Three Presbyterian denominations – ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian Church in America – are growing in both the number of churches and members, while the Presbyterian Church (USA) continues to decline in both categories.
ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians
The fastest growing Presbyterian denomination in 2015 is also the newest one. As of Aug. 12, ECO has 297 churches with 115,000 covenant partners (members) and 484 pastors. The denomination has grown by 45 churches since the end of 2015 and by 89 congregations since June 5, 2015, when the denomination had 208 congregations.
In a July 12 interview with the Christian Post, ECO’s Stated Clerk Dana Allin said that the denomination has “about 100 congregations officially in the process of joining ECO but there are many others that are informally in the process.”
ECO developed out of The Fellowship of Presbyterians (FOP). A FOP gathering in August 2011 drew more than 2,000 people to Minneapolis, Minn. At a similar gathering held five months later with approximately 2,220 attending, ECO was established, providing a new denominational home for those ready to do church differently while upholding a conservative or traditional Reformed faith.
Evangelical Presbyterian Church
In his report to the 36th General Assembly of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Stated Clerk Jeff Jeremiah, said “When I began this call in 2006 the EPC had 182 churches and eight presbyteries. In 2016 we have 587 churches and 13 presbyteries.”
Between May 31, 2015 and May 27, 2016, the EPC received 27 churches. Eighteen of those were from the PCUSA, one from the PCA and several came from independent backgrounds. During that same time period, three churches were dissolved, and three churches were dismissed, one to the PCA and two to independence.
The EPC tracks church movement from May of one year until May of the next, with the list being revealed at the annual June General Assembly meeting.
During the PCA’s 44th General Assembly, held June 20-23 in Mobile, Ala., Stated Clerk L. Roy Taylor said that the denomination increased by 35 churches bringing the total of congregations to 1,534 in 2015, while the number of mission churches decreased by five to total 327.
PCA membership increased by 11,816 for a total of 370,332 members and Sunday school attendance was also increased to 97,719 up by 1,096 from 2014. Taylor called this “the first increased in SS in a number of years.”
There were 9,679 professions of faith in 2015, up 254 from the 214 total.
“Giving increased in all categories. With virtually all mainline and some evangelical denominations plateaued or declining, PCA growth, though not as spectacular as in our early years, is noteworthy,” wrote Taylor.
Presbyterian Church (USA)
In 2015, membership in the Presbyterian Church (USA) decreased to 1,572,660, a loss of 95,107 members since 2014. That’s a 5.70 decrease from the 2014 membership number — 1,667,767. The denomination lost 92,433 members that year.
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.
Gains come from the PCUSA
“I think when reading these stats most people will recognize that the gains in ECO, the EPC and PCA come, in no small measure, from the PCUSA. The challenge for all of these denominations is not transfer growth but transformation growth — actually reaching the lost with the Gospel. Certainly the more overtly evangelical denominations should have an advantage there,” said Carmen Fowler LaBerge, president of the Presbyterian Lay Committee.
She continued, “Doing the math, if those who left the PCUSA were all joining a sister denomination in the Presbyterian family, then the numbers for ECO, the EPC and PCA would be even higher. So one question would be: where have all the other historically Presbyterian people gone?”