An Overview of Per Capita:  Where Does Your Money Go?


PMRV wishes every member and family the continued grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. This letter comes with the hope and prayer that this summer is the best you and your families have experienced, and that you approach the fall with excitement and enthusiasm.

This letter, Part II, attempts to address some hard, direct issues about our commitment to Jesus Christ and our commitment to the PCUSA.  Each person and each congregation in our presbytery, not to mention the communities in which we are located, are precious to us and to our Lord.  These commitments encompass a variety of ministries, mission, and concerns.  The engagement of each of our congregations varies in program and in content within those communities. As such, the manner of support varies also.  HOW we support the operation of our denomination, synods, presbyteries, and local congregations is essential so that the work of our Lord continues and continues effectively.

As the work of the Church continues, so does the need to provide for this work.  In keeping with what we teach about per capita, our former Stated Clerk, the Rev. Dr. Gradye Parsons, shared a profound statement about per capita in a letter to the PCUSA.

 He said in part, “Per capita is crucial to the overall health and well-being of the PC(USA), not only because it provides for our ministries, but because it binds presbyteries, synods, and congregations together in one Church”. 

Being well acquainted with him, his commitment to the Church of Jesus Christ, the PCUSA, and[MNW1]  to our continued work, his words ring so true.  In addition to this quote, please read the messages on the PCUSA website by our current Stated Clerk, the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson.  Per capita and mission giving are essential to the work and operation of the PCUSA.

As usual, I would like to share a couple of stories that may express the importance of the process we use as it relates to per capita.  Several years ago, a church of which I was the pastor had been reporting a membership figure that was almost twice the accurate membership of the congregation. In other words, the membership had declined over the years, but the church continued to report a larger number from several years earlier, and it continued to pay per capita at the same rate for the far larger number of members.

As stated, the per capita amount was based upon a past number when the congregation had 800+ members and conducted a vast ministry in the community and beyond.  The leadership of the congregation didn’t understand the importance of correct reporting of membership to the GA.  It did not understand how reporting membership affects per capita payments. Although the church always paid its per capita on time, it paid far more than it should have. 

As the new pastor, I worked closely with membership team, taught the clerk of session how to prepare the statistical reports, whom to contact at the GA with specific questions, and the process or purging of the rolls.  In the end, the church provided accurate reports that reflected a true membership. Even though the membership was smaller in number, the church still had more than 400 members.  It had always conducted its ministries effectively.  Those ministries included community, national, international, as well as contributions that had never decreased.  With accurate reporting of its membership the church was able to provide continued and even enhanced ministry.  The church knew the correct number of members, the giving patterns, which were outstanding, and how to estimate and encourage giving.  Those days were exciting.

Yet another congregation was not in agreement with certain decisions that our General Assembly approved.  This congregation did not understand that all of us are the GA.  Each presbytery elects commissioners to GA.  These commissioners vote as their consciences, hearts, and souls tell them.  They allow themselves to be guided by Almighty God.  We are represented well and fairly.  Therefore, decisions reflect the CHURCH, not just some nebulous body in Louisville.  As a former commissioner to GA when I was a pastor, I learned first-hand about the importance of being guided by the Holy Spirit. The amount of study, reflection, and communication in which we were engaged resulted in better decision-making.  Such informed decisions depend upon thorough orientation, prayer, study, and education.

In the case of the congregation that refused to pay per capita, the session thought that it was making its feelings known to the GA in hopes of a reversal in the decision.  When contacted, the clerk of session told the executive presbyter to “take the message back to GA”.  The reality is that when a congregation does not pay per capita, the presbytery is still responsible to pay the amount for that congregation. As a mid-council seeking to be responsible and faithful, WE DO.

Frankly, when a congregation refuses to pay per capita because of a matter of conscience, the mid-council is still required to pay. Refusing to pay per capita does not send a message, it merely taxes the presbytery with an amount that a church does not pay.  The result is that the cost to the presbytery is extra.  Such an action hurts everyone, solves nothing, and affects the entire presbytery as it relates to overall operation and ministry. 

Likewise, when a church takes on additional responsibilities, i.e., staff, additional projects, etc. and finds itself needing to sacrifice all or a portion of its per capita to do so, then the presbytery still must pay that amount.  Once again, WE DO.  Once again, these actions affect how the presbytery operates.  The less the congregation contributes because such actions, the less a presbytery or mid-council can do to resource congregations.

While the Synod and GA still receive the full per capita that a presbytery is required to pay, it still taxes the presbytery and renders us unable to do as much as we might be able to do if congregations paid per capita.

Our presbyteries and synods still attempt to as much as we possibly can even with less upon which to operate.  Our system is interdependent.  Each decision or action affects something else.  That is the nature of being connected; that is the nature of being good stewards.  If you have participated in the visits by Dr. Peter Steinke to PMRV, you learned about “system theory”. Understanding a system helps us to operate in a manner that results in greater service.  Each part of a mid-council or a congregation is dependent upon other parts in order to function well.  If one part does not operate well or operates in isolation, it affects the other parts.  I have shared this information and these stories with you to provide real-life examples. These examples emphasize the importance of per capita, how paying per capita benefits the congregation, mid-council, the denomination, and how important you are to the PC(USA) as a member.

On August 19, 2019, I participated in a ZOOM Conference call regarding per capita.  Most of the executive presbyters from our Synod were part of that call.  Two executive presbyters from the Synod of Lakes and Prairies are members of a special per capita based committee/task force that was appointed at the 223rd General Assembly; namely, Sarah Moore-Nokes and Kevin Veldhuisen. They facilitated the discussion. You will hear more about this special committee and its purpose.  It that report to the 224th General Assembly in 2020.  I will keep you updated regarding this work.  You can access some of this information on the PCUSA website to read additional details.  We will place the information on the PMRV website for your convenience.

Search the GA website,, and learn more about per capita, its history, theological importance, and how deeply you are valued as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ.  If I can be helpful, please let me know.  God’s blessings to you now and always.

In Christ,

Mary Newbern-Williams

Rev. Mary Newbern-Williams

Executive Presbyter