With his folksy, conversational style, Pastor Frank Harrington turned Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta into a megachurch over three decades. At its peak, Peachtree had nearly 13,000 names on its rolls—six times the membership when Harrington assumed the pulpit in 1970. On the first Sunday of 1999, membership stood at 11,800, making Peachtree the largest congregation in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
But Harrington fell ill the following Saturday, and died six weeks later at age 63. “No retirement or succession plan was in place,” recalls Stephen Bacon, a minister who handled administrative duties at Peachtree then and now. And no such plan had been officially talked about. After Harrington’s death, attendance dropped, giving slipped and membership dived, accounting for 10 percent of the total PCUSA membership decline reported in 2000.