While the numbers of Presbyterian Church (USA) members leaving the denomination are slowly declining, the percentage of the decline continues to grow. In 2016, active members leaving the PCUSA totaled 89,893 – a 5.71% decrease in membership from 2015, when 95,107 members left.
The 2016 Comparative Statistics, released yesterday (5/24/17) by the PCUSA, show that this year’s decline of 89,893, which included 52,295 women, was the smallest decline since 2013, when 89,296 members left.
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 1960-2016.)
In other bad news, the PCUSA saw a dramatic decrease in contributions for the year. The 2016 contributions totaled $1,573,042,766, a decrease of $175,473,970 from 2015’s total of $1,748,516,736.
The PCUSA had celebrated an increase of contributions in 2015 when it received $9.6 million more than it had in 2014. Local mission giving also fell by $13,982,941 from $132,737,066 given in 2015 to $118,754,125 given in 2016.
The statistics show that in 2016, 99 churches and 122 ministers were dismissed from the denomination. According to an article released by the Office of the General Assembly, the 99 dismissed churches “accounted for 29,970 dismissed members.”
Carmen Fowler LaBerge, president of the Presbyterian Lay Committee and host of The Reconnect with Carmen LaBerge pointed out that “From 2013-2016 the PCUSA has organized (planted) 70 congregations. It has dissolved 372 and dismissed 452. Notably, in those four years, no churches have sought to join from the PCUSA from other denominations.”
Also commenting on the number of church dissolved in the denomination was blogger Mateen Elass who said:
“It’s crucial to look not just at churches dismissed … The other critical category is churches dissolved (usually because they are no longer viable). In 2015, the number of dissolutions was 91. Last year it was 97. In the years from 2001-2005, the average per year was in the upper 50s. One doesn’t need a Ph.D. in prophecy to project that numbers in this dissolution category will begin to skyrocket in the next decade as the PCUSA ages out and its members “graduate” in larger numbers. The majority of PCUSA congregations are small and elderly, and in a desperate holding pattern. The average size of a PCUSA congregation today is 157. I don’t have access to data for determination of the median size (the midpoint size where half of all PCUSA congregations are larger and the other half smaller), but I’m guessing it’s somewhere in the high 70s. This would indicate that thousands of churches are a small step from closure.”
Continuing her analysis of the statistics, LaBerge drew attention to the information it contained dealing with the clergy. She said that “the PCUSA only ordained 215 new ministers in 2016. That in no way keeps pace with ministers who died (376 in 2016) not to mention those who are retiring. From 2013-2016 the denomination dismissed 537 ministers to other denominations and removed 358 from office.”
PCUSA Stated Clerk the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson II, responded to the PCUSA’s 2016 statistics in his article “We Are Not Dying. We Are Reforming.” He wrote, in part:
“We are moving towards a new future as a denomination. Membership loss, which was experienced since the 1970s, is slowing down. Congregations are refocusing on their mission. Mid councils are experimenting with ways to provide meaningful leadership in challenging times. Congregations are celebrating both anniversaries and new beginnings. Young adults are asserting their desires to serve in both domestic and international mission. Despite cries proclaiming the death of the Presbyterian Church (USA), we remain a viable interfaith and ecumenical partner in many local communities while proclaiming a prophetic witness throughout the world. Our eulogy as a denomination has been written too soon, because God’s Kingdom has not yet come. We are engaged both in the United States and around the globe. We are well-respected for our priestly and prophetic voice within Christendom. Our challenge is to see the powerful opportunities that are before us while declaring with Holy Spirit boldness that God is doing amazing work within us right now. …”
Adult baptisms rose in 2016 by 606 – 4,775 adults were baptized in 2016 compared to 4,169 in 2015. Child baptisms, however, continued to decline. In 2016, the PCUSA baptized 13,427children, which is 1,516 less children than it baptized in 2015.
The racial composition of PCUSA in 2016 is still overwhelmingly white. With 80 percent of congregations reporting, 90.93 percent of the PCUSA identifies as white; 2.94% as Asian; 2.35% as African American; 1.40% as Hispanic; 1.11 percent as Black; .57% as African; .30% as Other; .26 percent as Native American; and .15% as Middle Eastern.
The top ten presbyteries in the PCUSA are Greater Atlanta, 35,360; Grace, 31,754; Charlotte, 31,505; National Capitol, 29,814; Chicago, 28,949; Philadelphia, 28,514; Pittsburgh, 27,673; New Hope, 27,235; Salem, 23,778; and Coastal Carolina, 23,601. All ten presbyteries showed decreases in membership from 2015-2016. Of the denomination’s 170 presbyteries, 151 of them have less than 15,000 members.
PCUSA membership decline continues but slows (Presbyterian News Service)
“We are not dying. We are Reforming.” Stated Clerk’s response