The coming collapse of the PCUSA

pcusaBy Jeff Gissing

The Presbyterian Church (USA) recently released the findings of its “Religious and Demographic Profile of Presbyterians 2011” (the report). More than 6,000 clergy and members of the PC (USA) were asked to participate in the study for a three-year period. The goal was to sketch a broad landscape of the denomination in demographic and theological terms. The report is available here in its entirety. In many respects the report is grim reading. In fact, it points to the coming collapse of the PC (USA)—demographic and theological realities will force the denomination to accept a new, diminished future.

The report reveals, perhaps unsurprisingly, that the PC (USA) is old and white. 94% of the randomly selected members reported their race as “white or Caucasian,” as did the randomly selected Ruling Elders. Of clergy, 91% of pastors and 89% of specialized ministers (chaplains, professors, etc) reported their race as white. For all categories of respondent, more than 90% were born U.S. citizens. The study notes, most alarmingly, that the racial-ethnic makeup of the denomination has remained virtually unchanged in the last forty years. This discontinuity makes the future of the denomination untenable since it has not reached either immigrant communities or people of color in any meaningful way. While there are flickers of light in the 1001 New Worshipping Communities initiative, it seems to be rather too late for this to significantly offset coming losses.

The denomination also continues to age. The median age of members rose from 60 to 63 between 2008 and 2011. That means that if you were to list the ages of each of the member respondents, half of them would be older than 63 and half younger. The number is similar—62—for ruling elders. The report also indicates that almost 50% of church members are not employed, while only 7% of members report being “full-time homemakers.” Could it be that almost half of our church members are retired? Perhaps the PC (USA) should be called the AARP at prayer?