PCUSA Decline

April 29, 2019

Nonstop Decline: Presbyterian Church (USA) Doesn’t Hit Brakes in 2018

Presbyterian Church (USA) officials are reporting that the oldline Protestant denomination shed another 62,375 members the same year that their governing General Assembly declared “Zionism is based on racism” and denounced religious freedom protections.

At its current rate of shrinkage the PC(USA) will not exist in about 20 years.

Statistics made available this week by the PC(USA) Office of the General Assembly (OGA) show the denomination continues to decline, dropping to 1,352,678 active members in 2018. A net 37 percent of members have died, transferred out, or simply vanished in the past decade.

The drop of nearly 5 percent is consistent with an accelerating exodus of members since the denomination redefined marriage as between any two persons in 2014.

The denomination in 2011 revoked a clause requiring ordained PC(USA) clergy to practice fidelity in marriage or chastity in the single life. The PC(USA) has captured headlines with an increasingly antagonistic anti-Israel stance in recent years, including advocacy for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. In domestic policy, the PC(USA) governing body denounced religious freedom protections claiming that religious freedom was used “to justify exclusion and discrimination.”

A press release from the OGA attempts to put a positive spin on the numbers, noting that 34 churches were dismissed to other denominations in 2018, compared to 45 the year before. Separately, a summary of statistics reports that 108 churches dissolved in 2018, up from 104 in 2017, a trend that has continued to increase in recent years. Zero churches have been received from other denominations since 2010.

“We are encouraged by the slowing trend downward,” the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PC(USA) is quoted as saying in an article on the denomination’s web site. “The church of the 21st century is changing and we still believe God is preparing us for great things in the future.”

The denomination, whose predecessor bodies once counted a combined 4.25 million members, appears to be struggling to adapt to those changes, with declines in the number of ministers and baptisms. Reaching youth has been an especially difficult challenge: 56 percent of members are now over the age of 55, and baptisms are dropping precipitously.

The Louisville, Kentucky-headquartered PC(USA) was formed in 1983 as a merger of The Presbyterian Church in the United States and the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. Its predecessor bodies started declining in the mid-1960s, but the decline accelerated significantly in the 2000s.

Other U.S.-based Presbyterian denominations have fared better: in 2012, ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, was formed by congregations departing the PC(USA), while the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) split from the PC(USA)’s Northern predecessor body in 1981 and has continued to attract congregations from the PC(USA). Separately, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) split from the PC(USA)’s Southern predecessor body in 1973 and has posted 7 percent growth over the past five years.

More: read about the previous year’s PC(USA) losses here. Browse IRD’s archive of PC(USA) coverage here.

48 Responses to Nonstop Decline: Presbyterian Church (USA) Doesn’t Hit Brakes in 2018

  1. Patrick98 says:

    When this branch of Presbyterianism embraced abortion as a “moral good”, I believe that God honored that by saying, in effect, “You don’t value, embrace, and protect children? Fine. You will have less of them in the future.” The PCUSA is a denomination that has lots of older folks, fewer young ones. This is not a coincidence, it is a spiritual consequence of choosing sin.

  2. JR says:

    I’ll bet you see a bounce from Methodists joining by the next time this survey is run.

  3. JoeD says:

    The PC(USA) is a left-wing political action committee that meets on Sundays.

    Before becoming the Stated Clerk, J. Herbert Nelson was head of its Washington DC lobbying office, where he advocated for abortion, gay rights, opposition to Israel, environmental extremism, and other mainline enthusiasms having nothing to do with spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So, he’s really the perfect person to preside over the denomination’s final days.

  4. Diane says:

    Not so fast – seniors in my family who were raised in the UMC have vowed to never set foot in the UMC again after the adoption of the Traditional Plan. Hundreds of miles away, almost 100 young people have chosen not to be confirmed in the UMC congregation where they were raised as a sign of protest against the Traditional Plan. The UMC’s vote is just one more excuse for people of all ages to leave organized religion in droves. Archaic religious structures and doctrines just aren’t worth the energy expenditure they require. Most folks can find charitable communities outside of churches these days.

    • William says:

      Check that. Where people are leaving in droves is where liberal sexual policies have been enacted. See latest steep decline in PCUSA, for example. At it’s current rate of decline, it will be extinct in around 20 years. Of course, if people are not seeking a Christian church for repentance and salvation from sin, with an eye on their eternal home, then why bother with church in the first place? Plus, free will certainly affords one the option of protesting the Word of God.

    • Reynolds says:


      Can you provide proof of your statement

      Thank you

    • Steve says:

      So your earlier comments where you suggested an interest in joining a church weren’t true? What a shock. Forgive me if I doubt you have any interest in charitable work either.

      • Diane says:

        wrong. HIV/AIDS care-partner when the majority of Christians wouldn’t go near someone with HIV/AIDS. Soup Kitchen volunteer. Public school volunteer. Senior citizens care volunteer/offering free transportation for groceries, medical appointments, etc. annually contribute thousands of dollars to justice organizations on a small pension.

        • Steve says:

          You posted this previously:
          “Some in this discussion have expressed feeling betrayed and deceived as lgbtq folks come out of the closet – noting they lied during the ordination process. Is there a problem with hiding one’s true identity in the service of God?”
          “Is it sometimes it’s necessary that one who’s likely to be persecuted if their identity is known must conceal their identity to be God’s faithful servant?”
          How are we supposed to know what true or false where you’re concerned?

    • Reynolds says:

      8 is not 100. You need to do better at math

    • Rev. Dr. Lee D Cary says:

      “The UMC’s vote is just one more excuse for people of all ages to leave organized religion in droves.”

      If by “organized religion,” Diane, you mean the Seven Sisters of mainline, generally-liberal, protestant denominations – I agree.

      “Organized religion” on the protestant side, has become an anachronism. Sorry if that’s painful to hear.

      Many are re-aligning with either evangelical churches – both within with a loose “denomination” (by way of a recognized brand. i.e., Assemblies of God, Baptist Church) or an independent, non-denominational church (often with the word “Bible” in their names).

      You may not like that trend, Diane, but it is real. If all the independent churches were lumped together in one group, they already out-number the UMC in the US.

      My daughters grew up in the UMC. One’s family now attends a Baptist Church, the other worships at a “Bible” church. They like it.

      The hard-to-face reality for many theological liberals is this: Hierarchical, bureaucratic, protestant denominations (which fits the description of the Seven Sisters, or once did) are riding into the sunset.

      The times changed – they didn’t.

      • Diane says:

        Unfortunate. Recent killer of Jews in CA supported his acts with anti-Semitic teachings from his orthodox Presbyterian church

        • Yossi says:

          It’s slander to blame the synagogue shooting on the OPC. His parents stated that they are clueless as to how he got involved in the antisemitic naarishkeit that possessed him, and the moderator of the OPC put out the following: https://opc.org/feature.html?feature_id=432

        • Gregg says:

          Sorry, that is patently false. Just because he grew up attending the OPC, that’s no reflection on their teachings. His anti-Semitic views are his own, not his parents’ Nor his former church.

        • Charlie says:

          All the reasons for the shooting came from OUTSIDE the OPC. I was a member of the OPC in my teens and early 20’s; it was faithful and biblical, and treated all people as created in the image of God, inciting hatred towards no one.

    • Herb says:

      Could you please provide the name of the congregation in which almost 100 youth chose not to be confirmed?

    • Russell says:

      Diane, the Assemblies of God, a Methodist offshoot from a century ago, is growing in the US at a rate faster than the US population. They are approaching 70 million worldwide. They uphold God’s Word and the Bible’s clear teachings that marriage is to be between one man and one woman and that sexual sins include adultery, sex out of wedlock and homosexuality. They are a very racially and ethnically diverse church, and their congregations are very young in age relative to all “mainline” churches. See Mark Tooley’s article on their remarkable growth and vibrancy published here and in Christian Post sometime ago.

  5. David says:

    I suspect people who leave churches of any denomination do so because of unhappiness with the local church. How often do serious issues arise over denominational doctrines? Indeed, many growing churches are nondenominational without a formal doctrine.

    • Steve says:

      Not from my experience. I loved my local church, I left PC(USA) in 2014 as did many others in my congregation, because of church leadership and doctrine continuing to push anti-biblical non-Christian ideology to the local congregations, and spending our offerings on same. I was an extremely active member for decades, was ordained, served as a church officer, and taught adult Bible study and small groups for years.

    • Loren Golden says:

      The last time I left a church for a reason other than geographical relocation due to job change was in 1991, at the age of 24, when I left a Theologically Liberal Wichita, KS, UMC congregation (hitherto I had been a lifelong Methodist) for an Evangelical Wichita PC(USA) congregation (now in the EPC) because of the mishandling of Scripture in the pulpit.

  6. Johan says:

    As someone on his way out of the PCUSA: what bothers me is not so much the leftist politics or the gay agenda (I’m actually not especially conservative). What bothers me is that they have nothing at all to say about religion or text or theology that is in any way interesting or intelligent or informed by scholarship. It’s all basically run by women now, so the typical sermon is either feminized fluff (‘Jesus loves you! So be nice to others!”) or moralistic harangues (“Volunteer! Get to work!”) I guess such sermons are electrifying and riveting to the typical 65-year-old female which is the average member now, but I find it superficial and intellectually lazy and boring to tears. I respect evangelicals for the rigor of their preaching but I don’t share the basic assumptions. So, Church Alumni Association here I come.

  7. Henry says:

    Hey UMC “progressives”. When you leave, please take “liberation theology” with you!

  8. Loren Golden says:

    The net loss of 62,375 members from 1,415,053 reported at the end of 2017 corresponds to a net percentage loss of 4.41%.  If one adds the 67,714 members lost in 2017 (down from 1,482,767 at the end of 2016), the two-year net percentage loss in membership is 8.77%.

    The PC(USA) had 151,466 members age 25 and under at the end of 2016.  By the end of 2017, this number had fallen to 143,025, and by the end of 2018, it had dropped again to 132,132, for a net loss of 19,334 members age 25 and under, or 12.76%—nearly fifty percent more than the total percentage loss over these two years.  This is a denomination that has prostituted itself to the spirit of the age in endorsing the homosexual, transgender, et al, agenda, which is touted as being so very important to the up and coming generation, and yet it continues to hemorrhage its youngest members at a rate that exceeds the general, overall decline.  Clearly, the PC(USA) is clueless as to how to reach (or even retain) Generation Z.
    The faith once delivered to the saints is not being passed on to the next generation of PC(USA) members.  But then again, one cannot pass on what one patently does not possess, having exchanged its spiritual birthright (which it now despises) for a bowl of postmodernist pottage.

    • Loren Golden says:

      P.S.—For the Biblically illiterate who may be reading the above post, the reference to the last statement can be found in Genesis 25.29-34.

      • William says:

        These facts obliterate the liberal Protestant theologians, scholars, and clergy argument, including those in the UMC. Why would anyone of any age, socioeconomic position, gender, race, ethnicity, secular social standing, et al seek out a church that merely apologizes, consoles, ignores, approves, or even celebrates sinful behavior? That person would be wasting his/her time and the time of said church if the goal of the seeker is repentance, salvation, and a new life in Christ?

  9. GracieZG says:

    We had dear friends who were members of this branch of the Presbyterian Church. They bragged to us how tolerant they were of everyone. At some point my friend said to me, as we are in her kitchen preparing food, “But conservatives are racists.” Wow, just wow. I couldn’t believe that came out of her mouth. I’m sorry she never met my conservative mother who, as soon as Jim Crow laws were abolished, went to teach in black schools, and quietly, without telling us, put her two black teachers’ assistants through college so they could become teachers. We had never discussed with our friends that we are conservative, so she was directly insulting us without knowing it, based on what? The propaganda against conservatives is ridiculous and false, and I had to wonder how an educated woman like my friend could come to this conclusion. I could not help but wonder if she was handed this nonsense every Sunday from the left-of-liberal Presbyterian pulpit, and therefore devoutly believed it. Propaganda, unfortunately, is very effective. It uses lies and emotion to sway a group of people to believe a certain agenda. It gets people to the point that they simply accept lies as truth, and brings people to the point where they are incapable of recognizing or even listening to truth. And it brings people to the point where they simply cannot tolerate another viewpoint.

  10. Diane says:

    Meanwhile, the most recent killing of Jews at worship was at the hands of an orthodox Presbyterian, who used anti-Semitic theology from his religious background to support his murdering of Jews as inferior people.

    At least one minister from that orthodoxy is confessing shame.

    • Steve says:

      “We are shocked and deeply saddened by the terrible attack on the Chabad of Poway synagogue,” Earnest’s parents said in a statement through a lawyer.
      “To our great shame, he is now part of the history of evil that has been perpetrated on Jewish people for centuries.” (The shooter’s parents said this, not a minister.)
      “The Rev. Mika Edmondson, a pastor in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, which is a small evangelical denomination founded to counter liberalism in mainline Presbyterianism, told The Washington Post that even though Earnest does not blame his faith for his ideology, “It certainly calls for a good amount of soul-searching.” (Not the same thing as shame.)
      But if you have any proof for your statement (doubt it), feel free to post. Just make sure the quote doesn’t postdate your last comment (assuming you don’t own a time machine).

    • Loren Golden says:

      Reformed theology of classical Presbyterianism, madam, is not anti-Semitic.  This deluded young man may have spouted Reformed theology in a horrible mixture with his anti-Semitism, but his anti-Semitism was something he got from somewhere other than the Scriptures and the Westminster Standards.

    • Loren Golden says:

      “But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches.  If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you.  Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’  That is true.  They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith.  So do not become proud, but stand in awe.  For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.  Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness.  Otherwise you too will be cut off.  And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again.  For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature a wild olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own live tree.” (Rom. 11.11-24)

    • Donald says:

      Diane – I really appreciate your indefatigable smarm and slander against people of Christian faith who hold to the traditional values of orthodoxy. You provide a current and constant example of what one must contend with if they hope to remain faithful in today’s highly partisan environment. Keep up the good work!

  11. Reformed Catholic says:

    FWIW … the only reason more churches aren’t being dismissed is the requirement that they have to ransom their way out now, thanks to a liberal Presbytery in California, Synod PJC in the West, and GAPJC.

    They can’t afford to move, then you have the congregations that leave the building, these are not counted as leaving as the local presbytery somehow finds a ‘loyal remnant’ to take over.

    This lasts about 2 or 3 years until the Presbytery drops financial support, and the church is then closed. If the Presbytery can sell it at the property’s estimated value, they get a windfall, if not, they sell at fire sale prices.

    Then these ‘remnant’ closed churches are listed under closed, not dismissed.

    Just more shuffling of the deck chairs on the Titanic.

  12. Mike says:

    The Presbyterian Church USA is well on the way to becoming a small liberal boutique denomination. I don’t think it will go away completely, but will remain as a burnt-out little shell for those who have become allergic to historic biblical orthodoxy. It would decline much faster if they didn’t claim possession over all property, and extort hundreds of thousands and millions of dollars out of congregations that seek to leave with their property (which the denomination usually contributed nothing towards). Hundreds and maybe thousands more churches would leave in a heartbeat if they weren’t coerced into staying, not by the love of Jesus, but with the hammer of secular law. My church and I are really enjoying our new affiliation with ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.

    • Jeffrey Walton says:

      Mike, I rarely make this kind of absolute statement, but in this case, I will: the PCUSA will cease to exist within 20 years. the denomination has lost nearly 70% of members since the mid-1960s, and more than half of that (37%) has been in the past decade. There is simply no pipeline of new members coming in, and the denomination’s members (as shown by its baptism numbers) aren’t procreating and transmitting the faith to others. I suspect the denomination will merge itself out of existence into another body.

    • Jeff winter says:

      Well said. The ECO church I pastor brings much joy to my spirit as well as the congregation.

  13. W Gary Johnson says:

    The State of Israel has been openly persecuting Palestinian Christians for 7 decades. What surprises me is that the churches could remain silent for so long.

  14. John says:

    To those blaming the Orthodox Presbyterian Church for one crazy 19 year old’s actions:

    1) Will you now blame Jesus Christ for Judas Iscariot?
    2) If ONE conservative crazy taints the classic Reformed faith, what does a steady stream of Islamic crazies who shoot people up all over this benighted sphere with monotonous regularity say about Islam?

    Full disclosure: I was in the OPC for 33 years

  15. Jeff Winter says:

    When the PCUSA decided to become the PCUSGAY membership losses really picked up. The Stated Clerk thinks my former denomination is being prepared for great ministry in the future. That is laughable. All you need to do is go on Happy to be a Presbyterian and read the sad expressions of progressive thinking. This thinking has no Spirit power. It’s all about good works and no Gospel.

  16. Dave says:

    It is a sad day for me when the pcusa church I have been attending for 20+ years is now in the current state of decay. I believe – and hope that there will be such a mass membership migration to The PCA , that even the blind will see. Did the pcusa stop reading the Bible ? I am so tired of hearing … ” That is what is written, But that is Not what it means.”

  17. Bill Chinery says:

    When a church whose primary statements of faith indicate that the Bible is the “infallible” word of God begins violating its own Book of Order to adopt policies which run directly counter to that infallible Word, you no longer have a church. You have a cult. Of course people are going to leave in droves. Undermine the very credibility of the faith, and you might as well worship the trinity of Rock, Paper, and Scissors instead of Father, Son, and Spirit. The PCUSA is now simply making things up as it goes along in order to preserve what it has long enough to funnel the money out of it quietly before it closes.

  18. KEN says:

    A few years ago I attended a funeral service at a Presbyterian USA church in San Antonio. As I entered the church a recording of “imagine” ,by John Lennon, was played as a prelude to the service.This music is banned at most funeral homes in UK because of atheist lyrics.

  19. Joseph Malham says:

    After hearing a sermon on “Sodom and Gamoraha” that God cursed them because they were “inhospitable to the angels”, and NOT their sexual immorality…I attempted un-successfully to lodge hearsay charges with our elders… I had no choice but to leave. I also heard a sermon there that Paul’s “Thorn in the Flesh” was his wrestling with his sexual identity.

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