Saturday, November 1st, 2014
The Layman Online > Major PCUSA Issues > 2012 statistics show dramatic decrease in PCUSA membership, congregations

2012 statistics show dramatic decrease in PCUSA membership, congregations

stats 2006-2012_Page_1

Membership in the Presbyterian Church (USA) declined by more than 100,000 last year, according to the 2012 statistics released recently by the denomination’s Office of the General Assembly. It is the single largest annual membership decline since the PCUSA was formed in 1983.

By the end of 2012, total membership in the PCUSA was 1,849,496, down 102,791 from the 2011 figure of 1,952,287.

Only in 1972 and 1973 were the combined membership loss totals of the PCUSA’s two predecessor denominations – the United Presbyterian Church in the United States, (UPCUSA) and the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) – greater. In 1972 the losses of the two denominations totaled 103,150, and in 1973 the decline was 139,882. The UPCUSA, or the “northern” church, and the PCUS, or “southern” church reunited in 1983 to form the PCUSA. The membership total of the newly formed PCUSA in 1983 was 3,131,228. (Click here for chart showing PCUSA membership and losses 1960-2012)

Presbyterian Lay Committee President Carmen Fowler LaBerge commented, “The last time Presbyterians saw this kind of realignment in membership followed the formation of the Presbyterian Church in America in the early ‘70s. The migration of churches to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians is not noted in the stated clerk’s comments but can hardly be ignored. The EPC has taken in more than 250 churches in the past five years. ECO has 50 with another 150 en route. Those are all losses to the PCUSA, and they’re not over yet.”

The number of PCUSA congregations also declined in 2012 by 204. Of those, 86 were dissolved and 110 were dismissed to other denominations. The figure of 110 churches being dismissed to other denominations is less than half the statistic being given by the PCUSA leadership, including its moderator, Neal Presa. In a May 2 presbytery meeting, Presa acknowledged that five churches per week are leaving the PCUSA for other denominations which would add up to a total of 260 churches departing.

The PCUSA also ended the year with 215 fewer ministers. There were 20,849 PCUSA ministers at the end of 2012, a decline from the 2011 figure of 21,064. While there were 35 ministers accepted into the PCUSA from other denominations – seven more than in 2011, 126 ministers were dismissed to other denominations.

Decreases were shown in the amount of contributions made to the PCUSA. In 2012, the denomination received $1,910,795,635, a decrease of $92,769,555 from the 2011 amount of $2,003,565,190.

Explanations or excuses?

In the official press release announcing the results of the 2012 statistics, PCUSA Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons referenced an Oct. 9, 2012, study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. He said that not only is there an overall decline in membership in all Protestant denominations, there is also huge growth in the United States of the religiously unaffiliated.

“The fact that fewer Americans say they have a religious identity does not necessarily mean there has been an overall decrease in spirituality in America,” Parsons said. “The 2012 statistics challenge us as Presbyterians to connect with the ever-growing number of those with no religious affiliation.”

Blogger Mateen Elass, a pastor who along with his congregation left the PCUSA in January of 2013 to join ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, recently commented on the PCUSA’s 2012 statistics.

Elass said that the explanation from Parsons “boils down to two things: 1) All the mainline churches are in decline; the PCUSA is a mainline church; therefore it is in decline. 2) Our culture is increasingly resistant to affiliating with religious institutions — how can we help it if people today don’t want to sign on the dotted line …? Both these reasons, whether true or not, show a desire to excuse the leadership from responsibility rather than a passion to turn things around. There are certain churches that are growing in this environment. Why not study them and invest the denomination’s significant resources in retooling itself to become a more effective proponent of the gospel? Why not return with passion to the heart of the Biblical Gospel rather than giving itself over to causes that are ancillary to the church’s true mission?”

He continued, “On the other hand, the denomination is leaking like a sieve when it comes to membership retention. The number who transferred out to other denominations by certificate was up 126 percent from 2011 (52,064 compared to 23,082). The number lost through ‘other’ means (cleaning the rolls, usually) was up about 4 percent (from 95,613 to 99,067). The only category showing a slight decrease in losses from that of 2011 was in number of deaths. This is small consolation.”

Also released with the 2012 statistics was a page of “Miscellaneous Information,” that included the racial composition of PCUSA congregations. In 2012, 91 percent of the congregations were made up of white members; 2.85 percent were Asian; 2.24 percent were African America; 1.42 percent, Hispanic; and 1.03 percent, black. All other categories were less than 1 percent.

LaBerge said that “no consideration of the failure of the PCUSA to keep pace with the changing racial demographics was addressed in the stated clerk’s rationale. The failure of Presbyterian to effectively transmit the Gospel effectively to the next generation, evangelize their neighbors and receive Christians immigrating from other parts of the Kingdom is worth noting.”

About the author: Paula R. Kincaid

Paula R. Kincaid is the editor of The Layman and The Layman Online. She has been employed by the Presbyterian Lay Committee since March 3, 1998. She lives in Hudson, N.C.

35 comments

  1. bubba says:

    I loved the presbyterian church. My family’s involvement goes back centuries and includes ministers. Like most of my family, I went to a presbyterian college (now a “secular” college). I was the last of my generation to belong to the PCUSA. I left when I was told by my minister I was a sinner because I was wealthy. I was wealthy not because I spent 7 years post college advancing my education and working 80 or more hours a week most of my life. No, I was wealthy because I took from the poor. I was also appalled by the fact the PCUSA needed to affirm gay marriage and “divest” from Israel. Also, I now have a liberal minister who not only thinks little of anyone else’s opinion but belittles those that think differently. So the PCUSA continues to decline and in near future will collapse. At least the church will hold on to their liberal outlook. Mean while, the more fundamental churches in my city grow.

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  3. Lorenzo Lalama says:

    Numbers, trends, reasons, conservative, liberal, apostacy, all aside, the obvious glee on the part of Laymen folks about the demise of the PC(USA) is far more demonic than angelic. Those who rejoice in the fall of
    others, for whatever reason, do not reflect the love and grace of the Christ they proudly claim to
    serve.

  4. Don Moeller says:

    The presumed 40 year life span of the PC USA is overwhelmingly optimistic. It is necessary to understand that a cutoff point for ” congregation survival ” is well above 20 or 30 members ,( many more for large Church facilities). When the majority of PC-USA congregations fall below this critical level the PC-USA will rapidly cease to exist. Furthermore, with the median age of the PC-USA member being in the mid-fifties and with very few congregations attracting sufficient numbers of young congregants the life-span of the PC-USA is significantly worse than portrayed by the PC-USA Leadership.

  5. Jean Grimm says:

    I was a member of Presbyterian USA and left because the church has left the bible, tradition, prayer, faith and grace behind. my former church,a website in cincinnati doe not mention the words Jesus or Christ . The minister offered no personal prayer ! the church became a social service organization, nothing more.if the central body and the ministers have no faith that CHrist is the Savior, that the bible is the word of GOd, that a worship service is to honor God almighty, then this church holds neither meaning nor hope for hundreds of thousands of Presbyterians. That is why we left and are seeking the gospel in other churches.

  6. Kelly says:

    I do not attend a Presbyterian church, but I am a church-goer. While I believe you have multiple issues that contribute to your membership loss, there is one issue that everyone seems to overlook, but it is very clear to me. I promise you – if this issue is not resolved and dealt with, the “mainline” denominations will be no more. And I’m not being critical, I’m just being an independent observer.

    Even though you love your style of worship, your tradition, your serv ice format, etc. etc., it does not strike a resonant cord with the younger generation. I am 50 years old, and my generation somewhat rejects it. But the culture, customs, feelings, etc. of people who were born from about 1983 on, could not give a RIP about your traditions, your pipe organs, your order of worship, your music, etc. They CANNOT identify with any of it, not even a little. When my kids were in high school, they had lots and lots of friends, and almost all of them went to church or was closely affiliated with a church. The kids who were actively attending a mainline church were very few and far between. The few ones who were members were going with their friends to evangelical churches.

    Trust me. I’m not trying to say you are “wrong.” I don’t think there is a “right” way and “wrong” way. I’m just saying the younger generation isn’t buying it. If you don’t accommodate them, your churches will all be for sale when this generation takes the reins.

    • Jean Grimm says:

      Many of us left precisely because the Presbyterian church has abandoned meaningful traditional worship that feeds our souls.

  7. James J. Grimes says:

    When a denomination becomes apostate, it will soon wither away to nothing. The process is happening and no one in the PCUSA leadership seems to be concerned about it.

    • Jean Grimm says:

      They are pleased that traditional Christians are leaving the denomination. It his allows the shell of a church to appoint very liberal minded members to the pastoral nominating committees who in turn hire ministers in the vein of united church of Christ ministers who deliver only fragments of the gospel message to their liking. When a tradiitional conservative leaves a church, the lliberal session is pleased. This denomination has become a nightmare.

  8. mike says:

    Though some see the decline in PC(USA) membership as a sign of spiritual illness, I believe the Spirit of God is purging the PC(USA) roll to “do a new thing.” God is at work in and through the PC(USA) bringing in His kingdom of love and justice. We are answering Christ’s call to surrender our lives to His will and to love boldly, sacrificially and unconditionally. The changes in the PC(USA) are leading toward a church “as generous and just as God’s grace.”

  9. John E says:

    Anyway, my own view is that God is not honoring the course we are on and have been on for many years. God may well have reached the point of hardening our collective hearts so that the decline and fall of our denomination continues on course.

    This is a bad time to be a Presbyterian (USA) member but it’s always a great time to be a follower of Jesus Christ!

  10. John E says:

    Jim, I did not get the impression Don was a “smug PCUSA apologist,” since he predicted its continuing decline and eventual merger with another “declining mainline” denomination or two.

    • Don says:

      Thanks John. You are correct that Jim misunderstood my comment. Far from being a PCUSA apologist; I left the denomination in 2006; though people near and dear to me are still there so I still have an interest in what goes on in the PCUSA.

  11. Jim Caraher says:

    I’m always amused by the smug PC(USA) apologists like Don who describe the PC(USA) as the “giant among dwarves” referring to non-PC(USA) Presbyterians. That head-in-the-sand analysis ignores two inescapable facts: (1) the 30-year rate of PC(USA) decline is going to accelerate going forward and there is no end in sight; (2) non-PC(USA) Presbyterians have already moved ahead of PC(USA) Presbyterians on important measures of vitality and future potential like per capita giving, new church development and foreign missions activity. It is crystal clear that non-PC(USA) Presbyterians are going to become the inheritors of “the faith once for all delivered to the saints.” Thanks be to God.

  12. Robert Smith says:

    All this anxt over denominational membership confuses me. Where is the concern for the lost, for those with unrepentant sin, for the Gospel, to csrry out the great commission? Our Lord’s admonition is clear… Take up your cross & follow [him]. Lk 9:23. Saving a denomination is not in the scripture. Saving souls is. Denominations don’t share the Gospel. Disciples do. Raise up disciples, not pew warmers. Time to get about our Lord’s business & leave the petty worldly concerns about head counts & attendance behind. Praying for all of those who truly want to follow Jesus. He will be with you always.

  13. Eric Wells says:

    God does hear and answer prayer. People have prayed and ruminated over the possibility that God would not renew the faith. The growth and stability of denominations that are truly reformed is evidence that God is doing precisely what we’ve been praying for. In His mercy, He has led 102,791 out of that wilderness of apostasy and epistemological yokelhood. I praise and thank Him that I numbered among them and, believe me, this grass is greener!!

  14. Michael says:

    Looking at the linked 2009-2012 comparative statistics the only place the departure of “nones” could show up would be within Losses-Other but that shows no trend that would appear to indicate something heretofore not seen. However using the 4 year average of Losses-Other means half the current membership will be gone over the next decade.

    Looking at linked 1960-2012 membership does point out an even more ominous trend. The rate of membership loss is steadily accelerating.
    1999 – 1.07%
    2005 – 2.10%
    2008 – 3.24%
    2012 – 5.26%
    Nothing I can see to indicate this trend will not continue to get even worse.

  15. Tom Richards says:

    I wonder if the national office really cares whether it has people in the pews. If they were just a national office operating off the earnings from the denomination’s endowments they would be entirely free to pursue their liberal political impulses, just another Washington political lobby, one that uses “Jesus” words.

    • Jean Grimm says:

      Not only do they not care, but read some blogs written by faculty members at Presbyterian theological colleges whose professors believe apparently only in good works, not salvation theology. Many teach that Jesus was a good man and example to follow. Period. I get more out of staying home and reading the bible than listening to a minister who sounds like a msnbc tv host.

  16. Elder Andy says:

    I would be interested in participating in a constructive discussion of a couple points in the article. Specifically, “The 2012 statistics challenge us as Presbyterians to connect with the ever-growing number of those with no religious affiliation,” and “Why not study them [churches that are growing in this environment] and invest the denomination’s significant resources in retooling itself to become a more effective proponent of the gospel?” We’ve all heard the definition of insanity, “repeating the same actions but expecting a different outcome.” There are two paths then; to change what we are doing or be irrelevant and crazy! The Great Commission directs us to make disciples – if we can be found faithful to that, then I think size will take care of itself. The goal is not to be the biggest church, but like the old Wendy’s commercial, “Where’s the beef?!” God grant us wisdom.

    • Jean Grimm says:

      There are already thousands of independent evangelical churches that art carrying the gospel message effectively . While Presbyterians quarreled among themselves for a decade, they were Left Behind by other churches who carry a more spiritual and biblical message. Pun intended.

  17. Greg Wiest says:

    In Response to the “giant among the dwarves”- The PCUSA currently has 1,849,496 members and the dwarves (EPC,PCA, OPC, ECO, ARP, CPC and RPC) have a combined membership of 664,949(according to internet fact authority, wikipedia) Actually wiki is fairly accurate after checking with denominational sources. This puts the PCUSA at 3 times the size of the more conservative groups. Not too much of a dwarf in my mind. Consider also that at losses of conservatively 75,000 per year with the PCUSA and with a percentage moving to the more conservative groups, I would guess the conservative groups will reach parity with the PCUSA in about 10 years at the most. My guess is that this will happen much quicker then we think. consider that the churches which have left the PCUSA tend to be growing evangelical churches with a younger average age. This will dramatically affect the growth statistics of the PCUSA which already has an average of 60 plus. The actuarial charts are not in our favor. Consider also the effect of redefined marriage most likely at GA 2014. I have heard hope for the next generation of younger pastors and elders who are coming up that we’ll have a renewal. I hope they are right, but I think the renewed PCUSA will be quite smaller and will be one of many equals, especially the PCA and the EPC and perhaps ECO in the long term. In may be time to come to terms with our identity as no longer being a major player in the ecclesiastical field. This is not such a bad thing. We need to act our size. Perhaps we do not need an enormous building in Kentucky or a Washington office(as if our voice mattered as much as we think it does.) Perhaps we do not need to be one of the largest supporters of the WCC or the NCC. Perhaps our denominational structure needs to be greatly reduced and more energy put into churches. Perhaps we need to treat the other Presbyterian Denominations with a little more respect. Just a thought.

    • John says:

      I’d be interested in seeing what actual church attendance is in the PCUSA vs. EPC, PCA. I don’t know how often PCUSA churches purge their rolls, I know our PCA church does on a regular basis.

      • Mitch says:

        I have not moved my membership (yet), but have not attended “my” PCUSA church in over two years. I have been attending our local PCA church.
        What I have found is…..
        A church of young adults AND their children!!! Yes, a CONSERVATIVE church which is loaded with children!!!
        A church with young people that uses praise music appropriately AND keeps the “old fashioned hymns” which are respected and appreciated.
        A church where the Bible is still the “Word of God”.
        A church that strongly supports mission (local and world wide).
        A church that is not a Country Club.
        A church that still knows the joy of the Gospel. A church that unabashedly worship Jesus Christ as the Son of God.
        A church that last Sunday had no remaining seating. Yep, not a single seat was left. I know, I got there late. Did I say that it is a HUGE facility?
        Honestly, I prefer a smaller church, but with “my” church going up (or should I say down) in flames, I will continue to follow my conscience. Sometimes you must cut off the hand that offends. It isn’t easy, but it can be done.

  18. w. aardsma says:

    The full chart shows membership losses in 1966, the same year that the U.P.C.U.S.A. dropped Scriptural inerrancy and opened the door to the Barthian Confession of ’67. Dr. Carl McIntire of the Bible Presbyterian Church wrote a book about this called The Death of a Church, something being played out today.

  19. Earl Tilford says:

    I can’t think of the PCUSA as a “giant among dwarfs.” Winston Churchill was a giant among European dwarfs of the 1930s bent on appeasing Hitler. An unhealthy, bloated creature with no theological spine and spirit polluted with social justice nonsense that long ago saturated its doctrinal vortex, this Oblomovian entity will simply rot into insignificance, and then become one with the Disciples of Christ or Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Not a pretty picture.

  20. In 5 years (2007-2011) the PC(USA) lost nearly 315,000 members or on average about 63,000 per year. In 2012 we lost almost 103,000. Just think if that is our new average for the next 5 years? Half a million members gone in half a decade. More than another million members lost by 2022?

    And all the PC(USA) officials want to do is point the finger at external excuses. What did Jesus say about not being able to see the log in your own eye?

    I have a novel idea: Dissolve the entire PC(USA) over the course of the next five years and let every congregation choose to which Reformed denomination they want to be transferred. During this time close down all the Presbytery, Synod, and non-essential GA offices, including the Foundation and the BOP. liquidating their assets. Hire an accounting firm to receive the assets. In year six return the assets to the former local congregations and BOP members on a per capita basis.

    Let’s get the inevitable over with, without all this gracious dismissal nonsense.

    • Don says:

      Bob, PCUSA is still 11 times the size of EPC and ECO combined. Despite its ongoing decline, it will be the giant among dwarves for some time yet. It’s hard for me to imagine a dissolution any time soon; my guess is that, when it has finally driven out most of the non-“progressive” members, what is left – no longer able to support itself financially — will merge with one or more other declining, liberal mainline denominations. As I said, though, just my guess.

      • Jim says:

        PCUSA and the UCC would be a match made in heaven, or maybe a match made in the other place, but you get the idea.

        • John E says:

          Both are churches with a Reformed heritage that are doubtfully “Reformed” today.

        • Loren Golden says:

          That’s not likely to happen. The UCC has a congregational form of government, which is naturally opposed to the PCUSA Book of Order property clause. Getting them to buy it would be a hard sell, and getting the reverse to happen is about as likely as a snowball’s chance in the aforementioned “other place”.

    • Richard Peck says:

      There are those congregations who would probably not fit in another Reformed body unless standards are similar to the PCUSA.

      • When we think of the current churches leaving the PC(USA) primarily they have left for two Reformed denominations, EPC and ECO. We could describe EPC as PCA with women officers, and ECO as PC(USA) prior to July 2011, but both with significantly less bureaucracy.

        The current PC(USA) standards are just a breath away from the UCC standards (basically only the definition of marriage needs to change). But there are also the Cumberland Presbyterians, the Christian Reformed, and dozens of other Reformed denominations.

        So, there are many, many options.

        But I predict we will never do what I suggest in the first comment.

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