(By Leslie Scanlon, The Presbyterian Outlook). Most congregations in the Presbyterian Church (USA) are small, but most Presbyterians attend larger churches. About two-thirds of those preparing to enter ministry – candidates and inquirers in the PCUSA – come from churches with at least 300 members, which means they may have little or no experience of life in a small congregation.
Just under 15 percent of small PCUSA congregations – those with 50 members or fewer – are served by a minister who participates in the Board of Pensions benefits plan, which typically means that person is in full-time ministry. But most Presbyterians (about 70 percent) attend churches with 151 members or more, and typically those congregations are served by at least one full-time, seminary-trained pastor.
The first plenary session of the Mid Council Leaders Gathering, being held Oct. 15-17 in St. Louis, focused on congregational realities – dashing through a flurry of information about trends in the denomination and life on the ground. The gathering is being co-sponsored by the Office of the General Assembly and the Board of Pensions – it replaces what used to be called the Fall Polity Conference – and it’s drawn about 350 people for training and opportunities for connection.
During that first plenary Oct. 15, the speakers offered information and opportunities for discussion – but refrained from offering much interpretation.
“The numbers are what the numbers are,” but individual Presbyterians may view them differently, said Timothy Cargal, an assistant stated clerk in the Office of the General Assembly, responsible for overseeing preparation for ministry.
“It’s easy to lament the past instead of to celebrate what we have,” said Kris Valerius, an assistant stated clerk for the Office of the General Assembly with responsibility for denominational rolls and statistics. “We should be celebrating what we have, because we have an abundance at our fingertips.”
Membership size. Valerius traced trends in the membership size of congregations for a decade, from 2006 to 2016. While the number of PCUSA congregations overall declined during that time, the balance between smaller congregations and larger ones did not change a lot, she said.
Most congregations are small:
- 150 members or less: 62 percent in 2006; 72 percent in 2016.
- 151 to 600 members: 32 percent in 2006; 24 percent in 2016.
- 601 members or more: 6 percent in 2006; 4 percent in 2016.
In 2006, the average PCUSA congregation had 207 members; the median membership was 105.
In 2016, the average PCUSA congregation had 157 members; the median was 78.