(By Mateen Elass, on his personal blog). There’s a new captain at the helm, and a new course plotted for the voyage, but the good ship PCUSA continues to sink. Today, the Office of the General Assembly released its annual comparative statistical report for the denomination, highlighting numbers for 2016. Once again, it was not a pretty sight.
Jerry Van Marter, from the GA Communications Office wrote up a summary, and tried to spin it with as much sweetener as possible, but the news continues to be awful. The headline is factually correct in one way, but misleading: “…membership decline continues but slows.” In 2016, the denomination lost a net 89,893 members. According to Van Marter, this is the lowest numerical loss since 2011, when net losses were 63,804. This is not exactly accurate: net losses in 2013 were 89,296, some 600 less than 2016’s number, but why quibble? The fact of the matter is that the net loss numbers since 2012 have been dramatically high, and 2016 is not substantially different:
- 2012 — 102,791
- 2013 — 89,296
- 2014 — 92,433
- 2015 — 95,107
- 2016 — 89,893
When you compare these with figures from 2001-2005, the difference is depressing (even back then the losses were depressing, but in 2001 the denomination had a million more members than it does today):
- 2001 — 31,549
- 2002 — 41,812
- 2003 — 46,658
- 2004 — 43,175
- 2005 — 48, 474
As you can see, net losses just ten years ago averaged around half of what they are now, and the denomination was much larger then. One would expect that as the denomination shrinks the net losses would shrink as well, but that hasn’t happened yet. Another way to say that is this: back then the PCUSA was averaging a net loss of about 1-2% of its total membership. In the last two years, the average net loss per year has been 5.7%. It’s hard to sugarcoat that.
Van Marter also notes that the total number of church dismissals to other denominations has decreased to 99 — “…the fewest dismissals since 2011.” This is indeed accurate, but he fails to mention that the dismissal number in 2011 was 21, and the number dismissed in 2015 was 104, so the decrease in 2016 was not very significant. Even less so when you look at numbers of churches dismissed back in 2001-2005:
- 2001 — 2
- 2002 — 3
- 2003 — 3
- 2004 — 3
- 2005 — 4
It’s crucial to look not just at churches dismissed (we all know that in 2016 presbyteries began sealing any further leaks, with some even going so far as to announce that they were no longer going to entertain dismissal petitions from member congregations). The other critical category is churches dissolved (usually because they are no longer viable).
PCUSA membership decline continues but slows (Presbyterian News Service)
“We are not dying. We are Reforming.” Stated Clerk’s response