By Peter Smith, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
For the third year in a row, the Presbyterian Church (USA) lost 5 percent of its members nationwide and more than 100 congregations to other denominations in 2014, according to newly released statistics from the denomination. In and around southwestern Pennsylvania, where Presbyterians are especially concentrated, presbyteries all experienced losses of various levels.
Church members now number just fewer than 1.7 million nationwide.
A main cause is the defection of congregations to smaller, more conservative Presbyterian denominations in reaction to Presbyterian Church (USA)’s decisions to begin ordaining gays in 2011 and to begin marrying same-sex couples in the past year.
But the membership losses span a half-century and are similar in other so-called mainline Protestant denominations with low birthrates, such as United Methodists, Episcopalians and Lutherans.
The United Methodist Church, which so far has resisted calls to ordain gays or marry same-sex couples, lost 5 percent of members between 2009 and 2013. The chairman of the United Methodists’ economic advisory committee told church leaders last month that the denomination needs to turn around such losses within 15 years before they become irreversible.
For Presbyterians, “Nobody can be happy to see the numbers continue to go down,” said the Rev. Sheldon Sorge, general minister of the Pittsburgh Presbytery, which lost 3 percent of members last year and stands at 30,614 members in Allegheny County.