One has attenders with an average age of 79. The other's average age is 40. Both are Presbyterian. One went from an attendance of 20 to 2,000. Both pastors point to theology as the difference.
Eastminster Presbyterian Church in the Gateway district in northeast Portland has mostly very senior attenders--average age 79. Pastor Ron Kincaid of Sunset Presbyterian Church in the Cedar Mill area took a "counterintuitive" step and
"began preaching a more orthodox Protestant message - the evangelical message that takes the Bible as the word of God, no if, ands or buts.Pastor Brian Heron of Eastminster agrees with Kinkaid even while preaching a more liberal message.
"Portland and Oregon may be among the least-churched cities and states in the country, but a liberal dogma doesn't necessarily work here, says Kincaid.
"'There's not too many churches that have a liberal theology that are growing,' Kincaid says.
"In fact, Sunset under Kincaid has switched its affiliation, from the mainline Presbyterian to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church."
"A questioning theology is almost impossible for a mainstream church to practice here if it wants to grow, he says."But, there's a price to pay in taking any firm stand:
"'If we became a church that said we’re going to ordain gays and lesbians, we would probably lose 20 percent of our church,' Heron says. 'And if we were to take a stand to not ordain gays and lesbians, we might lose 30 or 40 percent of our church.'Though admitting that lack of a clear message has hurt Eastminster, Pastor Heron thinks a clear conservative message will eventually fail in the Portland area:
"As a result, Heron says, mainstream churches such as Eastminster, just hoping to stay together, have avoided many of the most controversial spiritual issues, and end up not being attractive to many new congregants at all."
"Kincaid's more orthodox theology has been successful in attracting new congregants who find comfort in an unambiguous dogma, Heron says, but it might not continue doing so, especially in liberal Portland. Eventually, he says, a conservative message runs out of potential congregants in liberal-dominated Portland.Taking an unpopular, but clear, stand on truth may not seem like a good organizational move, but if the power in a message depends on whether it comes from God or not, "potential congregants" isn't the key question.
"'To continue to say 'We’re the one way,’ leads to less tolerance, and fighting, and I just don’t see how historically that’s going to be able to last,' Heron says."
A critical difference in the two churches seems to hinge on the view of whether the church is a divinely instituted body that needs to follow a singular message or more like other human organizations that need to take marketing into account.