Politicized Presbyterian Church (USA) Falls Further

Jeffrey Walton on April 22, 2022

The Presbyterian Church (USA) Office of the General Assembly has released annual statistics showing a decline in membership in 2021 of 51,584 persons.

The report, released the afternoon of Friday, April 22, shows a 4.1 percent rate of decline and total membership of just over 1.19 million members last year, compared to 1.48 million in 2016. In addition, the total number of churches is listed at 8,813, a total of 112 fewer than in 2020.

The losses are consistent with a precipitous and uninterrupted decline that intensified when the denomination revoked a “fidelity and chastity” clause from ordination vows that had required clergy to remain faithful in married life or chaste in single life. The General Assembly also enacted policies uniquely critical of the state of Israel and embraced a host of politically charged causes.

More than 20 percent of PCUSA congregations now number 25 or fewer members, and a total of 372 fewer ministers are serving compared to the previous year. A total of 10 new churches were planted across the entire denomination, while 104 were dissolved.

Positively, the total number of baptisms increased to 7,511 in 2021 from 4,251 in 2020 after in-person worship services largely resumed following the repeal of COVID restrictions. However, the baptismal numbers have not returned to the rates of 10,000 or more that were seen in prior years. 

The PCUSA annual statistics are among the more reliable figures reported by mainline Protestant churches, with a high percentage of congregations submitting data. The denomination also assesses a per capita rate of $8.98 per member, a financial incentive for congregations to clear inactive people from church membership rolls.

An increase in that per capita rate will be voted on by the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly during a May 2 gathering in advance of the General Assembly. Such an increase will place a larger financial burden on a smaller number of total members as the church seeks to fund denominational agencies amid declining resources.

The 225th PC(USA) General Assembly is scheduled to convene June 18 – July 9 in Louisville, Kentucky. Assembly organizers have structured it around a hybrid model, with committee sessions able to meet in-person and plenary sessions to be hosted online.

Commissioners at the General Assembly will consider an overture to merge the Office of the General Assembly and the Presbyterian Mission Agency into a single entity. The two large organizations each face declining revenue, but a merger isn’t assured: the 2017 meeting of the General Assembly opted not to pursue consolidating the agencies.

More: Read about the previous year’s PC(USA) losses here. Browse IRD’s archive of PC(USA) coverage here. Access the full Comparative Summary of Statistics from the PC(USA) here.

  1. Comment by Reynolds on April 22, 2022 at 9:14 pm

    I wonder how much time they think about how they have contributed to the decline.

  2. Comment by Loren J Golden on April 23, 2022 at 1:28 am

    The leaders of the PC(USA) do not spend any time thinking about how they have contributed to the decline, nor would they be honest with themselves if they did.
     
    PC(USA) seminary students are taught to put more faith in methods to criticize the Scriptures than they are in the Scriptures themselves.  Consequently, they neither believe nor preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ; they give no one a compelling reason to be a Christian, let alone a Presbyterian.
     
    And so, the PC(USA) is on a death spiral.  The denomination (and its predecessors) has lost net membership every year since 1965, and the total net loss over that period comes to 3,064,991, or 71.97% of the combined UPCUSA and PCUS membership in that year.  At its current rate of decline (charted on an Excel spreadsheet, with membership statistics from every year, beginning in 1950), the PC(USA)’s projected membership will fall below one million in 2025, and it will hit zero sometime in the early-to-mid-2040s.

  3. Comment by John Kenyon on April 23, 2022 at 6:43 am

    Anecdotally, the PC(USA) ministers with whom I am acquainted consider the decline a purification of their denomination.

  4. Comment by Reynolds on April 23, 2022 at 7:51 am

    John,

    I don’t want to make an assumption but what do they mean by purification. Are they really happy to have Christians going to new churches or do they think make Christians atheist is a good thing

  5. Comment by Loren Golden on April 23, 2022 at 8:45 am

    Such are of the mindset that Christ actually wants His followers to be social justice warriors who take their cues for what justice is, not from the enduring Word of God, but from the ever-changing, unbelieving world. And if you don’t agree with their idea of what justice is, then you aren’t a Christian, and their church (as if it were theirs and not the Biblical Christ’s) is better off without you.

  6. Comment by Dan W on April 23, 2022 at 8:56 am

    I agree with Loren, preaching the Gospel of Jesus would help turn around this decline.

    I guess bones are purified after death – no more of that pesky life and growth to pollute them ; )

  7. Comment by David on April 23, 2022 at 10:04 am

    Many denominations are in decline.

    “Southern Baptist Convention membership drops for 14th year in a row.,,The drop in church membership isn’t unique to the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. A recent Gallup poll shows that membership in houses of worship continues to decline in the U.S. Only 47% of Americans said they were members of a church, mosque or synagogue in 2020.

    https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/religion/2021/05/28/southern-baptist-convention-membership-drops-14th-year-row/7419455002/

  8. Comment by Joe D on April 23, 2022 at 12:09 pm

    PC(USA) is declining into irrelevance and re-arranging the deck chairs while it happens. I withdrew membership from my own beloved church and became a “regular attender” simply because I could no longer stomach being counted a member of this wayward, confused, atrophied denominational failure. With luck, our church will begin what’s euphemistically called “gracious dismissal” proceedings to leave this denomination and join “ECO,” the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians.

    I’d like to see Juicy Ecumenism provide more coverage of this new denomination, which prioritizes church planting, church growth, and real biblical education over the woke, kooky tangents PC(USA) wastes its time and resources to push. ECO is the future for Presbyterians. PC(USA) is a top-heavy, overburdening structure captured by the institutional Left.

  9. Comment by John Kenyon on April 23, 2022 at 3:30 pm

    Responding to Reynolds above., quoting, “I don’t want to make an assumption but what do they mean by purification. Are they really happy to have Christians going to new churches or do they think make Christians atheist is a good thing.” My understanding is that they are convinced that they are the avante quarde of Christianity in the global era. I resigned the PCUSA in good standing after graduating from Union Theological Seminary (UTS) in 1994, being cleared for ordination, and being trained at UTS in how to capture a church, a presbytery, a synod and then the denomination. My letter of resignation was a masterpiece in resisting low diction. The quantitative decline should come as no surprise. Better research should be done in the financial reserves of the woke churches, because my sense is they can survive on other people’s money well beyond 2050. Hope I am wrong.

  10. Comment by Greg M on April 23, 2022 at 6:20 pm

    No matter the reason I am still am said to see the continued decline in most mainline denominations. I would rather see liberals attending a mainline church versus not going to church at all. I think society and communities suffer when churches close.

  11. Comment by Loren J Golden on April 23, 2022 at 11:44 pm

    David,
     
    Yes, the SBC has been losing members for several years now, and the 3% membership loss the denomination suffered between 2019 and 2020 (the 2021 numbers have not yet been released) represented about 436,000 members—significantly higher than the 51,584 members the PC(USA) just lost.  Baptist leaders have much they have to reform in their denomination, before the membership loss will either taper down or, hopefully, reverse its current trend.
     
    That being said, another membership loss this year will only represent the 15th straight year of the SBC’s decline, whereas it represents the 56th straight year of the PC(USA)’s decline, and the PC(USA)’s decline, despite being numerically smaller, represents a larger percentage loss.  Further, the SBC’s losses have been incurred because the denomination has been failing to live up to the Biblical message, while the Biblical message and the preaching of the Gospel have remained consistently strong (except when it comes to infant baptism, of course ;-).  The PC(USA), especially after losing so many members to the ECO, the EPC, and the PCA, does not consistently preach a Biblical message, let alone the Gospel—that has been compromised in the denomination for longer than the membership decline has lasted.  The SBC’s prospects of humbly repenting of its sins and reforming its practices, and thus of halting or turning around its current slide, are significantly higher than those of the PC(USA).
     
    Joe,
     
    This late into the game, most of the congregations that are able and willing to depart the PC(USA) for the ECO (or the EPC) have already done so.  The vast majority of those that are left lack the political or financial willpower to leverage a departure.  There will likely be an uptick in departures after the inevitable Kenyonesque¹ trial occurs that will prohibit the ordination of anyone who opposes the pro-LGBTQ law of the land, but by then most congregations will have made peace with the ordination of “LGBTQ persons”.
     
    Regarding “more coverage” of the now ten-year-old ECO, don’t expect that anytime soon.  The IRD is a watchdog group that reports on threats to religious liberty and any newsworthy stories coming from the liberal oldline denominations—particularly annual membership reports, such as this one, and controversial happenings.  Churches that do what they’re supposed to be doing—preaching the Gospel at home and abroad, and faithfully ministering to their congregations and their communities—do not make the cut.
     
    ¹ For those who do not already know, Walter Wynn Kenyon was an honors graduate of the UPCUSA’s Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in the mid-1970s, who expressed his conscientious objection to the ordination of women.  One of the members of Pittsburgh Presbytery filed a complaint with the Synod Permanent Judicial Committee about its vote to ordain and install him (147 to 133), and the Synod PJC ruled the vote irregular and ordered the Presbytery to rescind it.  Kenyon appealed to the denomination PJC, which nearly a year later upheld the Synod PJC ruling, effectively barring candidates who objected to the denomination’s position on the ordination of women from being ordained themselves.
     
    John,
     
    The decline in the PC(USA) is not related to financial assets—the number of people leaving the denomination exceeds the number of people joining it, by an annual margin in excess of 50,000.  The percentage decline last year among those 55 years old and younger exceeds the percentage decline among those 56 years old and older—4.88% among those between 41 and 55, 6.02% among those between 26 and 40, and 6.42% among those 25 and under.  The percentage decline in baptisms between 2019 and 2021 are equally dismal (I omit the baptism numbers in 2021, because those were reduced on account of so many PC(USA) churches being closed due to the pandemic): Infant baptisms were down by 27.8%, confirmation baptisms by 38.2%, and adult baptisms by 30.8%.  There is no future for the PC(USA), if things continue to decline at the same rate as they have for the past 46 years (according to the chart I referred to above).
     
    To be sure, the PC(USA) will seek organizational union with other liberal oldline denominations before the denomination implodes altogether, and I look for a proposal to that effect to be made sometime within the next decade.  Then the receiving denomination will be able to “survive on other people’s money well beyond 2050.”
     
    Greg,
     
    Reluctantly, I agree with you.  The negative side to people continuing to attend a liberal oldline church (continuing to call them “mainline” belies the reality that they have become) is that they are continually exposed to false teaching.  But the positive side is that they are at least still being exposed to what the Bible says, and what the Holy Spirit can do with that yields far more good than all the evil that Satan can wreak through the false teachers.
     
    In the Spring of 1991, I came to the conviction that my faith was stagnant, and that I needed to grow.  I also came to the conviction that that growth was not going to happen at the large, liberal UMC Wichita congregation at which I was then a member.  Then on May 5 that year, I visited Eastminster Presbyterian Church (then affiliated with the PC(USA), now affiliated with the EPC) for the first time.  More than anything, I was struck by the way the Scriptures were faithfully handled from the pulpit, and I knew in my soul that
    this was the way they were to be handled—not the way they were being handled from the aforementioned liberal UMC pulpit.  And so I switched churches (and that was the last time I switched churches for a reason other than geographic relocation due to job change).  And as long as there are still people like I was then sitting in liberal oldline pews, there is still hope for them.

  12. Comment by Loren J Golden on April 23, 2022 at 11:56 pm

    As an aside, Jeff, have y’all at the IRD considered referencing older posts that are actually related to the subject of a post in the Related Reads sidebar, rather than the four latest posts that aren’t the subject post?  After all, “Final Resolution Reached in South Carolina Episcopal Case” is the closest of the four “Related Reads” posts currently listed to this post on numerical decline in the PC(USA) (although it’s not related by much), and the other three really aren’t related at all.

  13. Comment by John Kenyon on April 24, 2022 at 3:56 pm

    Perhaps the IRD could research and write articles on Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church from the perspective of religion and democracy in Ukraine.

  14. Comment by David on April 24, 2022 at 5:51 pm

    This article is typical of those that appear every few weeks on the subject of denomination X has a declining membership, therefore they must be doing something wrong. It is a form of “schadenfreude,” taking pleasure in the misfortunes of others. American Protestantism has fractured many times in the past over doctrinal issues and there is no reason to think this will ever end. Of course, the issue of demographics with a declining White population is rarely discussed. Most Americans do not belong to a religious institution and those that do tend to be older than the general population.

    “Those who rejoice at the misfortune of others will be punished.” Provbs. 17:5

  15. Comment by Loren J Golden on April 24, 2022 at 6:11 pm

    David,
     
    If you are reading schadenfreude into my responses, above, you are greatly mistaken.
     
    “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? … Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord GOD.  Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin.  Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit!  Why will you die, O house of Israel?  For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.” (Ezek. 18.23,30-32)
     
    And again, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.  They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises.  To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever.  Amen.” (Rom. 9.3-6)
     
    I do not wish ill on the PC(USA), but I wish to God they would repent of their false teaching, turn, and live.  And I pray to the Lord that this would happen.  Yet in the thirty-plus years since I became a Presbyterian, this has not happened.  I do not rejoice in their downfall, nor do I rejoice in the downfall of any segment of the Church of Jesus Christ.  Judgment on sin is coming, whether I want it or not.  But I cannot control what the PC(USA) does, nor can I grant them repentance, as if I were in the place of God.

  16. Comment by Eternity Matters on April 25, 2022 at 9:15 am

    Of course they are declining! When you “preach” the same things at MSNBC, why would anyone spend their time and money to come hear it? They are just running out the clock as the old members, who go out of habit, die off.

  17. Comment by Jim Scarantino on April 25, 2022 at 10:33 am

    It appears that PCUSA does not report worship attendance. The Episcopal Church just reported higher membership than PCUSA, but saw its worship attendance drop below 500,000. The PCUSA church I’ve attended when visiting family used to be packed on Sundays. It is a huge church building on a sprawling campus. Last time I went with family (and it will be the last time) the youth pastor, a Princeton Seminary grad, lectured men who were not homosexual like him. He lambasted their “straightist” ways. It was a very in-your-hetero-face finger-pointing tirade. The church was mostly empty as old people tried to sing up tempo worship songs with lyrics stripped of any real substance. So sad.

  18. Comment by Steve on April 25, 2022 at 12:23 pm

    “It’s appropriate to appreciate justice; we can legitimately approve of well-deserved consequences for evil. That is a very different than experiencing glee over another person’s pain and suffering.”
    https://www.bibleref.com/Proverbs/17/Proverbs-17-5.html
    Besides which, its a real stretch to say that the clergy has “pain and suffering”. Far as I know, they’re feeling no pain; they continue to extract salaries and pensions despite decades of failure. I just feel sorry for congregants who gave of their time and treasure for so many years.

  19. Comment by David S. on April 26, 2022 at 10:50 am

    Like Joe, I resigned my membership last year for much similar reasons, after a decade of membership at our current church. The impetus for me was a combination of reasons, but the overriding factor had to deal with how a complaint regarding a false teacher (I am tired of “playing nice” to avoid calling these people scripturally what they are) decided to advocate the heretical teaching on Matthew 15. which has been more recently popularized amongst a certain crowd by the false bishop in the UMC’s Western Jurisdiction, that appeared in an official denomination publication was responded to. (I will note that the teaching is at least 30+ years old as Marcus Borg of Jesus Seminar fame made a veiled reference to it in one of his books from the early 1990s.) The Middle Tennessee Presbytery, his boss the Director of Disaster Relief, the current President and Executive Director of PMA, and the current Stated Clerk basically saw no issue, despite the fact that the teaching has significant ramifications on the nature, deity, and work of Christ. The Ms. Diane Moffet and Mr. J. Herbert Nelson, II specifically cited in email correspondence to me after I refused to let the issue pass that it was covered by “diversity of thought”, and Ms. Laurie Kraus stated in an email to me that the person in question had a heart of Jesus to which I thought members of JDS, JW, the Armstrongism branch of WWCOG, and the branch of Seventh Day Adventism that hew very closely to the more problematic originalist teachings of Ellen G. White all claim a heart for Jesus, too, but are not Christian either. And that is before we start on the Word of Faith and Prosperity Gospel movement. The presbytery decided to simply respond with a bureaucratic word salad of citations of the Book of Order, even after two reviews (initial and secondary). For me, this was the biggest problem.

    Then add to that the consistent spouting of the talking points of the Democratic National Committee without reservation, even while these people hypocritically criticized theologically traditional and politically conservative Christians for supporting Trump. In fact, it seemed even when the prior President did something right or in a positive direction for which everyone should find some sort of support, Mr. Nelson, Mr. Jimmie Hawkins of the Office of Public Witness, and the alphabet soup of church committees would also find some reason to criticize the actions, such as the Abraham Accords, which was the first substantive movement towards Israel and her neighbors living peaceably side-by-side, for not involving the Palestinian Authority, despite the fact that President Abbas refuses to negotiate with Israel and not criticizing the Palestinian leadership for such intransigence.

    Sadly, in the less than twelve months since the effective date of that removal from membership, Mr. Nelson and his band of false teachers, continue to reveal that my decision to resign membership in protest was appropriate. Support for abortion has moved from the old Clintonian doctrine of safe, legal and rare to full throttled support for unlimited abortion on demand; criticism of Biden for escalating the Russian-Ukrainian War when basically the “normal escalating language” one expects was not used; unreserved support for the medicalization of children suffering from gender dysphoria; no concern about denial of objections for conscious reasons regarding matters of law; criticism of the political tone but only directed towards the right and at best only milquetoast criticism of the left; whole-hearted embrace of the racism and other -isms that result when theology and various theories are viewed through a critical theory lens; calling the 2010 (ordination) and 2014 (marriage) amendments to the Book of Order as a move of the Holy Spirit; and the list goes on. Presently, Tim Keller is doing a 4 or five part series for a quarterly journal. Part One discusses the Decline of the Mainline and he pretty much summed it up, when essentially stating that the Mainlines sealed their fate, when they decided to be what I call PACs affiliated with a certain political party, rather than focusing on the essential requirements of the church, the faithful preaching and teaching of Christ and him crucified.

    If one really wants an understanding as to how God has given this leadership over to a lying spirit and over to sin, and revealed them to be in the vein of Romans 1:22, I would consider Mr. Nelson’s comments over the prior year’s statistics that brushed the continued slide aside. What is more telling is that as of this morning, the only place on social media where this article is linked is Presbyterian Outlook’s Facebook page. Normally, every “News” post on the main PC(USA) website is also posted on the main Facebook and Twitter feed, but this article is conspicuously absent from both.

    And in reference to David’s comment about reviling in other’s misfortunes, I am in fact angry over what has happened to the Mainlines and find it an occasion for mourning. Call these leaders what they are – false prophets, preachers and teachers; hirelings and wolves masquerading as shepherds and sheep; or servants of the enemy masquerading as angels of light, but also pray that they may be experience genuine repentance and conversion, and preferably not at five strokes to midnight like the repentant thief on the cross.

The work of IRD is made possible by your generous contributions.

Receive expert analysis in your inbox.