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  • Writer's pictureMark Bocanegra

An aging and struggling Church

The Presbyterian Church of Japan will be holding its General Assembly on November 23-24. It is the national gathering of all the pastors of the Presbyterian Church of Japan. It is the denomination that my church, Oyumino Church, is part of, but also the denomination that MTW partners with. Every year, statistics of the denomination are published; however, this year was unfortunate surprise. For many years, PCJ outperformed the growth rate of the broader Japanese Church of about -0.5%. This is due to the church planting partnership between PCJ and MTW that contributed to new churches and healthy growth. However, the PCJ experienced its first decline in 2017. Here is an overview of why that is and how you can pray for the Japanese Church. One Christian novelist called Japan the "swamp of faith"--you can really feel the "muck" squelching the faith of the Japanese as you read these statistics.

Presbytery 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017

Central Japan (Nagoya Area) 575 558 572 571 579 569 562

Central Tokyo 236 243 354 370 396 393 381

East Kanto

(East Tokyo) 793 851 841 834 812 808 808

Musashino (NW Tokyo) 378 388 378 387 389 376 386

Kanagawa (Yokohama) 241 239 235 233 232 238 234

West Japan (Osaka/Kyoto) 155 151 153 153 152 175 181

Grand Total 2,379 2,430 2,534 2,548 2,559 2,560 2,515

Worshippers Net Gain/Loss +52 +103 +14 +12 +0 -45

Overview of PCJ

  • The largest presbyteries are Central Japan and the East Kanto Presbytery. The reason that they are large is not because of demographics, but because these presbyteries have the longest history of missionary partnership.

  • Large increases (highlighted yellow) are usually due to a church plant being added to the presbytery. Many of the church plants are started by missionaries or are supported by churches abroad.

  • There has been a significant slow down in church growth. If you look at the macro picture, there are two main reasons: 1) there are no new church plants in the past four years and 2) the existing churches are shrinking in size.

Statistics 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017

Number of Churches 62 60 63 64 65 65 66

Number of Pastors @ Churches 64 66 69 70 70 70 74

Worshippers 2,379 2,430 2,534 2,548 2,559 2,560 2,515

Avg # of Baptisms / Church 1.87 1.57 1.21 0.98 0.98 1.11 0.91

Avg # of Confession / Church 0.37 0.47 0.24 0.34 0.31 0.34 0.23

Average of Income / Church 8,407,395 9,583,390 8,664,946 7,854,926 7,655,385 8,624,390 8,202,887

# of Children @ Sunday School 485 521 480 449 453 429 370

Avg # of Inf Baptisms / Church 0.90 0.57 0.32 0.22 0.18 0.32 0.26

Factors to the Slow Down

  • The average number of baptisms and professions (when a child who was baptized professes faith) are at a six-year low. This means that a slow down in evangelism is slowing down growth.

  • The number of babies baptized and children in Sunday School decreased significantly. Simply, there are not as many young families as before; thus, a possible reason for the decrease. Usually children's ministries are the best "magnet" for non-Christians. When children are happy, parents are also happy to participate in church as well. Less children means less evangelistic opportunities.

  • Although not shown in the table above, there was a significant increases in the deaths in the PCJ (+7% YoY). I predict this figure will increase in the following years.

Brief Comment on the Higashi Kanto Presbytery (East Tokyo):

  • 12 out of 16 churches did not grow in the past 5 years. The two out four that did grow were church plants.

  • My church, Oyumino, has been the engine of growth for the presbytery; however, this is Oyumino's first decrease in 6 years; growth rate slowing down significantly.

  • Many churches are feeling the effects of aging--many 10 out of the 16 churches are seeing -2 to -10% yearly decrease. You can see that even if church plants are being planted, it cannot stave off the deleterious effects of aging churches.

Key Prayer Requests:

  • More missionary involvement!

  • More church plants!

  • More young families in the PCJ!

  • More children!

  • Organic, healthy zeal for evangelism!

  • Pray for the elderly!

  • Pray for the tired pastors of the PCJ!

  • Pray for the Work of the Holy Spirit!!!

Lastly, there is always hope for the people of God. Please pray Psalm 24 for me--may the King of Glory, Lord of Hosts march in mightily and protect his people!

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