The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), whose General Assembly starts this week in Detroit, is a case study in oldline Protestant decline. Its latest membership stats show a loss of 89,296 in 2013, preceded by a loss of 102,791 in 2012. Its membership is now down to 1,760,200, and at the current rate it will have no members in less than 20 years.
Such implosion might inspire self-reflection. But oldline Protestant elites too typically don’t reflect much on their 50 year spiral from Mainline to sideline. “Yes, the numbers reflect a decrease in active members in the denomination,” admitted PCUSA Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons. “We are meeting the challenges we have had and it’s showing,” he said. “And, our decline in total congregations is holding fairly steady.” Yeah! The church might last 21 more years instead of 19 or 20, thanks to “meeting the challenges.”
The real challenge is that the PCUSA no longer and has not in a long time adhered vigorously to orthodox Christianity, which is by itself no guarantor of church health but is always an essential ingredient for vitality. There are of course orthodox Christians remaining in the PCUSA, but they are not affirmed by denominational policies. The big issues facing this General Assembly are same sex rites and anti-Israel divestment, hardly motivating evangelistic tools.
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