Watching a Remake of The Titanic — PCUSA 2017

(By Mateen Elass, on his personal blog). There’s a new captain at the helm, and a new course plotted for the voyage, but the good ship PCUSA continues to sink. Today, the Office of the General Assembly released its annual comparative statistical report for the denomination, highlighting numbers for 2016. Once again, it was not a pretty sight.

Jerry Van Marter, from the GA Communications Office wrote up a summary, and tried to spin it with as much sweetener as possible, but the news continues to be awful. The headline is factually correct in one way, but misleading: “…membership decline continues but slows.” In 2016, the denomination lost a net 89,893 members. According to Van Marter, this is the lowest numerical loss since 2011, when net losses were 63,804. This is not exactly accurate: net losses in 2013 were 89,296, some 600 less than 2016’s number, but why quibble? The fact of the matter is that the net loss numbers since 2012 have been dramatically high, and 2016 is not substantially different:

  • 2012  —  102,791
  • 2013  —  89,296
  • 2014  —  92,433
  • 2015  —  95,107
  • 2016  —  89,893

When you compare these with figures from 2001-2005, the difference is depressing (even back then the losses were depressing, but in 2001 the denomination had a million more members than it does today):

  • 2001  —  31,549
  • 2002  —  41,812
  • 2003  —  46,658
  • 2004  —  43,175
  • 2005  —  48, 474

As you can see, net losses just ten years ago averaged around half of what they are now, and the denomination was much larger then. One would expect that as the denomination shrinks the net losses would shrink as well, but that hasn’t happened yet. Another way to say that is this: back then the PCUSA was averaging a net loss of about 1-2% of its total membership. In the last two years, the average net loss per year has been 5.7%. It’s hard to sugarcoat that.

Van Marter also notes that the total number of church dismissals to other denominations has decreased to 99 — “…the fewest dismissals since 2011.” This is indeed accurate, but he fails to mention that the dismissal number in 2011 was 21, and the number dismissed in 2015 was 104, so the decrease in 2016 was not very significant. Even less so when you look at numbers of churches dismissed back in 2001-2005:

  • 2001  —  2
  • 2002  —  3
  • 2003  —  3
  • 2004  —  3
  • 2005  —  4

It’s crucial to look not just at churches dismissed (we all know that in 2016 presbyteries began sealing any further leaks, with some even going so far as to announce that they were no longer going to entertain dismissal petitions from member congregations). The other critical category is churches dissolved (usually because they are no longer viable).


Related articles:

PCUSA Loses Another 89,893 Members in 2016 (The Layman)

2016 Comparative Statistics report

2016 Miscellaneous Information

PCUSA membership decline continues but slows (Presbyterian News Service)

“We are not dying. We are Reforming.” Stated Clerk’s response

Watching a Remake of The Titanic — Presbyterian Church (USA) 2017

As Losses Mount, Presbyterian Official Declares: “We are not dying. We are Reforming” (Juicy Ecumenism)

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PCUSA Loses Another 89,893 Members in 2016

While the numbers of Presbyterian Church (USA) members leaving the denomination are slowly declining, the percentage of the decline continues to grow. In 2016, active members leaving the PCUSA totaled 89,893  – a 5.71% decrease in membership from 2015, when 95,107 members left.

The 2016 Comparative Statistics, released yesterday (5/24/17) by the PCUSA, show that this year’s decline of 89,893, which included 52,295 women, was the smallest decline since 2013, when 89,296 members left.

The PCUSA’s membership has been in continuous decline since the denomination was formed in 1983, by the reunion of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. (PCUS) and the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (UPCUSA). The last recorded membership increase for the PCUSA’s two combined predecessor denominations was in 1965. (Click here for chart showing PCUSA membership and losses 1960-2016.)

In other bad news, the PCUSA saw a dramatic decrease in contributions for the year. The 2016 contributions totaled $1,573,042,766, a decrease of $175,473,970 from 2015’s total of $1,748,516,736.

The PCUSA had celebrated an increase of contributions in 2015 when it received $9.6 million more than it had in 2014. Local mission giving also fell by $13,982,941 from $132,737,066 given in 2015 to $118,754,125 given in 2016.

The statistics show that in 2016, 99 churches and 122 ministers were dismissed from the denomination. According to an article released by the Office of the General Assembly, the 99 dismissed churches “accounted for 29,970 dismissed members.”

Carmen Fowler LaBerge, president of the Presbyterian Lay Committee and host of The Reconnect with Carmen LaBerge pointed out that “From 2013-2016 the PCUSA has organized (planted) 70 congregations. It has dissolved 372 and dismissed 452. Notably, in those four years, no churches have sought to join from the PCUSA from other denominations.”

Also commenting on the number of church dissolved in the denomination was blogger Mateen Elass who said:

“It’s crucial to look not just at churches dismissed … The other critical category is churches dissolved (usually because they are no longer viable). In 2015, the number of dissolutions was 91. Last year it was 97. In the years from 2001-2005, the average per year was in the upper 50s. One doesn’t need a Ph.D. in prophecy to project that numbers in this dissolution category will begin to skyrocket in the next decade as the PCUSA ages out and its members “graduate” in larger numbers. The majority of PCUSA congregations are small and elderly, and in a desperate holding pattern. The average size of a PCUSA congregation today is 157. I don’t have access to data for determination of the median size (the midpoint size where half of all PCUSA congregations are larger and the other half smaller), but I’m guessing it’s somewhere in the high 70s. This would indicate that thousands of churches are a small step from closure.”

Continuing her analysis of the statistics, LaBerge drew attention to the information it contained dealing with the clergy. She said that “the PCUSA only ordained 215 new ministers in 2016. That in no way keeps pace with ministers who died (376 in 2016) not to mention those who are retiring. From 2013-2016 the denomination dismissed 537 ministers to other denominations and removed 358 from office.”

PCUSA Stated Clerk the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson II, responded to the PCUSA’s 2016 statistics in his article “We Are Not Dying. We Are Reforming.” He wrote, in part:

“We are moving towards a new future as a denomination. Membership loss, which was experienced since the 1970s, is slowing down. Congregations are refocusing on their mission. Mid councils are experimenting with ways to provide meaningful leadership in challenging times. Congregations are celebrating both anniversaries and new beginnings. Young adults are asserting their desires to serve in both domestic and international mission. Despite cries proclaiming the death of the Presbyterian Church (USA), we remain a viable interfaith and ecumenical partner in many local communities while proclaiming a prophetic witness throughout the world. Our eulogy as a denomination has been written too soon, because God’s Kingdom has not yet come. We are engaged both in the United States and around the globe. We are well-respected for our priestly and prophetic voice within Christendom. Our challenge is to see the powerful opportunities that are before us while declaring with Holy Spirit boldness that God is doing amazing work within us right now. …”

Adult baptisms rose in 2016 by 606 – 4,775 adults were baptized in 2016 compared to 4,169 in 2015. Child baptisms, however, continued to decline. In 2016, the PCUSA baptized 13,427children, which is 1,516 less children than it baptized in 2015.

The racial composition of PCUSA in 2016 is still overwhelmingly white. With 80 percent of congregations reporting, 90.93 percent of the PCUSA identifies as white; 2.94% as Asian; 2.35% as African American; 1.40% as Hispanic; 1.11 percent as Black; .57% as African; .30% as Other; .26 percent as Native American; and .15% as Middle Eastern.

The top ten presbyteries in the PCUSA are Greater Atlanta, 35,360; Grace, 31,754; Charlotte, 31,505; National Capitol, 29,814; Chicago, 28,949; Philadelphia, 28,514; Pittsburgh, 27,673; New Hope, 27,235; Salem, 23,778; and Coastal Carolina, 23,601. All ten presbyteries showed decreases in membership from 2015-2016. Of the denomination’s 170 presbyteries, 151 of them have less than 15,000 members.

Related articles:

2016 Comparative Statistics report

2016 Miscellaneous Information

PCUSA membership decline continues but slows (Presbyterian News Service)

“We are not dying. We are Reforming.” Stated Clerk’s response

Watching a Remake of The Titanic — Presbyterian Church (USA) 2017

As Losses Mount, Presbyterian Official Declares: “We are not dying. We are Reforming” (Juicy Ecumenism)


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Korean American Pastors Encouraged to Persevere in Ministry at Conference

(By Rachel Lee, Christianity Daily). “God has called you to his kingdom work. May you be encouraged. Stay the course. Don’t give up. Be tenacious.”

Such were the words of encouragement given by Eugene Cho, lead pastor of Quest Church in Seattle, to a group of more than 50 Korean American pastors gathered at the National Korean American Pastors’ Conference (NKAPC), which took place from May 15 to 18 at New Life Fellowship in Bothell, WA.

Encouraging pastors to persevere and stay faithful in their respective ministries was one of the main aims for this year’s conference, according to David Larry Kim, the lead pastor of Harvest (the English ministry of Korean Presbyterian Church of Orlando) and one of the organizers of the annual conference.

This is the second year that the NKAPC has been organized primarily by second generation Korean American pastors, and last year’s conference had mostly focused on the topic of ministering in the Korean immigrant church context.

“For this year’s conference, we wanted to broaden the focus to pastoral ministry in general. We wanted to help pastors across the spectrum: for younger pastors to not only be equipped with sound theology and ministry skills—which seminaries emphasize—but to understand the heart of a pastor and the heart of ministry as well,” said Kim.

“We also want to help those who are already in ministry to be able to stay in the game for the long run by helping them to see potential pitfalls along the way and to foster relationships that would provide support and encouragement,” he added.


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Former ‘Terrible Racist’ Apologizes, Gives $2K to Black Greenville Church

(By Tesalon Felicien, The Greenville News, S.C.). A small Greenville church with a predominantly black congregation is rejoicing after receiving an anonymous $2,000 donation that also came with a unique apology.

Members of the Nicholtown Presbyterian Church [PCUSA], at 201 Carter St., found the typed letter along with two post office money orders, each for a $1,000, in the church’s mailbox last week.

In the letter dated May 13, the donor gave two reasons for sending the money.

“First, I am white and used to be a terrible racist.” 

The $2,000 donation they said was a “heartfelt apology to African American Community, and a sign of God’s love for you, and as a sign of my love for you as well.”

The second reason was to show that “miracles, just as in Biblical times, still happen today, this is it!”

Beverly Kelly, pastor of the Mattoon Presbyterian Church and moderator of the session for Nicholtown Presbyterian Church, said the donation came at the perfect time. 

“It’s like a miracle,” Kelly laughed.


(Photo taken from Foothills Presbytery web site.)

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Sunday Vote Means a Likely Move for One of Mecklenburg’s Oldest Presbyterian Churches

(By Jim Morrill, Charlotte Observer, N.C.) The congregation of Steele Creek Presbyterian Church  [PCUSA] voted Sunday to explore a merger, beginning a process that could mean abandoning the site that’s been its home for 257 years.

Steele Creek, Mecklenburg County’s second-oldest house of worship, finds itself in the path of a constantly expanding Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

Members voted 94-43 to pursue a merger with one or more of the other Presbyterian churches in the Steele Creek area. No deal would be final until the congregations vote on a firm proposal, a process that pastor Jeff Pinkston said could take up to 18 months.

That could lead to the sale of the church’s sanctuary building, built in 1889, and its 40 surrounding acres. In a separate vote Sunday, church members voted to sell their manse and 16 acres of nearby property to the City of Charlotte for nearly $1.6 million.

Along with its historical significance, Steele Creek Presbyterian once boasted of its size. In the 1970s it was the largest rural Presbyterian church in the United States, with well over 1,000 members.

But as the airport grew, membership shrunk. It’s now 351.

“We’ve been greatly hurt by expansion of the airport already,” Pinkston said Sunday. Jet noise finally stopped the church from holding services on its expansive front lawn. And burial services in the adjacent cemetery are often drowned out by the noise.

For Pinkston and others in the church, the vote was a realization that airport growth is inevitable.

“I have mixed feelings, he said, citing the church’s long history. “I’m also concerned about our future if we’re basically surrounded by an industrial park.”


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Presbyterians Mourn Iconic Loss, Bravely Look Ahead

(By Nancy Wilstach, the Shelby County Reporter, Ala.) For 120 years, the elegant white brick church stood at the corner of Alabama and Shelby streets in Montevallo, its iconic stained glass window guarding its flock and extending an invitation to any lost sheep who happened by.

Photos originally posted on the church web site. (

Sadly, much of the Montevallo Presbyterian Church building is coming down, the victim of high winds and an elderly oak tree on April 3, just two weeks before Easter. That was not the end of irony — that this beautiful landmark should be wounded like this during the season of Lent seemed ironic enough, but that fateful tree found its mark during this little city’s bicentennial celebrations.

“This is so sad,” said Mayor Hollie Cost. “It would be tragic any time, but it seems even sadder when we are celebrating history in our city and when the church was celebrating a significant birthday.”

Casey Pilgrim, the financial officer and a member of the church’s session (the governing body), said that he and the other members consulted structural engineers, restoration experts and others knowledgeable in the ways of old buildings. Alas, the stress was too much, and the risk to workers’ lives too great, to save even the beautiful stained glass window depicting Jesus the Good Shepherd.

Photos originally posted on the church web site. (

“We are not going to have to demolish the entire church, so we will be rebuilding whatever needs to be rebuilt exactly where we are currently. We are trying to preserve as much of the church as we possibly can,” Pilgrim said. “If we can save some of the pews, some of the floor of the sanctuary, the broken pieces of stained glass—we want to have them made into something else.”

That way, he said, parts of the original sanctuary will live on in the 60-member congregation’s new home.

After the tree’s initial impact, there was hope the window and parts of the facade could be saved, Pilgrim said. However, subsequent settling opened cracks in the white-painted bricks, revealing deep wounds in the old bricks’ inner rusty red. The separations widened even after the tree had been cut up and removed.

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For more information about the storm damage, visit the church’s web page.

Powerful storms cause problems in the Midwest and South, Presbyterian News Service.

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President Gets Failing Grade from African American Clergy

(By Rick  Jones, Presbyterian News Service). African American clergy gathered in Washington, D.C. today saying they are concerned about the political, racial, ethnic, economic and academic climate in America. The group held a news conference outside of the United Methodist Building, urging the new administration to take a second look at its policies and actions towards African Americans and other minority groups.

“We are concerned about the attitudes and behavior being perpetrated by those who should be role models for our children on how to conduct oneself in the public sphere,” said the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, director of the PCUSA Office of Public Witness. “We are concerned over the poisoned political environment being polluted by the words, insults, alternative facts and distortions of truth coming out of the White House.”

Hawkins said he’s never seen an “alternative reality” like this, and is especially concerned about the actions and policies of the current administration.

“This election was ushered in by the most negative Inauguration speech uttered in generations and this presidency has been greeted by attacks on mosques and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries,” he said. “President Trump has appointed men and women as members of his cabinet, who, rather than proposing policies that enhance the public well being, generate controversy through the implication of policies which will do more harm than good.”

The clergy at today’s news conference, said their progress report of the administration’s work shows a failing grade with the budget, criminal justice, economics and employment, healthcare and race relations.

“The president’s budget proposes education cuts to Pell Grants received by nearly two-thirds of black undergraduates as well as to Job Corps, with more than half of its students being black,” said Hawkins. “To HUD’s Community Development Block Grants, with cuts in affordable housing, economic development, disaster relief, infrastructure and other services. To the Legal Services Corporation, the largest funder of legal aid to low-income Americans and nearly 30 percent of their clients are black.”

Hawkins was critical of the administration’s positions on criminal justice, particularly the appointment of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He said Sessions has a 30-year record of “demonizing communities” and has built a career on disregarding the rule of law and fueling hostility toward the protection of civil rights.

“This nation deserves an attorney general who understands that prevention is better than imprisonment; communication is better than secrecy; equal treatment is better than inequality in sentencing; rehabilitation is better than retention,” said Hawkins. “Attorney General Sessions, if you are not a racist, prove it and be one that believes justice is the same for all people.”

Other areas where the group feels the president has failed include public education – specifically in inner cities and rural areas, employment opportunities for minorities, affordable and comprehensive healthcare, the integrity of African American women, improvement of race relations and the neglect of Africa, which struggles with human rights violations and corporate exploitation.

“We are actually more concerned that America is in graver danger than even the Russian hacking of our election and other external threats,” said the Rev. Barbara Williams Skinner of the African American Clergy Network. “There is a danger of moral decay that comes to adding $52 billion to an already bloated defense budget and cutting that same amount from life sustaining programs for children, the elderly, the sick and what I call an escalated war against the poor.”

Rev. Dr. Leslie Copeland, director of the Ecumenical Poverty Initiative, said people who live in poverty are losing and as people of faith, she says they refuse to be silent about it.

“Poverty rates among African Americans and other people of color are consistently higher at every level than their white counterparts, whether its education, healthcare, criminal justice or tax reform,” she said. “In every area of policy proposed thus far, it has a negative impact on African Americans and those living in poverty.”

Copeland said the proposed $880 billion dollar cut in Medicaid will undercut public education, the work of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and will “decimate the work that has been done to right the wrongs of the criminal justice system.”

The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Turner, pastor of Dayspring Community Church and former speechwriter for Surgeon General David Satcher, said that undoing the Affordable Care Act and replacing it with “Trump Care” is “nasty and greedy” in its intent.

“As many as 24 million people stand to lose care under these new restrictions, and at the same time as these proposed cuts for non-millionaires occur, millionaires are being handed tax cuts averaging more than $50 thousand a year,” said Turner. “It is unconscionable that a nation with vast wealth and resources could be so morally, ethically and physically stingy when it comes to providing healthcare for all of its citizens. Healthcare is not a privilege; it is a right. Being sick is bad enough, but worrying about how to pay for care adds insult to injury.”

The clergy urges the president to do a number of things to change the direction the country is headed including:

  • Promoting the creation of small business in urban centers
  • Pushing banks to establish more small business loan opportunities
  • Targeting bank lending and CRA standards and initiatives
  • Making good on the promise to promote infrastructure projects
  • Promoting urban real estate development
  • Strengthening education
  • Making race relations a priority
  • Protecting voting rights

The group also asked the president to stop making immigrants responsible for “everything that goes wrong in America” and to stop tweeting.

View the article on the PCUSA web site … 

(Above photo: The Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, director of the Office of Public Witness, speaks at a news conference in Washington, D.C. Photo by Ray Chen)

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Historic Presbyterian Church in Detroit Hot Spot Listed for $4.85M

(By Paula Gardner, Michigan Live). Detroit’s changes over decades played out along Woodward Avenue, the corridor that connects Downtown and the riverfront to Midtown and beyond.

The contrast has been acute in Brush Park, just north of today’s sports and entertainment hub, where elaborate mansions rose in the late 1800s, then many fell as the city waned a century later.

Yet one iconic church building withstood it all. And today, it’s listed for sale.

The timing comes as real estate activity along the corridor is heated, fueled by housing demand, new commercial activity and billions in major investments Detroit is rediscovered.

The asking price for the former First Presbyterian Church: $4.85 million.
“It’s the largest property between downtown and Midtown that hasn’t otherwise been claimed for development yet,” said the Rev. Dr. Stephen Butler Murray. “It makes sense that we can ask for that kind of price, given what we’ve seen other properties sell for.”

Murray is president of the Ecumenical Theological Seminary, a religious educational facility that serves 30 different denominations in Metro Detroit as an accredited, degree-granting school of theology.

The seminary moved into the property in 1992, leasing the church and office building from the Presbyterian Church, which — in 2002 — [the Presbytery of Detriot, PCUSA] donated them to the seminary.

The gift was substantial, allowing the seminary to remain in the property that it had called home and maintaining its presence in Detroit along Woodward Avenue.


(Photo posted above by By Andrew Jameson (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons).

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PCUSA Stated Clerk Delivers Message at Ecumenical Advocacy Weekend in D.C.


PCUSA Stated Clerk, the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson II, delivers the Sunday sermon at Ecumenical Advocacy Days weekend. (Photo by Rick Jones)

(By Rick Jones, Presbyterian News Service). The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson II is calling on Christian denominations to stand firm on social justice issues and get involved. The Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA) gave the Sunday morning message to the nearly 1,000 attendees in Washington, D.C.

Nelson told the group the nation is at a critical time and people are afraid.

“There is confusion in our land concerning who we are as a nation. We are found on plurality, freedom of religion. We are nation where communities is afraid to wear a head dress, Islamic groups fear of being labeled as members of ISIS,” said Nelson. “We stand in the way of those who come to this country and declare we are going to put up a wall. Yet, when we see the homeless, those who are struggling and can’t make a decent livable wage, what are we saying as a people who tolerate such madness?”

Nelson said the nation is being led by millionaires and the wealthiest cabinet in U.S. history, adding that healthcare is threatened and people are still working in poverty.

“It is not easy work, plans change, things get in the way,” said Nelson. “Only a remnant generally does the work, because its not for the faint of heart, but the faithful, those who know that our lives today are not only ours but belongs to God.”

Nelson believes that in order for the nation to move forward, the individual blinders must come off.

“We need to learn to love one another again and love Jesus enough that differences don’t hurt relationships. There so many divisive factors that will stand in our way and challenge us when we get real. There’s a cross for everyone,” he said. “We need to put the cross back into Christianity. We need to regain a sense of theology of the cross. We want resurrection without facing a cross, that’s the problem with modern day churches.”


Related article: 7 Christian Leaders Arrested Protesting Trump’s Budget Proposal on Capitol Hill

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Gustine’s Community Presbyterian Church to Close

(Posted by the GUSTINE, CALIF. — A local church will be closing its doors in coming weeks after serving the community for more than a century.

Community Presbyterian Church of Gustine will hold its final service May 7, Pastor Mark Hollingsworth confirmed.

The church was organized in 1910.

Hollingsworth, who has served the church for nearly 25 years, told Mattos Newspapers that a dwindling congregation proved to be its downfall.

“Six of our members died last year, and some people have moved away. There are just not enough people and not enough money to keep it going,” he commented. “It was a difficult decision. It is very sad.”

The Presbyterian church has long been a part of the fabric of the community, with the involvement and generosity of congregation members extending well beyond the church.

As pastor, Hollingsworth said, he viewed his mission as helping foster a church home where everybody was welcome to become part of a caring, faith-based community.

“I wanted this to be a place of grace, with people who were graceful and gracious in their lives,” he reflected. “Our folks have been so good…..grace, generosity and gratitude are things that I think are here.”

But the congregation size had reached a point where continuing was no longer feasible.

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Church web site.

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