In the summer of 2010, seven pastors from the Presbyterian Church (USA) spoke of finding new ways to encourage each other in faith, ministry, and mission. They were concerned by the declining membership within their denomination (from four million to two million in 40 years). And they worried that growing denominational disputes over theology and bureaucracy stole focus from their pastoral calling of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ and equipping a new generation to lead. These pastors dreamed of reclaiming a sense of covenanted community among leaders from a Presbyterian and Reformed heritage and to find new ways for churches to connect, grow, and multiply.
In January 2011, these pastors sent out a letter to PC(USA) pastors around the country, asking if others wanted to join in a crafting new way forward. The response was overwhelming; just seven months later, in August 2011, nearly 2,000 men and women gathered in Minneapolis to dream and pray. This became the birth of The Fellowship of Presbyterians, a ministry association that seeks to equip and connect those in various Presbyterian denominations including the PC(USA). But some pastors and congregations felt God calling them to leave the PC(USA), and many young seminarians were looking for a different context for ordination. As a result, in January 2012, at a conference in Orlando with more than 2,200 in attendance, a new denomination was formed: ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.
As of early 2016, more than 270 churches across the United States have joined ECO, plus several new congregations are being started. More than 100 additional congregations are in the process of joining the denomination. The average size of an ECO congregation is approximately 400 members.
The name ECO is not an acronym. It symbolizes a passion for strengthening the ecosystems of local churches. ECO believes that the Church is a living organism that needs life-giving resources to help it grow, thrive, and multiply. ECO is committed to cultivating a healthy, diverse, resource-rich ecosystem where pastors and congregations can flourish. ECO's full name (ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians) speaks to our core commitments:
Covenant: To connect leaders in accountable relationships and encourage collaboration.
Order: To commit to a shared way of life as we unite around a shared theological core.
Evangelical: To advance the gospel of Jesus Christ and plant new missional communities.
Presbyterian: To stand within our Reformed heritage and celebrate the life of the mind.
ECO has nine Core Values that direct its ministry. For a complete understanding of ECO's theological beliefs, be sure to read ECO's Essential Tenets and Confessions.
Jesus-shaped Identity: We believe Jesus Christ must be at the center of our lives and making disciples of Jesus at the core of our ministry
Biblical Integrity: We believe the Bible is the unique and authoritative Word of God, which teaches all that is necessary for faith and life. The prominence of God’s Word over our lives shapes our priorities, and the unrivaled authority of the Bible directs our actions to be in concert with Christ’s very best for our lives.
Thoughtful Theology: We believe in theological education, constant learning, and the life of the mind, and celebrate this as one of the treasures of our Reformed heritage.
Accountable Community: We believe guidance is a corporate spiritual experience. We want to connect leaders to one another in healthy relationships of accountability, synergy, and care.
Egalitarian Ministry: We believe in unleashing the ministry gifts of women, men, and every ethnic group.
Missional Centrality: We believe in living out the whole of the Great Commission – including evangelism, spiritual formation, compassion, and redemptive justice – in our communities and around the world.
Center-focused Spirituality: We believe in calling people to the core of what it means to be followers of Jesus – what “mere Christianity” is and does – and not fixate on the boundaries.
Leadership Velocity: We believe identifying and developing gospel-centered leaders is critical for the church, and a great leadership culture is risk-taking, innovative, and organic.
Kingdom Vitality: We believe congregations should vigorously reproduce new missional communities to expand the Kingdom of God.
Q: What is ECO's Structure?
A: There are three layers to the ECO polity structure; session, presbytery, and synod. Synod is the widest council in ECO. Each council is designed to have a small staff. There will also be a small number of congregations (maximum of 20) comprising a presbytery. The primary role of ECO staff will be mission and ministry in local congregations, facilitating the multiplication of worshiping communities and expansion of the Gospel.
Q: Does ECO endorse any seminaries?
A: ECO requires ordination candidates to earn a master’s degree in theology or biblical studies from an accredited seminary and encourages them to choose a seminary which will equip them to teach God’s Word in a way consistent with the ECO Essential Tenets. ECO does not explicitly endorse particular seminaries, instead examining the suitability of the candidate, rather than their seminary. In addition to seminary education, ECO expects its candidates to pursue extensive hands-on ministry training and mentoring.
Q: How is ECO funded?
A: ECO receives 1% of a congregation's annual budget. This supports ECO nationally, but funds are also given to each of our local presbyteries. In the future, presbyteries may need to charge a nominal amount to support a local budget.