The 2018 statistical report for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) shows a continuing decline for the denomination in both membership and the number of churches, although the rate of decline may be slowing slightly.
The PC(USA) lost 62,375 active members from 2017 to 2018, dropping from 1,415,053 members in 2017 to 1,352,678 in 2018 (a decrease of 4.4%).
That compares to a membership decline of 67,714 members from 2016 to 2017 (a decrease of 4.5%).
The PC(USA) also has fewer churches. The number of churches in the denomination dropped by 143 over the last year – from 9,304 in 2017 to 9,161 in 2018. While fewer churches than in recent years were dismissed to other denominations (34 in 2018, compared with 45 the previous year) the PC(USA) continues to see churches dissolved as they become too small to continue operating – with 108 churches dissolved in 2018, while only 20 new churches were organized.
The Office of the General Assembly is looking for good news in the numbers – pointing out that the number of congregations being dismissed to other denominations is lessening, following a flood of departures to ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians and other more conservative denominations after the PC(USA) voted to allow the ordination of gay and lesbians who are not celibate and to allow its ministers to perform same-sex marriages.
And denominational leaders are looking to move beyond what they call a narrative of decline – stressing, for example, the new Matthew 25 initiative of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, which challenges congregations to make a difference in the world regardless of their size.
The reality of membership losses is nothing new. The PC(USA) has been growing smaller for decades – dropping in size by about two-thirds over the last 50 years, from a peak membership of 4.2 million in 1965.
The statistical report also makes it clear that the PC(USA) is a denomination of predominantly small congregations – with nearly two-thirds of the churches (63 percent) having fewer than 100 members. Nearly 39% of PC(USA) churches had fewer than 50 members in 2018 and another 24% percent had between 50 and 99 members.
Most Presbyterians (nearly 59%) are women. And more than 89% of Presbyterians are white, according to the 2018 statistical report (with 80% of the membership reporting that statistic).
2018 racial composition of PC(USA) congregations
There is a challenge too in reaching young people: The number of baptisms dropped by 1,417 in 2018 and the number of youth professions of faith by 1,138.
Close to a third of PC(USA) members are 71 and older, and less than a third are under age 40.
2018 PC(USA) age distribution
There are glimmers of hope too. The number of new worshipping communities increased, from 144 in 2017 to 158 in 2018. And the number of professions of faith and reaffirmations of faith rose by more than 9,000.
Other numbers to watch involve the number of ministers in the denomination (down 248 in 2018) and the number of ministers being ordained (down 10). Some have raised concerns that the PC(USA) may be facing an impending shortfall of pastors, as more ministers retire and the supply of new ministers being ordained doesn’t keep pace.
Here’s a link to the full statistical report for the PC(USA) for 2018.
And here’s the news release from the Office of the General Assembly announcing the 2018 statistics:
PC(USA) membership decline has slowed
After years of seeing hundreds of churches leave the denomination, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is starting to see the number of departing churches decrease. The Office of the General Assembly has wrapped up its latest review of membership statisticswhich indicates the decline in membership may be slowing down.
In 2015, the total number of PC(USA) members was listed at more than 1.5 million. Within a year, membership declined by nearly 90,000. Last year, the decline was just over 62,000. The number of churches leaving the denomination between 2015 and 2016 totaled 203. In 2018, it was 34.
“While the difference is not great, we are encouraged by the slowing trend downward,” said the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PC(USA). “The church of the 21st century is changing and we still believe God is preparing us for great things in the future.”
Nelson is encouraged by statistics showing a significant increase in professions of faith and reaffirmations last year. In 2017, the total number was over 12,900 compared to more than 22,000 last year.
“We rejoice when any one person comes to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, but there is great joy in seeing the hearts of 9,000 more followers when compared to the year before,” said Nelson. “God is moving through churches, presbyteries and synods, finding new, innovative ways to share the gospel with a lost world and we are thankful for that.”
Nelson says the statistics continue to show a need to reach younger generations. The number of youth professions of faith continues to decline.
“The real work internally is creating opportunities for youth and young adults to be taken seriously by our congregations. Many of them bring fresh perspectives to a rapidly changing world that can assist both sessions and congregations to live into 21st century ministries and new evangelism possibilities,” said Nelson. “This type of shift should not be viewed as a power issue, but instead a commitment to maximize and broaden opportunities for growth within the congregation. Partnerships with campus ministries are essential as well.”
Approximately 82 percent of churches submitted data representing 87 percent of PC(USA) membership. The median presbytery has a membership of 6,266 persons. The average presbytery consists of 113 ministers, 54 churches and four candidates.
“We still have work to do,” said Nelson. “But these numbers represent the best we have seen in a long time. Praise be to God.”
– by Rick Jones, Office of the General Assembly