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.