The basic governing body of the NCC for the period 1950 to 1972 was the General Assembly. The General Assembly consisted of clerical and lay representatives elected or appointed by the constituent communions of the NCC. Each communion had eight representatives plus an additional representative for each 70,000 communicant members. The communions were also granted additional delegates to reflect their involvement as participants in state and local councils of churches. Officers and past presidents of the Council were additional representatives for their communions. There were also nonvoting members of the General Assembly representing related movements and organizations of the NCC, as well as denominations which were not members of the National Council. The representatives served as members of the General Assembly from the adjournment of one meeting to the adjournment of the next meeting.
The responsibilities of the General Assembly included the following:
- Determination under the constitution of the basic objectives of the Council and the overall structure through which these objectives were achieved.
- Election of communions to constituent membership in the Council.
- Election of the officers of the Council and election of the General Board.
- General review and evaluation of the work of the Council.
- Determination of policies, especially as they affect new program development.
- Adoption of instructions or recommendations to the General Board.
- Public witness to oneness in Christ and His mission. From 1950 to 1954 the General Assembly met biennially.
From 1957 to 1972 the General Assembly met triennially. In 1972 through a constitutional amendment the General Assembly was replaced by a Governing Board which met semiannually.
The first Assembly of the NCC was its constituting convention held at Cleveland in 1950. Material relating to this meeting is found in Record Group 1. The second General Assembly met in 1952 at Denver. A primary concern of this meeting was action on the report of an Appraisal Committee which evaluated and revised the operation and structure of the NCC. Resolutions were passed regarding Christians behind the Iron Curtain and refugees in Europe and Asia.
The third General assembly met at Boston in 1954. The work of the meeting was done in four sections: The Churches' World-Wide Concerns; The Churches' Witness within the Nation; The Churches' Ministry to Specialized Groups; and The Churches' Nurture of Their Members. Actions of the Assembly centered around the approval of New York as main headquarters for the NCC, as well as topics such as refugees, Council structure, and the United States Supreme Court ruling striking down public school segregation.
The theme of the 1957 General Assembly at St. Louis was "Oneness in Christ." Resolutions at this fourth Assembly concerned subjects such as racial segregation in the churches, the moral crisis in the labor unions, international aid and trade, freedom of association, and refugees. The fifth General Assembly met in 1960 at San Francisco with the theme of "Jesus Christ, Living Lord of All Life." One of the major activities of the meeting was long range planning. Resolutions from the Assembly concerned equal opportunity in employment, agricultural migrant workers, Christian responsibility for world community, poverty in the United States, and Cuban refugees.
The 1963 General Assembly met in Philadelphia. The theme of the Assembly was "Servants of the Eternal Christ." President John F. Kennedy was to have addressed the meeting, and his assassination shortly before the Assembly cast a pall over the gathering. A dominant concern of the meeting was program review and structural revision of the NCC. Resolutions passed by this Assembly dealt with the death of President Kennedy, legalized gambling, and race relations.
The seventh General Assembly convened at Miami in 1966 with a theme of "That the World May Know." Seven subject areas were studied by the meeting. These included: crisis and opportunity in evangelism; the city: problem and promise; science and the humanization of life; sex, marriage, and family; strategies for the next stage in civil rights; living in a nationalistic and pluralistic world; and poverty, affluence and revolution. Resolutions from the Assembly regarded Vietnam, family planning, ecumenical relations, and Southwest and South Africa.
"Therefore, Choose Life" was to have been the theme of the eighth General Assembly meeting at Detroit in 1969. Review and evaluation of the program of the NCC and then recommendations of goals and strategies for the Council were to have been the activities of the meeting; however, this all changed with the convening of the gathering. The meeting became a forum for representatives of a number of minority groups who presented their grievances and concerns to the churches and called for a response from the churches. Resolutions adopted by the Assembly concerned Alaska native land claims, population, chemical and biological weapons, Vietnam, and peaceful dissent.
The ninth and final General Assembly met in 1972 at Dallas with the theme of "The Demands of the Gospel in a World of Conflict." This Assembly was most concerned with arranging its own demise. The Assembly amended the NCC constitution to abolish the General Assembly and General Board and to create the Governing Board. Resolutions enacted by the meeting concerned military force and foreign policy, war crimes, South Africa, Vietnam, the Middle East, children's rights, farm workers, drug abuse, human rights, and race relations in the armed forces.
The following is a list of the dates and places of the nine General Assemblies:
First General Assembly (Constituting Convention), Cleveland, Nov. 28 – Dec. 1, 1950
Second General Assembly, Denver, Dec. 9 - 12, 1952
Third General Assembly, Boston, Nov. 28 – Dec. 3, 1954
Fourth General Assembly, St. Louis, Dec. 1 - 6, 1957
Fifth General Assembly, San Francisco, Dec. 4 - 9, 1960
Sixth General Assembly, Philadelphia, Dec. 1 - 7, 1963
Seventh General Assembly, Miami, Dec. 4 - 9, 1966
Eighth General Assembly, Detroit, Nov. 30 – Dec. 4, 1969
Ninth General Assembly, Dec. 3 - 7, 1972