By Steve Salyards, The GA Junkie.
Over the last couple of weeks the Office of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) has released two sets of data that will be the focus of attention at the upcoming General Assembly. At some point in the next few of months I hope to really drill down into the data some more, but to do that there is a third report that I am waiting for so a detailed analysis will have to wait for its release. But because they will be the focus of attention in a couple of weeks, here are some initial comments.
The first one I will look at is the annual report of the summary statistics for the denomination including the 2015 membership data. To some degree this is either “move along, nothing to see here” or a case of Alfred North Whitehead’s famous quote “It takes a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious.” But here we go anyways.
The money quote is always the totals so the PCUSA finished 2015 with 9,642 churches, 20,077 teaching elders and 1,572,660 active members. That is a 1.9% drop in churches, fairly consistent with the 2.1% and 2.2% in the two preceding years. The number of teaching elders declined by 1.5% after declines of 0.9% in 2014 and 1.4% in 2013. The membership decline has been rising slightly with a 4.8% drop in 2013, a 5.3% drop in 2014 and then a 5.7% drop this past year.
Often times the story is “look how many churches and people are leaving the PCUSA for more conservative denominations.” Now I will not deny that is an issue in these numbers but let’s add a little perspective here. The statistics show that in 2015 the PCUSA dismissed 104 churches to other denominations. In the same year they dissolved/closed 91 churches. In general, over the last four years the number of churches dismissed has typically been roughly the same as the number closed. (2012: 86 closed, 110 dismissed; 2013: 74 closed, 148 dismissed; 2014: 110 closed, 101 dismissed) Over those four years there have been 13, 24, 15 and 14 churches organized.
It is the same story with membership losses. While the church lost 47,728 members by certificate of transfer in 2015, 27,469 joined the Church Triumphant (death) and 79,002 were lost to “other”, i.e. walking out the door and being dropped from the rolls. In general, the number of members transferred has been about half the number in the other category over the last several years. For perspective, the total gains by profession of faith, transfer, and other over the last year were 59,092.
In case you have not picked up where I am going with this my point is that dismissals are only part – roughly half – of the problem. Even ignoring dismissals of congregations and members the replacement rate in the PCUSA is still well below the losses to dissolutions, deaths and disappearances.
Related article: PCUSA 2015 Membership Loss: 95,107
I do not want to conclude the author has far too much time on his hands. But here is the Cliff Notes version. The PCUSA is the first religious denomination in American history be be undergoing a classic theological schism, and a systemic and structural collapse, all at the same time. The former is of course brought on by its intended and predictable transformation into a post-Christian, political entity. The latter has much to do with demography, population trends, and aging out of its core demographic of white, college educated females.
The velocity of people moving, leaving, dropping off the grid,dying, will always exceed he velocity of money draining from the organization. Foundation, Board of Pensions, giving patterns are volatile and changing year to year. The bottom line is this. All metrics, all measures, all charts and graphs on or about the PCUSA constantly move from the upper left to lower right. As in physics and math, all numbers migrate to zero. The PCUSA is well along that path. As far as the supposed “1001 New communities”. Lets be clear, the vast, vast, vast majority will never reach critical mass or even the broadest definition of what a church is in terms of Word and Sacrament. It is a sham and mirrors, funded in essence to make PCUSAers feel good about themselves, which for them is always the point.
FWIW .. Steve has always been a “GA Junkie” and statistics geek, its his hobby 🙂