Latest Presbyterian Church (USA) Declines Reflect Decade-Long Trends

By Jeffrey Walton
Presbyterian pew church
National membership in The Presbyterian Church (USA) has declined by four percent last year, consistent with denominational declines since 2008. (Photo: Josh Applegate / Unsplash / Creative commons)

The Presbyterian Church (USA) Office of the General Assembly has released annual statistics showing a decline in membership in 2021 of 51,584 persons.

The report, released on Friday, shows a 4.1 percent rate of decline and total membership of just over 1.19 million members last year, compared to 1.48 million in 2016. In addition, the total number of churches is listed at 8,813, a total of 112 fewer than in 2020.

These losses are consistent with a decline that intensified in 2008. Around that time, the denomination revoked a “fidelity and chastity” clause from ordination vows that had required clergy to remain faithful in married life or chaste in single life. The General Assembly also enacted policies uniquely critical of the state of Israel and embraced a host of politically charged causes.

More than 20 percent of PCUSA congregations now number 25 or fewer members, and a total of 372 fewer ministers are serving compared to the previous year. A total of 10 new churches were planted across the entire denomination, while 104 were dissolved.

Positively, the total number of baptisms increased to 7,511 in 2021 from 4,251 in 2020 after in-person worship services largely resumed following the repeal of COVID restrictions. However, the baptismal numbers have not returned to the rates of 10,000 or more that were seen in prior years. 

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The PCUSA annual statistics are among the more reliable figures reported by mainline Protestant churches, with a high percentage of congregations submitting data. The denomination also assesses a per capita rate of $8.98 per member, a financial incentive for congregations to clear inactive people from church membership rolls.

An increase in that per capita rate will be voted on by the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly during a May 2 gathering in advance of the General Assembly. Such an increase will place a larger financial burden on a smaller number of total members as the church seeks to fund denominational agencies amid declining resources.

The 225th PC(USA) General Assembly is scheduled to convene June 18 – July 9 in Louisville, Kentucky. Assembly organizers have structured it around a hybrid model, with committee sessions able to meet in-person and plenary sessions to be hosted online.

Commissioners at the General Assembly will consider an overture to merge the Office of the General Assembly and the Presbyterian Mission Agency into a single entity. The two large organizations each face declining revenue, but a merger isn’t assured: the 2017 meeting of the General Assembly opted not to pursue consolidating the agencies.

This article originally appeared at Juicy Ecumenism.

Jeff Walton is Communications Manager and Anglican Program Director for the Institute on Religion & Democracy.

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5 thoughts on “Latest Presbyterian Church (USA) Declines Reflect Decade-Long Trends”

  1. I should almost think that you should have copied the original article’s title to this one, which was, “Politicized Presbyterian Church (USA) Falls Further”.

    The PC USA could have learned this lesson from the (Dis)United Methodist Church decades earlier. See:
    “United Methodists at the End of the Mainline”
    http://www.leaderu.com/ftissues/ft9806/articles/abraham.html

    It is a route that many so-called fundamentalist churches seem to be determined to take to play around in politics, ending disaster for both their membership numbers and their true purpose of serving Christ!

    1. If you believe that’s the reason, then you’re extremely ill equipped to do anything to halt similar declines going on across the entire Christian church in the US and elsewhere in the western world.

  2. In the 1960’s the Presbyterian Church was at ~6 million…

    Fast forward to today they are at 1.1 million.

    The PCUSA is losing 50K a year so in 2022 they will be at ~600K

    There are some other very small Presbyterian denominations in the U.S. (e.g. PCA) , but overall we are witnessing the collapse of the Reformed faith in the U.S..

    Considering the impact of the Reformed faith in the U.S. from the Puritans in the 1630s onwards, it is now an end of an era……..

  3. Rhonda Merrick

    The PCUSA is following the pattern of The Episcopal Church. That pattern has been of becoming more and more like the world and less and less like Christ’s Church. As the Episcopal Church changed its theology to accommodate the world’s views of human sexuality, rather than biblical views, it lost its voice and relevance to the people of this world. Why bother going to church if it tells you the same things as Hollywood or media pundits?

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