The 2015 Comparative Statistics show another dramatic decrease in the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s membership.
In 2015, the PCUSA lost 95,107 members, bringing total membership down to 1,572,660. That’s a 5.70 decrease from the 2014 membership number — 1,667,767. The denomination lost 92,433 members that year.
The PCUSA’s membership has been in continuous decline since the denomination was formed in 1983, by the reunion of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. (PCUS) and the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (UPCUSA). The last recorded membership increase for the PCUSA’s two combined predecessor denominations was in 1965. (Click here for chart showing PCUSA membership and losses 1960-2015.)
Blogger Mateen Elass highlighted that trend in his recent blog “Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining – Thanks be to Mammom!” He wrote
The numbers paint a bleak picture (once again) of the denomination’s health, but especially in the area of membership loss. This is no surprise given the unbiblical trend of the national organization (ordination of practicing homosexuals and redefinition of marriage to include same-sex unions being two of the more egregious decisions of the General Assembly in the last four years), but in 2015 the flood gates of departure opened even wider. After many years of net losses averaging around 2% of total membership, in 2007 those percentages began rising even as the denominational base was shrinking (percentage loss in 2007 was 2.5; each year after that has lost, respectively, 3.1, 2.9, 2.9, 3.2, 5.3, 4.8, and in 2014 5.3%). 2015, however, has broken all past records with a net membership loss of 5.7%. In real numbers that’s a net loss of 95,107 active members. Another way of saying this is that at the end of 2015, the PCUSA was 6.0% smaller than at the end of 2014.
In 2015, there were 4,296 fewer professions of faith — 33,566 — than in 2014. For the 17 and under age group the number was 11,904 and for the 18 and over, it totaled 21,662.
The total joining by certificate was 14,969 — 1,668 less than 2014; and the “other” category was 10,557 — 359 less than 2014.
Baptisms of children dropped by a little more than 2,000 — from 17,027 in 2014 to 14,943 in 2015. There were 4,634 adult baptisms in 2014, while there were 4,169 in 2015.
According to the statistics, the PCUSA dismissed 104 churches to other denominations in 2015, while dissolving 91 congregations. Fourteen churches were organized during the year and no churches were received from other denominations.
In the good news category, the PCUSA saw an increase of more than $9-million in contributions in 2015. Contributions for the year totaled $1,748,516,736 — $9.6 million more than the denomination received in 2014. Also, local mission gifts from congregations increased by more than $7.6-million in 2015 to total $132,737,066.
In the OGA’s news release, Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons said that “Presbyterians, regardless of how large or small they are in number, are recommitting themselves to be the hands and feet of Christ in community.”
He continued that “The PCUSA clearly isn’t going away, even though some congregations have discerned another denominational path for themselves. Mission and ministry remain alive and vibrant in the body.”
Referring to that quote, Elass said “Parsons is impressed that in spite of the loss of members and churches, overall contributions to the denomination are up $9.6 million. Capital and building funds of local churches increased. Most to be highlighted, however, is the fact that local mission giving by congregations increased $7.7 million over 2014. So while the PCUSA is hemorrhaging members and congregations at record rates, nevertheless giving in certain areas is up. Indeed, every cloud does apparently have a silver lining! Where in all this is the concern for souls, for the eternal welfare of the lost, for the glory of God displayed in the salvation of sinners??? Instead we have talk of denominational life and vitality in the form of overflowing coffers.”
The Comparative Statistics were released on May 16 by the PCUSA’s Office of the General Assembly.
Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining – Thanks be to Mammom!”
Local mission giving in PCUSA churches increases in 2015
2015 Summaries of Statistics– Comparative Summaries
I have to wonder how much of the nearly $10 million increase in contributions was attributed to the “parting gifts” that departing congregations agreed to give the denomination as part of their negotiated settlements with their former presbyteries as part of their terms of dismissal, and how much the contributions would have been if these “gifts” had been deducted.
Parsons “Parsons is impressed that in spite of the loss of members and churches, overall contributions to the denomination are up $9.6 million.”
As we all know from the departing churches……………it’s all about the money
This seems reflective of the general trend in mainline denominations and it also shows that attitudes about membership are changing. I have seen increases in people who act and give like members in a congregation, they simply do not feel the call to become members under our process. We are seeing more and more of these “Other Participant” category people – maybe its time to start looking at “membership” and what that means in today’s culture and society.
Here’s another silver lining: We beating the pants off those Episcopalians in the race to see who can get to 1.0M members first! They’re still way up at 1.9M members, those slackers!
This is the 21st Century rendition of the Protestant Work Ethic.
In therapeutic encounters with people dealing with self-destructive behaviors, one common matter you address very early in the process is what is called, “magical thinking”. Or the replacement of reality with fantasy, made up narratives, utopian-ism, lies, which folks use as a defense mechanism to avoid dealing with the hard truth of their pathology and conditions.
By this point in the very sad and long PCUSA narrative post reunion, it is very clear that for the leadership, OGA, Louisville, the “Outlook””Presbyterians Today” , its publications, its apologists and enablers, membership numbers really is a non-issue, for them it does not matter. Their collective magical thinking is all is well, money receipts are up in some accounts, Portland will be another outstanding success, the denomination is on the brink of a new and vibrant future. All and those liberal leaning, Bernie loving Millennials are just waiting to bust down the doors trying to get in. Magic, dreaming, re-imagining.
I have stated previously the contemporary PCUSA is more Cultist in its policies and programs than a functional religious denomination. And like any cult you have sycophants and true believers who assume everybody else just does not get it. I think we do and have, with more “getting it”, every day.
The denomination’s leaders have made belonging to a church all about good works, politics, social justice. They have minimized the Gospel message. I believe God is reclaiming His rightful place in His church. When we bring people in to “Church” it should be to Faith in the work of Christ. We are ambassadors for Christ and His message. There is power in Christ alone to save, all good works cannot save. What the Holy Spirit can do to change lives is magnificent compared to all our human efforts to change social ills. What you believe in matters.
People are coming to ” church” but are unwilling to make the commitment to join. Likewise, members are re- evaluating their connection to the PCUSA. Why? I believe the PCUSA has lost its core message and power to bring people to Christ.
What we need are pastors, teachers and Elders who know God and His word and who are willing to provide the object of our Faith and Belief: a personal relationship to Jesus and forgiveness of sin. Otherwise there is no reason to be a “member” of the PCUSA. God is reclaiming His rightful place among His people and God is not limited to a PCUSA denomination
to do it because the “true church” is under God’s control. God can and is removing people from under the control of this denomination to carry out His will and proclaim His glory for this time. That is a slow process at times and I know there are some faithful pastors who remain to shepherd their people in the PCUSA and I pray for them!
It should probably be noted that the membership of the Presbyterian Church (USA) is now half what it was in 1983, when it was formed from the merger of the UPCUSA and the PCUS. Also, 2015 marks fifty years of unmitigated decline in the PC(USA) and its predecessor denominations.
One would think that these dismal statistics would make the leaders in this once-prominent denomination rethink their “Progressive” ideologies that are alienating Evangelical Presbyterians, prompting them within the past half century to found three new Presbyterian denominations, while countless others have left for non-Presbyterian Evangelical churches, and many others have left the faith altogether, finding in Theological Liberalism no compelling reason to be a Christian. To be sure, there are those who say that the PC(USA) must implement the changes it has to retain its young people, but the fact remains that Evangelical churches have done a much better job holding onto their young people than Theological Liberal ones, which have made just about every compromise that the world has asked of them.
For those concerned about liberalism, this has been going on since the PCUSA kicked out Gresham Machen and destroyed Princeton Seminaryin the early 20th century. Conservative Presbyterians may want to check out the OPC.
Almost every suburban school in the major metropolitan area where I live has a “non-church,” church meeting in it that is growing. There is an old line leftist Methodist Church near me that has lost almost all of its members to these new churches meeting in schools. These churches meeting in schools are very traditional in outlook. The Methodist Church near me that is about to shut down is all about the issues of the contemporary left and not about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The churches meeting in schools are all about the Gospel of Jesus Christ and not about contemporary politics. These churches are growing. If I don’t cry out the rocks will cry out. So to your point, “the general trend in mainline denominations,” is hardly a good reference point.
While declines may have been going on since 1983 it picked up steam in 2005 when liberal thinking and social justice became more important than being a church of the Gospel. Negative 32% in the last 10 years.
I had the same thought Loren. Only I called it extortion instead of a ‘parting gift’
The real measure to consider in looking at the health of the organization is not membership but worship attendance. I would venture to guess that number is somewhere between 500K and 750K.
Thank-you for reporting these statistics, but now I want to know more. What is the median size of all PCUSA congregations, now? How many churches have from one to five members? Five to ten, etc.? What is the average age of all members of the PCUSA?
Even with last year’s losses, (and the losses already predicted through 2020), there are a lot of members left, but I strongly suspect that the edifice is flimsier than it might at first appear to be.
I have the very same question as you. Given the massive amounts of money from all the “gracious” dismissals, where is all of that money received by the presbyteries being allocated?
I have an additional question as well — “…local mission gifts from congregations increased by more than $7.6-million in 2015 to total $132,737,066.” Does this figure represent money funneled through PC(USA) coffers from local churches, or simply expended locally and reported to OGA in each congregation’s financial statements?
To me, it matters a great deal if we wish to measure whether congregations are going it alone, actively re-programming their contributions away from PC(USA) broader initiatives, or simply earmarking more of the money they give to local matters than previously?
John, the median number has not yet been released, but the average # of members per congregation is simple to calculate. As I share in my blog post, for 2015 it stands at 163, a drop from the 2014 number of 170.
Average age across the denomination is typically not reported, as far as I can see. More will be released at the start of GA, according to Carmen LaBerge.
Thanks for your response, and I understand if what I’m asking isn’t reported, or not yet available. But I imagine you see what I’m thinking–if the average age is fairly high, and new, younger members are not flowing in, then the average age will go up, and there will come a time when membership falls off just by attrition. As for congregation size, membership won’t be evenly distributed among all of the denomination’s churches. Some will have fewer than fifty members, and then some will have from fifty to a hundred. I suspect that those churches will be at greater risk of closing. (Those numbers were available last year, though they may not yet have been reported.) My belief is that, at some point, those two trends may combine to close a good many churches, possibly quite suddenly and quite quickly.
In 2014 I think it was 84 members. It’s been dropping by at least 2 or 3 each year.
I can’t recall the last time I saw the average age but it’s been within the last 3 or 4 years but at that time it was around 64.
The drop in Infant Baptisms is really significant. Over 12% decrease in one
year. Clearly a sign of a rapidly aging denomination.
John, the median for per congregation membership for 2014 was 84. The annual decrease has been fairly steady at 2-3 per year. I wouldn’t be surprised to see that number fall by 4 for 2014, leaving a median of 80.
You’re quite right about the trends. I can’t remember the exact figures, but I believe almost half of the congregations in the PCUSA report under 100 members, and many of those congregations are in rural areas where the younger populations have migrated to the cities so that there is not a significant pool of potential young members to draw from to replenish the ranks. My guess is that within 10 years the number of PCUSA congregations will have decreased from its present 9600 to 5000 or less. The number leaving the PCUSA due to dissatisfaction will taper off, but the number closing by death and attrition will skyrocket. Already the denomination (through its presbyteries) is under-reporting “church deaths,” trying to ignore congregations that are no longer viable, hoping for a miracle, rather than acknowledging their deaths and seeking to give birth to new fellowships within their geographic boundaries.
When you look up individual congregation statistics on the PCUSA website, the numbers are from 2013. Does anyone know why 2014 numbers were never posted? Will 2015 numbers be posted?
I think I also have heard that the average age of all members was 64, but I haven’t seen it written anywhere, so I could never judge whether it was reliable, and now I’d want to see whether it was current, or if the average has risen, because I also suspect that the population is aging. I think they’ll be able to give us the median size of all PCUSA churches, and it will be interesting to see what that is, now, too.
Thanks for your help.
It would be interesting to see more detailed information on PCUSA demographics. Average member age might point to a membership cliff, if the denomination is aging-out. The continuing decline of infant and adult baptisms should cause alarm. At one point there was a spreadsheet (developed by the denomination?)showing the number of congregations in each size group, with an alarming number below 100. When membership dips below 100 it is difficult to pay for a full-time pastor, which further erodes the vitality of a congregation. My point here is that the real health of the PCUSA might be alarmingly worse than portrayed in membership numbers alone.
Dr. Elass, Having become obsessed, I suppose, I dug around online until I found the source for a median age of all PCUSA members. It is the “Religious and Demographic Profile of Presbyterians 2011,” published by the PCUSA. I am unable to find a later report, so that may have been a one-time publication. It stated that, as of 2011, the median age of members of the PCUSA was 63, up from 60 in 2008. Could that mean that it has become 68, in the five years since that report?
I apologize for having become sidetracked and for monopolizing the conversation, but this may be another aspect of the deterioration of the denomination, beyond its membership losses.
Take a look at this: http://www.pcusa.org/site_media/media/uploads/oga/pdf/snapshot-2012.pdf
The BoP presented this to GA in 2012 and some of the data is now five years old, but you can see the trends and see how much of this is now coming into play. PCUSA’s biggest problem is that they’re aging to death. Other member loss just accelerates the process.
Arbuthnaught — Not what I am seeing, we have “churches” (both congregationalist and affiliated) in schools near us that are losing members. Your over simplifying this issue and also labeling all mainline as “liberal” and all unaffiliated as “gospel” is a blanket generalization that is simply not true. Why are you doing this?
The current Stated Clerk (and chief executive of the PCUSA) since 2008, Gradye Parsons has lost 567,505 (26%) members on his watch. That kind of performance in any other institution in the US–government, business, education–would be cause for a serious, fact-driven, forensics process, a pink slip, and a change in direction. But not in the PC(USA). Which takes the most perplexing pride in a polity that increasingly makes a TV Reality Show look non-dramatic and reasonable !
Instead, his anointed heir apparent, the Rev J. Herbert Nelson, will more likely double down on the exact set of policies that have caused the meltdown. It’s what happens when passionate cultural/political warriors care far more about their causes than the institution they run.
To borrow a George Bush line about watching his first Commerce Secretary hold a press conference, “It’s like watching a 5-year old playing with a loaded gun.”
All this would merely curious except it actually involves congregations and people–my church, specifically–that may well fall in Parson’s/Nelson’s acceptable losses categories.
This may not be a meaningful number but, with the aging of the population and given that the denomination is reportedly “a bunch of old white people,” it might be interesting to know if we know what percentage of this increase came from bequests.
Duffus and Loren – its a fascinating sociological study to watch how you and others here have latched onto the PCUSA as the mother of all evil. You all are willing to expend countless hours posting here and scheming, yet there is so much more in the world I would think the gospel demands that you should be focused on than trying to tear down your PCUSA straw-man. Please move on and try to find some ministry of love and compassion – not hate and bitterness.
When you look up statistics of individual churches on the PCUSA website, the numbers are from 2013. Does anyone know why the 2014 numbers were never published? Will the 2015 numbers be posted?
Make that four.
Machen founded the OPC in the 1920s
The Southerners founded the PCA in the 1970s
The EPC was founded due to opposition to the PCUSA merger in the early 1980s
And then of course the ECO was founded a few years ago.
I did not misstate what I said. My focus was on the past fifty years (i.e., 1965-2015), during which the PC(USA) and its predecessors hemorrhaged 63% of their total membership. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church was founded in 1936—well before the hemorrhaging started—and thus was not included in the three I referenced.
Also, you will note that whereas the PCA drew its initial membership—and much of its subsequent membership—from the PCUS (including many that had come with the PCUS into the PC(USA) in 1983), the EPC was formed in 1981 by congregations in both the UPCUSA and the PCUS (mostly from the more theologically liberal UPCUSA) who were concerned about the “theological liberalism and institutional resistance to change in their denominations. They wanted to form a Church that took seriously the Bible, the theology of the historic confessions of the faith, and the evangelical fervor of the founders of American Presbyterianism.” Their concern was not about the merger of the two denominations—that was one of the predominant concerns of the congregations that separated from the PCUS to form the PCA in the 1970s.
I do not regard the PC(USA) “as the mother of all evil”, nor do I hate or harbor bitterness toward her. My deepest concern is that she and her predecessors have come under the thrall of false teachers in the past century who have led her astray. It is my fervent prayer that she repent of her “itching ears” and her “accumulation (of) teachers to suit (her) own passions, and (of her) turning away from listening to the truth and wandering off into myths,” (I Tim. 4.3-4) and return to the Lord Jesus, her husband, who “‘has called (her) like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit, like a wife of youth when she is cast off, says your God. For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you; but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,’ says the LORD, your Redeemer.” (Is. 54.5-8; cf. Ezek. 16, Hos. 1-3) The alternative to her repentance is not at all pleasant to contemplate (Rev. 18), and I would spare her that.
If the PCUSA were indeed a functional or normative religious denomination or even a corporate entity subject to the reality of profit, loss, metrics, math, logic or reason. Yes a 25% loss of a membership/customer base, 60% since the’83 base would be cause for alarm and change. But this is the PCUSA.
And in that sense it operates more like a NGO or a DC K street lobbying firm. Where donor lists, ideological or political purity, or fidelity to the established bias or orthodoxy counts for far more. So in that sense real membership numbers, individual churches, clergy really do not matter. In fact such are irrelevant to their stated goals and ends. The organization is far, far more dependent on its identity based support groups in the BDS, black lives, and LGBT camps than any other supporting structure.
Hence the election and investiture of the Bishop Nelson is a forgone conclusion based upon his background of course, but the base he has in for mentioned groups. The PCUSA could well be under 400K by the end of his second term. Again an irrelevant and useless statistic on its path to utopia and workers paradise.
John….it’s probably not a direct relationship but that’s as reasonable projection as any.
Ponder that in conjunction with the change in Infant Baptisms in 2011 (21,422) versus 2015 (14,943). That’s over a 30% decrease. 2.05 per congregation in 2011 compared to 1.55 per congregation in 2015. 91 PCUSA members per infant baptism in 2011 versus 105 members per infant baptism in 2015.
Any way you slice it the PCUSA is aging and aging rapidly. It’s in demographic implosion. I suspect it’s past the point of no return.
John, look for the Comparative Statistics for the PCUSA for 2014. In it Table 15 give a breakdown of PCUSA congregations by ranges of membership. Of the approximate 9,790 congregations there were 5,502 with 100 or fewer members.
It’s hard work finding a ray of hope–any small bit of good news–in an annual report when you lose 95,000 members (5.7%). But that’s what directors of communication get paid to do. The story line that leaps off the page from the 2015 statistical summary: the largest one year loss in membership, percentage-wise, in PC(USA) history.
And a 20% loss the past four years. The PC(USA) is now exactly half the size it was in 1983 when it was formed
(3.1 mil to 1.57 mil).
Any other large organization in the US would take an unflinching, clear-eyed review of why, hold leaders accountable, replace them, change strategy and tactics, and work hard to find a new course to stabilize the ship. But not the PC(USA). First, there is no external Board of Directors able to provide effective oversight and hold anyone accountable. Second, the overall health and unity of the entire denomination is not the focus of the top PC(USA) governing body, the General Assembly. It functions as a collection of like-minded special interest groups each looking to win their own battles.
When leadership elites settle on a narrative of “We’re just like all other mainline denominations in decline,” it blocks critical thinking and allows them to stay the course. The march to irrelevance continues. With billions in the bank, it could take a couple of decades to actually arrive, but our pace is quickening.
John, I went to the full 2011 Presbyterian Panel report, and here is what it said in terms of trends: “Prior to 2005, the median age of members had not changed significantly in more than 15 years; it was 54 years in 1987 and 55 years in 2002. But it increased to 58 years in 2005, to 60 years in 2008, and to 63 years in 2011. (It was 48 years in 1973)” [p.12]. As anyone can see, the acceleration should be alarming to anyone who cares about the survival of the PCUSA.
And of that total, less than 25% have an installed pastor!
Gale, according to 2014 annual statistics, total reported worship attendance to total membership stands at 53.7%. Applying that to the 2015 membership total gives a figure of roughly 845,000. Knowing how human beings like to pad numbers a bit to make things look more hopeful, I would guess the actual number is closer to what you give as an upper limit, about 3/4 of a million.