A slimmed-down Presbyterian Church (USA) is apparently getting ready for beach season after shedding unwanted excess members, according to a cheery report by the denomination’s top official.
“The PC(USA) is a church made up of vibrant congregations doing their best to live out the gospel of Jesus Christ in their communities and in the world,” an apparently unfazed Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PCUSA, soothed. “Membership declines continue, but on a whole the denomination is settling into the new thing God is creating.”
In case Presbyterians are wondering what the “new thing” looks like, the PCUSA’s Office of the General Assembly revealed today a loss of 92,433 members (down 5.54 percent) to a total membership of 1,667,767 in 2014. The Presbyterian Layman has a thorough write-up on the increasingly negative trajectory that the liberalizing denomination finds itself locked into. (Incidentally, the Layman’s Carmen Fowler LaBerge notes a count of former PCUSA churches that joined the Evangelical Presbyterian Church or Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians (ECO) in 2014. It exceeds the 101 churches officially listed as dismissed from the PCUSA in 2014, making us wonder if the congregation losses are in fact underreported).
The 2014 numbers reveal the church’s largest statistical decline to date. Last year, Parsons offered equally silly commentary on the losses.
“Yes, the numbers reflect a decrease in active members in the denomination,” Parsons acknowledged of the 2013 figures. “But the numbers also illustrate fewer losses than the previous year. The membership declined by 89,296 in 2013, compared to 102,791 in 2012.”
Now that the number of persons departing the denomination has increased from 89,296 to 92,433, and the statistical rate of decline has bumped from 4.83 percent to 5.54 percent, Parsons can no longer soothe fellow church bureaucrats in Louisville that decline is somehow slowing – it isn’t. For those keeping track, the PCUSA has lost a staggering 645,895 members since 2005, 28 percent of the denomination’s members having vanished. The PCUSA and its two predecessor bodies have been in decline since 1965.
The PCUSA’s rate of decline is now exceeding all of its Oldline Protestant peers. As IRD’s Alex Griswold wrote last August in the Federalist, every major American church that has taken steps towards liberalization of sexual issues has seen a steep decline in membership.
Update [5/23/2016]: Membership loss for the PCUSA continues to accelerate. In 2015, the denomination shed another 95,107 members — a six percent decline following three straight years of 5 percent declines — bringing the total active membership to 1,572,660. According to the PCUSA’s summary of statistics, the denomination has dropped in the number of children baptized by one quarter between 2012-2015, and adult baptisms have declined by a third in the same time period.