Presbyterian Decline

June 4, 2018

Presbyterian Official: “I Don’t Despair” as Members Vanish

A new hymn commissioned by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for the denomination’s upcoming General Assembly encourages congregants to “Draw the Welcome Circle Wider”. But as Presbyterians prepare for the biennial legislative gathering, updated statistics made available today by the PCUSA Office of the General Assembly (OGA) show a denomination struggling to widen that circle – numerically and demographically – and instead reporting a steep, uninterrupted Presbyterian decline in 2017.

The U.S.-based denomination shed 67,714 members in 2017, a decline of nearly five percent. A net 147 congregations closed or were dismissed to other denominations, bringing the denominational total to 9,304 congregations.

“I don’t despair, I never despair,” PCUSA Stated Clerk J. Herbert Nelson, II declared in a statement made available on Monday. Of those who will not be in the newly-widened circle, 20,162 departed via certificate, while 74,129 simply vanished and are listed as “other”.  Deaths accounted for a decline of 25,565 members in 2017. The denomination is 91 percent white, not reflective of a diversifying United States population. In 2012, the PCUSA reported that it was 89.9 percent white, indicating that the denomination has somehow become both numerically smaller and less diverse in the same period of time that the United States population grew in size and became more diverse.

The top staff member of the church had, in 2017, announced that the PCUSA “is not dying, it is reforming.”

The statistics come just before the denomination convenes its 223rd General Assembly June 16-23 in St. Louis, Missouri. In 2015, the denomination’s top executive declared that the PCUSA was merely “settling into the new thing God is creating.”

In 2016, the PCUSA declined by 89,893 active members. Since 2005 the denomination has reported losing nearly two out of five active members, declining from 2,313,662 active members in 2005 to 1,415,053 in 2017. The denomination’s reported membership is now smaller than that of the Episcopal Church, which began a similar decline in the early 2000s.

Funding Consequences

Decreasing membership affects the denomination’s ability to continue normal operations. Smaller membership reduces revenue for programs and offices at the denominational headquarters in Louisville since the apportionment is per-member. An increased contribution from the shrinking pool of remaining members has been proposed in order to keep staff and programs operating.

A proposed per capita increase of 10 percent each year in 2019 and 2020 will, if adopted, jump from $7.73 per member in 2018 to $8.50 in 2019 and $9.35 in 2020. Such an increase will, according to the OGA, stave off staff reductions. But even if the General Assembly approves the increase, by 2021 the OGA is on track to have spent all of its unrestricted reserves. An original proposal from the OGA for much larger 39% and 7% increases in 2019 and 2020 was scaled back after encountering “significant opposition” from congregations according to The Presbyterian Outlook. The General Assembly per capita budget funds support for the World Council of Churches and National Council of Churches, among a variety of other initiatives.

Public Witness

A series of legislative proposals, known as overtures, will be discussed at General Assembly, including “On Seeking God’s Peace Through Nuclear Disarmament in the 21st Century” (09-08) which calls for Presbyterians to “Renounce the false god of nuclear security”. Overture (08-01) directs the Board of Pensions and the PCUSA Foundation to divest from the fossil-fuel industry. Additional overtures seek to restrict ownership of firearms (11-14), call upon congregations “to confess their complicity and repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery” (10-13), and form a taskforce “to investigate the need for creating an Advocacy Committee for LGBTQ+ Concerns” (10-03) which instructs the taskforce to consult with unofficial caucus groups such as PARITY, the organization behind “Glitter Ash Wednesday”. Overtures “to welcome transgender and gender non-binary people” (11-12) and “explicitly affirm” LGBTQ+ people (11-13) will also be considered.

Also under consideration by the upcoming General Assembly are a series of anti-Israel measures. One overture opposes state legislation which withholds state funds from institutions and organizations that call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

BDS activists typically call for divestment from Motorola Solutions, Hewlett-Packard, and Caterpillar, among other companies that sell non-lethal products to the Israeli military.

Another overture seeks action to urge the real estate company RE/MAX to stop facilitating the sale of property in West Bank settlements.

The PCUSA has a history of adopting policies uniquely critical of Israel, leading to pushback from U.S. Jewish groups and – in some instances – the state of Israel itself. In summer of 2017, a former moderator of the PCUSA General Assembly was denied entry into Israel. The entry ban prevented Rick Ufford-Chase and four other interfaith officials from boarding a flight from Washington, D.C. to Tel Aviv.

Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said in a statement to the Associated Press that the five had a long record of advocacy for the BDS movement.


20 Responses to Presbyterian Official: “I Don’t Despair” as Members Vanish

  1. senecagriggs says:

    The question I always have: Do they not see they are shooting themselves in the foot?
    I really do not know because it appears to be obvious, but maybe it isn’t.

    • Bruce Willis says:

      No they don’t see they are shooting themselves in the foot. They will continue to shoot themselves in the foot and limp around wondering and complaining their feet hurt.

  2. Jim says:

    To the PCUSA: (The Words of Jesus, REV 2:4-5)

    4 But I have this against you: You have abandoned your first love. 5 Therefore, keep in mind how far you have fallen. Repent and perform the deeds you did at first. But if you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.

    The lampstand has been removed

  3. William says:

    The majority of our bishops in the UMC, with their local option plan similar to what the PCUSA already has in place, think they’ll get a different result? What is the psychological term used to describe doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result?

    To all 2019 UMC delegates to the St Louis General Conference —- THIS IS AN ALERT!

  4. Bob Johnson says:

    The UCC has got to be feeling pretty good about losing only 3% or 26,860 souls compared to PCusa’s big loss. The race to the bottom continues unabated.

    https://www.uccfiles.com/pdf/2017MembershipReport.pdf

    Great reporting as always Jeff. Thanks for all you do.

  5. Bob Johnson says:

    Correction 26,605 not 26,860

  6. Leigh says:

    You don’t need to publish this comment. I just wanted to make you aware of a typo so you can fix it. The first paragraph says the General Assembly is “biannual.” It is actually “biennial.”

  7. David Virtue says:

    The PCUSA and the Episcopal Church are in lockstep as they race to the bottom. It’s only a matter of time as to who will get there first. Diversity, inclusivity and pansexuality are not winning converts. Heresy and apostasy are slowly wiping out mainline denominations.

    • William says:

      And Satan would ask —- what better way to accomplish this than to contaminate them with heresy and apostasy via sexual immorality in a 21st century culture obsessed with it?

    • Donald says:

      Doggone! I thought we Presbyterians were winning, especially since the Stated Clerk seems so happy and non-despairing.
      No problem – clearly the Almighty is, indeed, “doing a new thing” with these Legacy denominations.

  8. Donald says:

    Staving off staff reductions? OMG!! In all of those rascally corporations that PCUSA is so self-righteously criticizing and shaming, falling market share and dwindling compliance with policies usually result in staff reductions, up to and including those at the top (CEOs, CFOs, etc).

    I’m sure glad PCUSA so soooo sensitive to the welfare of those who are responsible for this decline!

  9. Loren Golden says:

    The PC(USA) and its predecessors, the UPCUSA and the PCUS (which merged in 1983), has lost members every year since 1965, when the UPCUSA and the PCUS had a combined membership of 4,254,597. Since then, the PC(USA) has suffered a net loss of 2,839,544, or 66.74% of its 1965 membership.

    Contrary to Rev. Nelson’s oft-stated mantra (he stated it when he took office in 2016 and has repeated it in 2017 & 2018 when the annual membership numbers were reported), the PC(USA) IS dying; it is NOT reforming. Reformation begins with a reclamation of the Gospel of Salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, and proceeds with a reordering of the life of the Church according to its doctrines. This is how the Protestant Reformation began in the 16th Century, and this has patently NOT been happening in the life of the PC(USA) so far in the 21st Century.

  10. Joan Sibbald says:

    Homosexual sexual conduct is unnatural, despicable, perversion, and, an abomination. Any questions, PCUSA, call God. He’s in the Book!

  11. Joe M says:

    They are in denial…

    There is no question, then, about the call to sexual holiness in the world. We all know deep down we need it and we ought to strive for it. The question is who sets the terms: Jesus, or someone else.

    https://derekzrishmawy.com/2018/03/27/the-call-to-sexual-holiness-is-unavoidable/

  12. James says:

    we left, sadly, we will not be a party to a church that wants to indoctrinate our children into acceptance of sinful homosexuality and perversion.

  13. MikeS says:

    They should just put the poor thing out of its misery, as is done for terminally ill pets, and distribute the assets to random charities.

  14. Doctor Don says:

    The PC-USA has become a variant of Scientology since they are claiming that they only “appear to be sick”. Redefining ” illness” has never been an effective treatment for any disease.
    The demise for the PC-USA is sure since its membership decline graph resembles that of any chronic-fatal disease.

  15. Eric R. says:

    I am curious as to how much of the leaving is due to the ordination of gay priests and support for gay marriage, and how much of it is due to the PCUSA’s support for Palestinian terrorism and the church’s now openly anti-Israel and anti-Semitic hatred?

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