcommittee recommendations for presentation to the 41st General Assembly.

Q: What did the Subcommittee identify as issues that hinder Ruling Elder attendance at General Assembly?

A: The Subcommittee divided the issues they identified into two classes – short term and long term.

Short term issues they identified were:

      • Amount of Time – General Assembly is too long and most Ruling Elders have to take vacation days to attend, unless they are retired.
      • Meaningful Use of Time – A common complaint is there is too much time between business sessions.  Some Ruling Elders have stated that they consider seminars and worship services as “down time” between business sessions and may prefer a more business-oriented assembly with a minimum of worship services, exhibits, and seminars.
      • Costs – Some Ruling Elders have to pay their own costs, including registration fees, travel, meals, and lodging, without reimbursement from their churches.  Travel, meals, and lodging are the greater costs.
      • Location – obvious reduction in attendance when outside the Southeast.

Long term issues they identified concerned perceptions. The Subcommittee did not suggest these perceptions were accurate, but only found them to exist:

      • Many Ruling Elders don’t see the value of attending.  Many don’t perceive any “Return-On-Investment” in attending, either personally or for their church.  Many don’t perceive that their attendance makes any difference.
      • Many Ruling Elders perceive General Assembly to be designed as a professional association meeting for Teaching Elders.  Increasingly many view Presbytery meetings the same way.
      • Many Ruling Elders recognize that there is “trust factor problem.”  Too many issues seem to be controlled by the committees and agencies.  Too many decisions seem to have a pre-determined outcome.

Q: Did the Subcommittee identify any other issues that could improve attendance at the General Assembly?

A: The Subcommittee identified three issues relating to Committees of Commissioners which they believe could improve General Assembly attendance:

    • Understanding the Role of the Committee of Commissioners. The Subcommittee noted that some who serve on Committees of Commissioners may not properly understand the role of the Committees of Commissioners as it is described in our Rules of Assembly Operations.  The members of the General Assembly Committees and Agencies are elected by the General Assembly itself to handle the responsibilities of that particular Committee or Agency throughout the year.  RAO 4-1 states, “The affairs and programs of the General Assembly shall be conducted primarily through its Permanent Committees and Agencies.”  The staff members of the Committee and Agencies handle the day-to-day ministries of the respective Committees and Agencies. The Committees of The Committees of Commissioners review the minutes of the permanent Committees and Agencies (RAO 14-11), handle any business referred by the Stated Clerk or the General Assembly, and consider the recommendations of the permanent Committees or Agencies.  The Committee of Commissioners may propose to the Assembly different actions on the recommendation of the permanent Committee or Agency, but may not propose new business (RAO 14-6).
    • Involvement on Committees of Commissioners. The Subcommittee found substantial anecdotal evidence that once a Ruling Elder has the opportunity to serve on a Committee of Commissioners then that Ruling Elder gains a much greater understanding of the overall process of General Assembly (organizationally, legislatively, and judicially).  Ruling Elders who serve on a Committee of Commissioners are far more likely to serve as Commissioners at subsequent General Assemblies (presumably the same would hold true for Teaching Elders).
    • Efficiency of Committees of Commissioners. One of the ongoing concerns is the efficiency and effectiveness of the Committees of Commissioners is somewhat dependent on the ability and experience of the committee chairman and secretary.  This applies to both the operation of the committee (in its assignments, deliberations, and voting) and to the timely and accurate production of the committee report for distribution to the General Assembly.  When there is an inexperienced or less organized Chairman, or a Secretary unfamiliar with the nature of committee reports, there is a high level of frustration on the part of the committee members.  It is vitally important that each Committee of Commissioners elect an experienced Chairman who is well organized.  The critical task of Secretary should be delegated to a person trained for this specific purpose.  Permanent Committee and Agency staffs can provide note-taking and word-processing support services.

Q: Were there other factors the Subcommittee had to consider in formulating their recommendations to the full Committee?

A: There were several essential needs of the General Assembly the Subcommittee had to consider:

    • At  least 16.5 hours dedicated to the business sessions.
    • Necessary time for exhibitors (who pay approximately one-third of General Assembly costs)
    • Long-term contractual obligations – General Assembly contracts are usually let several years in advance in order to reserve space and procure lower costs.  These contracts normally include a minimum number of hotel nights to be filled or there is a financial penalty.
    • Logistics of General Assembly operations — particularly the completion, editing, printing and distribution of reports.

Q: What, in full detail, are the Committee recommendations?

A: Their 9 recommendations, as the Subcommittee spelled them out, are as follows:

  1. A trained member of the Permanent Committee or Agency staff will be made available to serve as a Recording Clerk for the Committee of Commissioner Meetings.
  2. Reduce the overall number of seminars by 25%.  Number of smaller vs. larger seminars is largely determined by available meeting space in individual convention centers.
  3. Include the following suggested relevant seminars in planning future seminars at General Assembly.
    1. Relevant seminars on “General Assembly 101” — How General Assembly works for the rookie commissioner (approx. 100 new commissioners at each General Assembly
      1. Roles and Responsibilities of Committees and Agencies
      2. Roles and Responsibilities of Permanent Committees
      3. Roles and Responsibilities of Committees of Commissioners
      4. Roberts Rules of Order and Parliamentary Procedure
      5. Rules of Assembly Operation
      6. The Role of the Standing Judicial Commission and Judicial Process
    2. Relevant seminars on hot-button theological issues – Designed to educate (not persuade) prior to important votes, i.e. Federal Vision, Deaconesses, Intinction, Theistic Evolution, etc.
      1. Why is this issue important?
      2. What are the theological issues here?
      3. What are the various sides or positions on this issue?
      4. What is the process for dealing with this issue?
    3. Relevant seminars on “Practical Connectionalism”
      1. The “Grassroots” nature of the PCA – history and rationale
      2. Importance and Role of Presbytery
      3. Functional Relationship between the Presbytery and the General Assembly
      4. How are churches and presbyteries affected by the actions of the committees and agencies?
    4. Relevant seminars on “Advanced Officer Training”
      1. Shepherding congregations individually and corporately
      2. Basic Discipleship and Basic Evangelism
      3. Small Groups – techniques and leadership
      4. Leadership Role of Ruling Elders
      5. Leadership Development of future church officers
      6. Mentoring for Ruling Elders
  4. The Committee and Agency Informational Reports should be re-connected with the Committee of Commissioner Reports and should adhere to a strict 10-minute time limit.
  5. The most important or controversial business coming before the General Assembly should be scheduled at times of peak attendance.  Often the most important or controversial business comes through the Overtures Committee and/or the Review of Presbytery Records Committee.  When the most important or controversial business comes through other Committees of Commissioners, then they should be scheduled accordingly.
  6. When the most important or controversial business is being conducted, the Exhibit Hall should be closed.  To compensate for these specific closing times, there should be specific times dedicated to allowing the commissioners to go to the Exhibit Hall.
  7. The Overtures Committee should meet in advance of the General Assembly, as the Nominations Committee and the Review of Presbytery Records Committee does now.

    NOTE #1: The Overtures Committee is designed to have two members (One Teaching Elder, One Ruling Elder) from each presbytery; for a potential total of 162 voting members.

    NOTE #2: The Overtures Committee (on average for the last five years), has approx. 140 people in attendance; of these, 90 are voting members (54 Teaching Elders and 36 Ruling Elders), and 50 are observers.

    PRO: This would allow all the commissioners greater time to evaluate the recommendations of the Overtures Committee.  Too often, significant changes have been made to the submitted overtures and the assembly doesn’t have sufficient time to consider them before having to vote.

    CON: There would be the inevitable “politicking” about the issues through social media, weblogs, etc.  However, such “politicking” may also have an educational purpose.

    CON: There is a cost to having a second trip, primarily transportation, particularly for those who live more than a day’s drive from Atlanta.

    PRO: Many Ruling Elders report that they would rather make two shorter duration trips to conduct General Assembly business than one week-long trip, possibly increasing the number of commissioners in attendance when voting on the overtures.

    PRO:  The cost is usually less expensive than conducting this business at the General Assembly itself, as it is with the other committees that meet early.  Despite the national growth of the PCA, the majority of elders reside within driving distance of Atlanta.

    PRO: The reduced costs of a shortened Assembly for 1200+ commissioners outweigh the increased cost for the 140 attendees of the Overtures Committee.(See Recommendation 8)

    PRO: Having the Overtures Committee Report ready on the first day of General Assembly greatly increases both the efficiency of the General Assembly meeting schedule and the number of commissioners in attendance when voting on the overtures.

    PRO:  Those who come to observe the deliberations at the Overtures Committee would no longer be unable to serve on any of the other Committees of Commissioners.

  8. The Presbyteries should be encouraged to defray the transportation expenses incurred by conducting an early Overtures Committee meeting.  Since there is already lower representation on the Overtures Committee from those presbyteries in the western half of the country, this would help increase attendance from non-participating presbyteries
  9. The General Assembly should be reduced in length to three days.  In order to reduce costs, the General Assembly take the second half of the week (Wednesday – Friday), allowing the Convention Centers to book the first half of the week.  The costs are greater when we schedule a mid-week assembly (Tuesday – Thursday) since it restricts the booking ability of the Convention Center.

Q: What might a revised schedule of General Assembly look like?

A: Recognizing that specific committee times to be determined by the Stated Clerk’s Office (which is the current practice), the schedule might be as follows:

EHC = Exhibit Hall Closed

Wednesday

8:00 am – 9:00 am             Briefing for new Commissioners

9:00 am – 11:00 am           Committee of Commissioners Meetings begin

11:00 am – 1:00 pm          AC / BOD Meeting

12:00 pm – 1:00 pm          Lunch Break

1:00 pm – 3:00 pm            Committee of Commissioners Meetings continue

3:00 pm – 5:00 pm            Committee of Commissioners Reports compiled / edited

3:00 pm – 4:00 pm            First Seminar Period

4:15 pm – 5:30 pm            Second Seminar Period

5:30 pm – 7:00 pm            Dinner Break

7:00 pm – 9:00 pm            Opening Worship Service EHC

9:00 pm – 10:00 pm          Assembly Business / Moderator Election (1 hour / 1 total)

Thursday

8:00 am – 11:30 am           Assembly Business (3.5 hours / 4.5 total)

11:30 am – 1:00 pm          Lunch Break

1:00 pm – 2:30 pm            Assembly Business (1.5 hours / 6 total) EHC

2:30 pm – 3:30 pm            Exhibit Hall

3:30 pm – 5:00 pm            Assembly Business (1.5 hours / 7.5 total) EHC if necessary

5:00 pm – 7:00 pm            Dinner Break / Major Seminar

7:00 pm – 9:00 pm            Assembly Business (2 hours / 9.5 total) if necessary

9:00 pm – 10:00 pm          Exhibit Hall / Ice Cream Social

Friday

8:00 am – 11:30 am           Assembly Business (3.5 hours / 13 total)

11:30 am – 1:00 pm          Lunch Break

1:00 pm – 5:00 pm            Assembly Business (4 hours / 17 total)

5:00 pm – 7:00 pm            Dinner Break

7:00 pm – 9:00 pm            Closing Worship Service EHC

Q: Does the Committee have any concerns about such a significant revision of  General Assembly operations?

A: While the Committee understood and appreciated the significance and difficulty of this re-structuring of General Assembly, it seemed apparent to them that due to the current situation of decreasing attendance and increasing costs, the status quo is unacceptable. They also recognize that no plan is perfect and there are always unintended consequences, and fully expect that adjustments will be needed once the above recommendations are implemented.

Q: Does the Committee anticipate any other benefits to this plan?

A: The Committee believes that implementation of these recommendations will also serve to encourage an increase in Teaching Elder attendance as well, primarily due to time and cost reductions

9 Responses to AC Proposal to Encourage Ruling Elder Involvement at General Assembly: Q & A

  1. David Silvernail says:

    If you would like to comment privately, you may email me at dsilvernail@potomachills.org

  2. Dean Brown says:

    Yet some Ruling Elders consider seminars and worship services as one of the most interesting attractions of the GA.

    • David Silvernail says:

      Some do, some don’t. As a whole, we’re a pretty mixed bag when it comes to those things. We’re not recommending eliminating them, but if the GA itself is reduced in length, then some of these will necessarily have to be reduced (in number) as well. But worship, training, and fellowship are still very important and we wanted to uphold that as well, so they’re all still in the schedule!

  3. Brad Bradley says:

    This is an excellent report and gives us a lot of great ideas to discuss and hopefully put into place for future GA’s. Thanks to the men on the committee for their fine work.

  4. Tom Hill says:

    This is an excellent report and gives many good suggestions that should be pursued. Two additional topics that should be considered may be stated in one comment, location and dates. Why must we go to major metropolitan/tourist centers at or near the height of those centers busiest/tourist season?
    I know that facilities must be adequate, but adequate facilities do exist outside of these major centers (many small colleges have facilities able to handle our meetings and our living accommodations at a time when these colleges are virtually closed).

  5. M.C " CUB " culbertson says:

    1.. I do recommend we begin 1200hrs. Wednesday REASON this will cut out overnight expenses.Yes some from PST zone, take “red-eye flites ” Will give more work-time Tuesday for RE s

    2. close Saturday 1200. REASON . Saturday flites CHEAPER ,less traffic, safer for cars. Same # of overnights Yes, TEs Wish to get home to prepare for Sunday Howsomever Apply the discipline of EARLY PREPARATION, one time a year; besides, many TE s go on vacation right after GA. Also, might give RE s more work time.

    3. WE of late have finished Thursday resulting in penalty for Plane flitas +++++.With LESS TIME devoted to GA, this WILL NOT HAPPEN

  6. George Harris says:

    About 20 yrs ago, we passed a resolution to hold GA every 5 years in Atlanta
    which would save a lot of money with staff and transportation.
    It was noted that the majority of PCA churches is within 150 miles of Atlanta.
    Did we forget about that resolution?

  7. Robert Stuart says:

    There are many good suggestions, but the one that seems to be missing is reducing the number of TEs. If 24% attendance is REs, then denominational business is controlled by 76% of the TEs. Reducing the length of business and meeting towards the end of the week will not increase the parity of representation. REs will always be outnumbered, outvoted, and have less influence in the direction of the denomination. So, what is the incentive for REs from rural or smaller churches to spend time and money to come to a conference where they have difficulty understanding the issues and know it wouldn’t make much of a difference anyway.

  8. Paul Bankson says:

    I like the proposals- we need to return to reconnecting agency reports (with suggested limits) to recommendations from CoC’s. Also, while greetings from fraternal delegates are encouraging that has a tendency to go too long.