August 5, 2015

PCUSA: The Dying Denomination?

Back in March of this year, the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to change the definition of marriage from “one man and one woman” to “two people, traditionally a man and a woman.” This allows clergy to now perform same-sex marriages and also states those clergy who are personally opposed to refrain from performing gay marriages.

This decision has been a long time coming for the PCUSA. In 2011, the largest Presbyterian denomination voted to allow gay clergy. Unsurprisingly, an exodus ensured as 60 congregations left the PCUSA and joined the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians. After the initial vote, the following year 110 congregations joined different denominations. The year before the vote only 21 congregations left the PCUSA.  By 2012, the PCUSA lost over 102,000 members. To put this loss into perspective, the PCUSA reportedly enjoyed 4.25 million in 1965 at its peak membership. In 2011, they maintained 1.95 million members. In 2014, the membership fell to 1.67 million. In fact, during 2014 the PCUSA dismissed more than 100 congregations to other denominations. Over the last several years, a total of 428 congregations have opted to leave the denomination.  And furthermore, over the last 50 years, the PCUSA has steadfastly lost a large percentage of their members; the denomination is effectively on the decline despite enjoying large membership numbers.

A more in-depth analysis shows that from 2012 to 2014, the membership has declined by more than 15% . This simply cannot bode well for the future of the PCUSA. Also noteworthy, the donations by members also declined from $1,848,807,540 in 2013 to $1,738,915,711 just one year later.

It all started back in 2006, after the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA, there was a surprising change in their attitude toward human sexuality. They decided that the governing bodies, which ordain church offices, could have a new approach when considering candidates for office. “No longer would a candidate be required, according to this new guidance, to practice fidelity in marriage or chastity in singleness.”   In 2011, the PCUSA responded to the shifting sands saying “many talk about this era as being like a wilderness experience for the church, from which we can learn the lessons of being the vibrant people God leads from exile into life.”  The full message issued by the denomination was filled with humility, graciousness and kindness. Yet, it cannot be ignored that the PCUSA is simply not upholding the authority of scripture. Scripture (1 Timothy 3:1-7 in particular) is especially clear about who can be considered an appropriate, capable and effective leader in the church.

Today, the PCUSA is widely known for their evolving attitude on gay marriage. Like most things, the change started gradually. A series of small decisions lead to a much larger impact on their attitude towards scripture. The truth is – the gospel offends. It is not easy to uphold. And it is not a message that bends to our shifting cultural attitudes. The gospel is truth and authoritative over Christian’s lives. Let’s hope the PCUSA will take note and there will be transformation to fight and uphold scripture in its entirety.


32 Responses to PCUSA: The Dying Denomination?

  1. They are not part of the real church and will die out. Churchgoers who support “same-sex marriage” have nearly identical views to the world. It shows who their real father is. I realize that some people will stick around because they grew up in the denomination and they actually think it is a legitimate church, but why would secular people bother? They can get the same “sermons” for free in education, politics, mass media and entertainment.

    1 John 2:15-16 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.

    Jude 4 For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

    • Ty Hendricks says:

      What legitimizes a Church?

      • Hi Ty,

        Good question. For starters, I’d say they need to believe and teach the essentials —

        • Ty Hendricks says:

          Thank you for the read!

          What would you say to a church that embodies those qualifications while still willing to support Same-Sex Marriage. I attend one.

          While I can’t speak for every Christian – frankly it’s hard to speak for myself – we believe in Salvation through Grace, the Trinity, the Bible Inspired, etc.

          But we also ordain women, prohibited in the Bible.

          So I guess my question is: is same-sex marriage so large a divide that Christ cannot conquer it? My worry is that this “issue” is getting in the way of the legitmsge mission of the church and Christ “not to condemn the world but to save the world.” (John 3:17)


          • Hi Ty,

            I have found a remarkable correlation of churches without sound doctrine and those that support SSM. If they say they are on board with the rest then it just shows that they are too afraid to stand up to the world and they would rather be politically correct than stand on God’s word.

            I agree with John 3:17, of course, but it isn’t about condemning the world but about speaking the truth. If churches agree with the world then they aren’t being churches.

          • Ty Hendricks says:

            Great response – I think you are right in your statement about the church and agreeing with the world. The church is a bastion of hold for people. It stands as a symbol of safety from the world. So I completely agree with you there.

            I think though, if you asked a Southern Baptists, an Episcopalian, and a Presbyterian (sounds like the beginning to a bad joke) then they would all say their doctrine is “sound.” The differences are due to interpretation.


  2. Mike Ward says:

    There’s a story going around to day out of the Netherlands about 5 people who are having a baby together. A married lesbian couple and two men who are married to each other and have been involved in a three way relationship with a third man for 8 years. (They say they’d add him as a party to their marriage if that were legal.) One of the women is pregnant, and one of the men is the biological father, but they plan on all being parents to the child.

    I’m curious how the PCUSA will respond to this. It’s not a theoretical anymore. It is happening, and it will come here next. I’ve seen plenty of Americans online today excitedly cheering these five people.

  3. Joe Duffus says:

    It’s kind of amazing how fast the dissolution of PC(USA) is occurring. Many churches are already in “periods of discernment” which may lead to their requesting dismissal to the ECO or EPC Presbyterian denominations. The blocker for many churches is the “trust clause” that, similar to EPC, declares that a church’s property belongs to the denomination. So, departures are about money, in the end.

    • Craig Alan Myers says:

      The EPC does not have a trust clause, and specifically states that property belongs to the congregation alone.

      • Joe Duffus says:

        You’re quite right, Craig. I meant the mainline Episcopal church, “ECUSA.” I corrected my comment. Thanks for pointing that out. Neither ECO nor EPC has a trust clause.

  4. MarcoPolo says:

    This evolution of the Presbyterian Church is a natural occurrence in the Big Picture of Human evolution. So need we really lament this phenomenon?

    If The Church remained the same after thousands of years, would it serve it’s parishioners as well? I’m not suggesting God be ignored, but surely a Society of believers like a million lemmings couldn’t be wrong!

    Churches come and go…Hmmph!

    • Ty Hendricks says:

      Agreed. If anywhere were to examine the History of any denomination they would continually see reinvented theology.

      Enjoyed your thoughts.

  5. I recommend that those congregations who wish to leave now simply walk away, leaving the building and whatever mortgage / resources are there to devolve back to the presbytery. This is the other edge in the much vaunted “trust clause;” suddenly the presbytery becomes financially responsible for the mortgage and upkeep of the building they so desperately covet. The members of the congregation can certainly find faithful congregations in their community who will welcome them.

    As for the clergy – if you choose to remain in the PCUSA so as to preserve pension benefits of to minimize family disruption, consider itinerating amongst the remaining congregations while you re-tool yourself with the aid of an executive coach / headhunter.

  6. Ty Hendricks says:

    My criticism with this article is it has examined the Church in a vacuum. Dissolution is part of the Presbyterian Church’s history. From the New Side/Old Side schism to the New School/Old School Schism; from the Civil War to the ordination of women the church universal has weathered the storms of dissolution.

    I think what is important to remember is our central agreement on God’s redemptive power through Christ.

    • Big Giant Head says:

      No, there is no ‘central agreement’ on God’s redemptive power through Christ in the PCUSA. In fact, the PCUSA ordains and installs pastors that do not believe in God. The denomination is a joke, Thankfully, a joke that is quickly fading into history,

      • Ty Hendricks says:

        The PCUSA’s General Assembly does not ordain Pastors, that is the prerogative of Presbyterys.

        Who are we to decide the legitimacy of ones belief? Also, which Presbyterys are doing this? If they are, do you genuinely believe they represent the denomination?

        And lastly, in what way is the denomination a joke?

        Please do not interpret these questions as mean-spirited as there is no “debate/discussion font” for the internet.


        • Big Giant Head says:

          I can tell you are not joking. But, when a presbytery ordains and installs, they do so for the whole church, so yes, it represents the whole denomination. That much has been upheld by the General Assembly.

          Cascades presbytery just installed a pastor who openly professes his unbelief in God. And they did so without allowing any debate on the floor of the presbytery meeting. So yes, it makes the denomination a joke. A bad one.

          As far determining the legitimacy of ones beliefs, ultimate that is between a person and God. But a denomination that is serious about being Christian has to set some standards regarding doctrine. The PCUSA threw that baby out years ago. Again, making itself a joke. The vast majority of the Reformed Christians around the world are viewing the denomination as a bunch of pretenders that are, for some reason, playing church.

          • Ty Hendricks says:

            I can agree with you that Cascades Presbytery was out of order. Pastors in our Presbytery are strenuously questioned when they are Ordained or accepted.

            We can agree that ones beliefs are legitimized by God and themselves.

            I would think that the Pastor they ordained or received is an anomaly, or so I would hope.

            I think PCUSA, a denomination in which I am Ordained as a ruling elder, is a biblical denomination. But it always depends on whose doing the interpreting.

            You are right about standards. Some Presbyterys are lax in their enforcement of the Book of Order and Confessions but I think this is true of many denominations. People don’t join churches because of their doctrine, in my opinion, but because of the local congregation.

      • Xerxesfire says:

        It begs the question: how can one be a pastor and not believe in God? It seems like they would merely be going through the motions on Sunday mornings and collecting their salary. How could they comfort mourning family members at funerals or counsel couples whose marriage is troubled?

    • Xerxesfire says:

      And don’t forget the atheist PCUSA pastor in Tennessee. Hard to imagine an atheist pastor tolerated in any Christian church!

  7. The_Physetor says:

    The PCUSA shrinks, the PCA grows – it’s the migration of Christians.

  8. George73 says:

    I once was a member of a PCUSA congregation. After years of tension, my conservative congregation severed its relationship with the PCUSA and joined the EPC. This happened about eight years ago.

    Since then, many, many other congregations have left.

    The exodus of congregations does not tell the whole story. The congregations that remain in the PCUSA on average, get smaller every year because members die or leave for other denominations. This has been going on for years and some are getting quite small. Some congregations have been dissolved because of membership loss.

    Most of the evangelicals have left the PCUSA. There are not enough to cause the PCUSA to change its direction. The leadership of the PCUSA apparently likes things as they are, so they have not done anything to change the direction of the PCUSA.

    The prognosis is that the PCUSA will continue to fade away.

  9. Andrew M says:

    One cannot claim the PCUSA had it’s peak membership in 1965 as this denomination did not exist until 1983. Sadly the old PCUS (southern church) was manipulated into merging into the old UPCUSA (northern church) in 1983. The PCUS held to orthodox beliefs until 1967 when it rescinded it’s understanding of Scripture from being the “inerrant Word of God” to the “authoritative Word of God”. It may not sound like a big difference, but it is a huge theological difference, ultimately leading to the unbiblical heresies infecting the PCUSA today. One cannot claim to be a
    “Christian” and to disbelieve God’s written Word—Jesus was quite clear about that.

  10. BPatMann says:

    It was predestined to happen.

  11. Joe man Curreri says:

    the Gay issue is only one small part of the decline. My former Katonah, NY Presbyterian Church became so liberal, that it was no longer a church!
    It was anti conservatives. Actually hateful towards conservatives. It welcomed gays, but we never had a new Gay member. The Pastors preached the love of Muslims, and boycotting Israel. Even our two gay members left! In 2005 we would have 300 people attend Sunday service. When we left two years ago. 35 at Sunday service. Yet the church claims 350 members,,what a joke..the church is broke! Why? the liberals never gave a dime…yet demanded power. Conservatives left with their money as well.

  12. PM says:

    As a new Christian in search of a denomination or community, I am appalled that this PCUSA claims to be Christian. Admittedly my knowledge of the faith is limited, but even as I read the bible, it is clear that they are not in line with some of the basic commandments of Jesus Christ. In my town, they are hosting Islamic prayers and imams, whose entire faith denies Jesus as the Son of God. What exactly is their purpose? Beyond collecting the tithe of course.

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