I have to admit to being caught a bit off guard when the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) released their membership numbers a couple of weeks ago. The summary numbers are typically released right around the time of the start of General Assembly in years that it meets. As for whether the early release was because they were ready or they wanted to get bad news out well before the GA I will leave to others to speculate.
Once again, I took a look at the numbers and wondered “what can I possibly say about them that is not being said by others and is worth my time?” Well, in thinking about it a bit I decided to drill down and look specifically at the categories of membership gain and loss and see if there was interesting information if we picked them apart a bit.
For the data set I use the Summary Statistics released by the Office of the Stated Clerk. While for many things the Comparative Statistics from Research Services are more detailed, for the gains and losses categories the Summary works better. Rummaging around on the web site I got summaries from 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2013 taking the data back to 2005.
I decided not to deal in absolute numbers but to look at gains and losses as percentages of the total membership relative to the previous year’s total membership. This will help filter out the trend and allow a better year-to-year comparison.