PCUSA Decline

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

on April 29, 2019

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.

  1. Comment by Patrick98 on April 29, 2019 at 3:42 pm

    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. Comment by JR on April 29, 2019 at 3:55 pm

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

  3. Comment by JoeD on April 29, 2019 at 5:23 pm

    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. Comment by Diane on April 29, 2019 at 5:53 pm

    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.

  5. Comment by William on April 29, 2019 at 7:20 pm

    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.

  6. Comment by Reynolds on April 29, 2019 at 7:24 pm

    Diane

    Can you provide proof of your statement

    Thank you

  7. Comment by William on April 29, 2019 at 7:36 pm

    See BIBLE and ……….

    https://www.gotquestions.org/Christian-doctrine-salvation.html

  8. Comment by Steve on April 29, 2019 at 8:12 pm

    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.

  9. Comment by Diane on May 2, 2019 at 11:14 am

    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.

  10. Comment by Steve on May 2, 2019 at 9:16 pm

    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?

  11. Comment by Dr. Eric Dent on January 15, 2020 at 10:32 pm

    Christians provide a vast amount of care to the HIV/AIDS community, vastly more than any organization but government. Here’s just one example: https://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/notes/2007/np05/en/

  12. Comment by Reynolds on April 29, 2019 at 8:12 pm

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

  13. Comment by Rev. Dr. Lee D Cary on April 30, 2019 at 9:23 am

    “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.

  14. Comment by Diane on May 2, 2019 at 11:23 am

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

  15. Comment by Yossi on May 2, 2019 at 6:35 pm

    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

  16. Comment by Gregg on May 3, 2019 at 7:00 am

    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.

  17. Comment by Charlie on May 3, 2019 at 9:36 pm

    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.

  18. Comment by Herb on May 1, 2019 at 9:37 am

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

  19. Comment by Russell on May 1, 2019 at 9:59 am

    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.

  20. Comment by Carol McRee on May 4, 2019 at 10:20 am

    I sincerely doubt the number of members in Assemblies of God is approaching 70 million- perhaps 7 million. Seventy million would make them close in number to the number of Anglicans worldwide.

  21. Comment by Jeffrey Walton on May 6, 2019 at 10:31 am

    Russell is correct: the World Assemblies of God Fellowship (which includes the U.S. denomination among its constituent bodies) reported 69,992,330 members in 2016: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assemblies_of_God

  22. Comment by Richard on December 23, 2019 at 12:58 pm

    I am a retired, moderate leaning conservative retired PCUSA pastor. I can agree with many of the critiques of the denomination that I joined and then began to serve just as the great decline set in. BUT holding up the Assemblies of God as a positive alternative is beyond absured. I “escaped” the clutches of that narrow minded bunch of holy rollers after a childhood absorbing their abuse. The PCUSA was a godsend for me at that time and even in its weakened and I think misguided state is still the better choice, given those two possibilities.

  23. Comment by David on April 29, 2019 at 9:11 pm

    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.

  24. Comment by Steve on May 1, 2019 at 9:19 pm

    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.

  25. Comment by Loren Golden on May 4, 2019 at 7:00 pm

    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.

  26. Comment by Johan on April 30, 2019 at 10:17 pm

    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.

  27. Comment by Henry on April 30, 2019 at 10:38 pm

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

  28. Comment by Loren Golden on May 1, 2019 at 1:49 am

    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.

  29. Comment by Loren Golden on May 1, 2019 at 1:53 am

    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.

  30. Comment by William on May 1, 2019 at 11:30 am

    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?

  31. Comment by Iowa PCUSA refugee on December 6, 2019 at 2:02 am

    Mr. Golden;
    I always enjoy and learn from your wise counsel. But we’re giving the apostate PCUSA the benefit of the doubt on the membership numbers. How many thousands of souls have left the PCUSA, but remain counted ‘on the rolls?’ We’ll never know, but an educated guess would be about 6-9 percent.

  32. Comment by GracieZG on May 2, 2019 at 10:56 am

    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.

  33. Comment by Diane on May 2, 2019 at 11:20 am

    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.

  34. Comment by Steve on May 2, 2019 at 9:01 pm

    “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).

  35. Comment by Loren Golden on May 3, 2019 at 1:30 am

    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.

  36. Comment by Loren Golden on May 3, 2019 at 1:40 am

    “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)

  37. Comment by Donald on May 4, 2019 at 10:06 am

    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!

  38. Comment by Reformed Catholic on May 2, 2019 at 9:14 pm

    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.

  39. Comment by Leigh on May 7, 2019 at 11:49 pm

    Absolutely correct. Look what Mission Presbytery of PCUSA did to three small churches in south Texas. https://layman.org/newsce0e/

  40. Comment by Mike on May 2, 2019 at 11:15 pm

    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.

  41. Comment by Jeffrey Walton on May 3, 2019 at 9:19 am

    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.

  42. Comment by Donald on May 4, 2019 at 6:04 am

    Bingo!

  43. Comment by Jeff winter on June 8, 2019 at 12:04 am

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

  44. Comment by W Gary Johnson on May 4, 2019 at 1:09 pm

    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.

  45. Comment by John on May 4, 2019 at 9:21 pm

    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

  46. Comment by Donald on May 23, 2019 at 10:09 am

    Good point about the “Religion of Peace” and its current practices during Ramadan of driving on the sidewalk, setting off car bombs and other ways of insuring they please Allah.
    Current totals for this Ramadan are >350 deaths and by now >420 injured. I’m sure with a little encouragement from folks they can top >500 deaths in the next two weeks (https://www.breitbart.com/national-security/2019/05/21/ramadan-rage-2019-jihadis-massacre-364-injure-404-in-two-weeks/)

  47. Comment by Jeff Winter on June 8, 2019 at 12:01 am

    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.

  48. Comment by Dave on August 26, 2019 at 6:12 pm

    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.”

  49. Comment by Bill Chinery on September 6, 2019 at 8:45 am

    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.

  50. Comment by KEN on September 11, 2019 at 3:27 pm

    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.

  51. Comment by Joseph Malham on October 10, 2019 at 7:19 am

    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.

  52. Comment by Don Moeller on December 29, 2019 at 12:27 pm

    The only hope for the PCUSA will occur when the local congregations return to preaching true Biblical based sermons while rejecting the liberal hierarchical administrative directives . This would be the same strategy which the liberals used to infiltrate the PCUSA and UMC. Smile at the liberal supervisors and preach what the local congregations want to hear. Make the liberal oligarchy literally read and edit every sermon and take each and every case to an administrative hearing.

  53. Comment by Rev. Dr. Thomas Peavy on May 21, 2020 at 4:07 pm

    The Matthew 25 initiative of PCUSA as approved in the 222 GA is nothing more than a political action committee effort that hides under the “hood” of a denomination. Dismantling structural racism, Eradicating Systemic Poverty and Building congregational vitality are all leftist concepts born of collectivism and globalism. The denomination’s focus on Social Justice, White Privilege and Collectivism could be taken directly from Leftist talking points and current teaching about the founding of the US based on racism. These are clearly political agendas and are tied to scripture in a misguided effort to indoctrinate or coerce membership into a group think unrelated to scriptural accuracy.

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