Frequently asked questions
What is per capita?
The official definition: “Per capita is an opportunity for all communicant members of the Presbyterian church through the governing bodies [mid councils] to participate equally, responsibly, and interdependently by sharing the cost of coordination and evaluation of mission; and of performing ecclesiastical, legislative, and judicial functions that identify a Reformed Church, while at the same time strengthening the sense of community among all Presbyterians” (GA Minutes, Part I, 1995).
In essence: Per capita is a set amount of money (apportionment) per member that congregations pay to the larger Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Said another way, it is a Presbyterian Covenant Community Fund — part of the glue that holds Presbyterians together. Because every Presbyterian shares in the benefit of the PC(USA)’s system of government, the expenses associated with coordinating and performing the functions of that system should be shared by everyone as well.
How old is per capita?
The first-known mention of per capita dates back to 1734 in a letter to ministers!
Who pays per capita, and how much?
Congregations (through their sessions) pay an annual amount of money per church member — per capita apportionment — to their respective presbyteries.
The per capita amount requested from a congregation is a combined total of requests from that congregation’s presbytery, the synod in which the presbytery is located, and the General Assembly — based on their respective budgets for the coming year(s).
Example: Congregation A is asked by Presbytery A to pay a total of $20 per member. That amount breaks down as follows:
- Presbytery A’s per capita rate is $12 per member
- Synod A’s per capita rate is $3 per member
- General Assembly’s per capita rate is $5 per member
Why does the per capita rate differ among presbyteries?
Each presbytery begins with the General Assembly per capita rate and adds the amount needed to support its specific mission and administrative functions.
A presbytery’s per capita rate requested from its congregations depends on its geographical location and size, as well as its mission needs and the needs of the respective synod. Requests of congregations typically range from $5 to $30.
How is the General Assembly per capita rate set?
The General Assembly per capita rate is set every two years at the biennial General Assembly meeting.
At each GA, a proposed budget for the coming two-year period is approved. The per capita rate is set by dividing the total GA-approved budget by the total PC(USA) church membership after adjusting for income earned from investments and the amount of accumulation or reserves used in the prior period.
The rate is based on the membership of PC(USA) churches two years earlier, which are the most recent figures available when GA budgets are approved.
What is the current General Assembly per capita rate?
The GA per capita rate for 2013 is $6.87. For 2014, it is $7.02.
What do GA per capita dollars provide?
Presbyterians believe we discern best what God is calling us to do when we gather together, “seek[ing] … to find and represent the will of Christ” (Book of Order, F-3.0204).
Per capita funding is how we mutually share the costs of coming together to discern the Spirit’s leading for the future.
For example, the funding provides for the cost of bringing together:
- commissioners and advisory delegates to the General Assembly (as well as the cost of planning and holding the meeting)
- church leaders from presbyteries and synods for training events
- necessary tools to develop and administer ordination exams to seminarians preparing to become future pastors
- those who are elected by the GA to serve on permanent GA committees (as well as each committee’s work), such as the GA Nominating Committee and the GA Committee on Representation
Per capita also funds:
- the expenses of the Moderator and Vice Moderator of the General Assembly as they travel across the church to attend church anniversaries, presbytery meetings, retreats, ecumenical gatherings, and so forth
- work in the area of vocation, helping all Presbyterians discern their sense of God’s call in their lives
- information, advice, and counsel to presbyteries and pastors whose members have immigration issues
- the Presbyterian Historical Society, assuring that our witness to the gospel today will be preserved for future generations, just as we have learned about the history of past generations
- the production (in multiple languages) and distribution of the Book of Order, The Book of Confessions, and other GA publications
- a Presbyterian presence at ecumenical groups and gatherings in this country and worldwide, which extends our mission efforts and our work for peace and justice far beyond what we can do by ourselves and promotes Christian unity
- the staffing and administrative costs necessary to coordinate all of the above, including the office of the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
Read further for a detailed list of the items funded by per capita.
What happens if a presbytery cannot or will not pay its per capita to the General Assembly?
The PC(USA)’s Constitution does not mandate the payment of per capita by congregations. At the same time, the Constitution provides no provision on the part of congregations (sessions) to withhold per capita as a form of protest.
If a presbytery has a congregation within its bounds that is withholding per capita because of insufficient funds or protest, the presbytery is still obligated to pay per capita, as funds are available.
For more information, read the Advisory Opinion on Per Capita Apportionments. (PDF)