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    PCUSA Membership Down Membership Down Half Since 1965

    PCUSA Membership Down Membership Down Half Since 1965

    The PCUSA's membership is down over half since 1965.  Over half.  From 4.25 million to 2.07 million.  The clerk for the denomination says:  "What continues to sadden me is that the overwhelming majority of the loss in membership is in the category of 'other,' which means these are brothers and sisters in Christ who did not die or transfer to another congregation, but probably quietly slipped out the back door."

    Some interesting facts from an article at the

    The median age of Presbyterians is 61.

    Membership went from 2,140,165 in 2008 to 2,077,138 in 2009.

    The PCUSA recently cut 44 positions from their payroll.

    40 churches have left the denomination in the past 2 years.

    Presbyterians now number less than 1% of the U. S. population.

    You can read more here.

    Why do you think the PCUSA membership is down so dramatically?  Can it be saved?  Should it be saved?

    Love to hear your thoughts.




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    1. CS on Tue, July 06, 2010

      I think a good portion of this can be attributed to the following, from Wikipedia:

      “For the most part, PC(USA) Presbyterians, not unlike similar mainline traditions such as the Episcopal Church and the United Church of Christ, are fairly (in some instances, strongly) progressive (liberal) on matters such as doctrine, environmental issues, sexual morality, and economic issues.”


    2. W. Mark Whitlock on Tue, July 06, 2010

      I grew up in the PCUSA. I wonder what “other” really means. When I left the church in 1987, I started attending a PCA church. Now years later, I’ve attended several non-denominational churches but am back with a PCA church. Would I be an “other” (I don’t live on an island).

      In the early 80s, a godly man and leader retired as senior pastor of our church. After a long search, a younger man (younger than my dad) was ordained. He chose his staff and I was excited about the new direction. I knew one of his kids and I thought he was great.

      One Sunday, his reluctant and un-churched next door neighbors came to our historic church. They settled in a pew near the middle of the sanctuary. A few minutes later, two women (senior citizens) came to the row and said, “You’re sitting in our pew. Please move.” The family did. They moved right out the door.

      the following Sunday, Dr. H brought up what happened during his sermon. He did not name names nor did he sternly rebuke anyone or the church. He used it as an illustration of loving each other.

      Soon, he was out ... fired ... The official reason was “he was a poor manager” but most believed his firing had to do with the hiring of a severely obese associate pastor (a great and godly scholar who taught me much) and the incident with his neighbors.

      At that point our church became the petri dish for social experimentation. The next senior pastor did not hold to the inerrancy of the Bible. His associate was a woman who was divorced, by her own words, without “so-called biblical grounds.” The youth pastor told me that she would rather I listen to Prince and Madonna rather than Steve Taylor and Michael W. Smith because Taylor and Smith are not Presbyterians. In a late-night church camp conversation about the gospel, someone asked, “how do I go to heaven?” We talked for several minutes about the basics�sinful nature, Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection, and the conversation even went through the Apostle’s Creed which we recited every Sunday. One of the student leaders responded, “If that’s your definition of a Christian, I don’t want to be one.”

      Those are some of the snapshots as to why I left.

    3. Eric Seiberling on Tue, July 06, 2010


      PCUSA is not the only denomination with this problem.  The United Methodis Church is experiencing the same decline.

      Looking at specifc data from the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Chruch, here are some interesting facts reviewing the past 18 years worth of data:

      - Average Worship Attendance:  Dropped 11.2%
      - % of churches closing or merging:  16.5% (or 223 churches)
      - % of churches in growth vs. decline:  Only 26.4% are growing.  The other 73.6% are in decline.
      - Losers outweighed gainers a margin of over 2:1.  223 churches appeared to have shut down or merged during that time period.

      It gets worse when you factor in demographics.  If I adjust growth to account for the population increase, the number of “growers” drops to only 104 or 7.7% of churches.

      In other words…many of the mainline denominations are in trouble.  Is it that we did not change with the times or is it because they did?  What is the lack of “cultural relevance” or was it because they were too “cultural relativistic”?

      Maybe we should study the “growing” churches in our denominations and the growing “mega-churches” instead of worrying about those in decline:

      Look at the Bright Spots of the Church:

      We need to take a hard look at ourselves and ask if we are producing “good fruit” both in quantity and in quality.  Are we focusing on what produces the most fruit vs. our own individual preference?  Are we executing our efforts and aligning our message in a way that glorifies God and stays true to His unchanging message of grace, hope, love and faith?

      My thoughts on “good fruit”

      The church has survived 2,000 years of turmoil.  There is no guarantee that denomination will…


    4. kjc on Wed, July 07, 2010

      It can be saved if it returns to the Bible teachings, that is what God honors HIS WORD and living it out. Twist the Bible, no wonder they are twisted up and losing folks. Go back and start preaching the WORD OF GOD. I myself will be in prayer for them, Lord help them I pray….

    5. Jan on Thu, July 08, 2010

      A local PCA camp just lost their camp directors and several board members, because they are changing the statement of faith to say that Jesus isn’t the only way to salvation.

      I think this kind of thing is having a direct impact on membership and loss of churches.

    6. Eric Seiberling on Thu, July 08, 2010

      I think the fundamental issue is that the church is too worried about “standing for something” in order to not offend or turn people off.  When the church stops articulating what it clearly stands for, it loses the relevance to my life.  It falls in the category of “noise” and “just another thing I have to do.”
      Churches need to clearly articulate what stand for and be unapologetic about it.  I have started conducting research on growing vs. declining churches and it is becoming clear to me that churches that clearly, succinctly and unequivocally articulate their calling grow, while those who don’t die.
      We can argue what is the right “theology” but the church has gotten to afraid to speak out on its point of view and STAND FOR SOMETHING.  What “hills are we willing to die on?”  Why?  Why do exist in 5 to 8 words?  Is it memorable?
      Business examples show us that those who try to be all things to all people will fail.  Ask Wal-Mart, Target and K-mart what they stand for and then look at their business results.
      - Wal-Mart = Everyday low price.
      - Target = Affordable design
      - K-Mart = ???
      Guess which one is going out of business?  Now do the same exercise with denominations…

    7. Jacob Eige on Thu, July 08, 2010

      We were booted out of the PCUSA because our church went through Article 13 in good faith but the Presbytery used political tricks and overturned the vote, defrocked me and had a second vote that failed.  Reason for leaving, the PCUSA was moving away from the solid Biblical teachings and trying to be all inclusive.  Guess the 136 folks that went to the EPC are “others”.  Churchs that are growing preach the Word and live by it.  By the way Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no man comes to the Father but by Me.” John 14:6

    8. George on Sat, July 10, 2010

      I grew up in a PCUSA congregation, but I am not now a member of the PCUSA. Many, including me, believe that the PCUSA has abandoned Scripture as its guide for faith and practice.

      The PCUSA of today is seen to favor the popular culture over Christianity. In short, the PCUSA, appears to be a non-Christian denomination. Remember that Jesus said, ” Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” It seems that the PCUSA has cut itself off from Jesus and can do nothing.

      The headquarters in Louisville, as you properly report, cut 44 positions from the payroll this year, but that is not the whole story. This is only the latest in a series of cuts. All in all, the headquarters staff has been reduced by a total of 45 percent.

      For several reasons, the money is NOT coming in from the congregations.  There are fewer and fewer congregations and the ones that are left tend to thave fewer members and they are aging. The median age of a PCUSA member is 61. There is great dissatisfaction with the direction the PCUSA has taken, so they are not contributing. Many are withholding their per capita, because they don’t want to contrribute to an organzation that supports what they view as immoral behavior.

      The loss of 63,000 members (3%) last year is only the latest in a string of membership losses that started in 1965. The denomination has lost about 10 percent of its membership since i left in 2007. A congregation near me has lost 45 percent of its members in a ten year period. No one in authority has voiced any concern over the membership losses and no one has put forward a plan to encourage members and/or congregations to want to stay. The outlook is that the denomination will continue to shrink as members die off or leave. This probably will make the PCUSA more and more liberal as conservative members leave. The PCUSA is not the only Presbyterian/Reformed denomination. It is important to point out that others are growing while the PCUSA is shrinking.

      The chances are that the PCUSA eventually will start to ordain homosexuals as pastors. It appears that no one has considered what effect this will have on membership. I personally doubt that parents who are looking for a church for their families would want to bring their children to a congregation where the pastors are homosexuals.

      It seems likely to me that ordination of homosexual pastors, which is now up for a vote, would trigger a new wave of membership loss. This might prompt a merger with some other homophilic denomination.

    9. Brian Senecal on Sat, July 24, 2010

      I also grew up PCUSA.  In the 20+ years I attended that church we easily had over 15 pastors.  We had one that was there for maybe 2 years when I was about 9 or so who was Biblically sound.  Beyond that, the only time I heard only true teaching on salvation inside that church was when I was back visiting for my niece’s baptism when I was about 30.  That pastor was run out of town a month or two later for a bunch of made up reasons.  When I was a child we easily averaged over 150-200 people each Sunday.  Christmas and Easter we had to put up folding chairs in the aisles.  Now they are lucky if there are 50 people there on Chirstmas.  The church had 0 foundation.  The people were short-sighted and more interested in “running things” then they were in living out the Gospel.  I took over the youth group when I was about 22.  We had about 4 or 5 kids when I started.  Within a month we easily were averaging 30 kids at the weekly meetings.  We had 10 kids coming out for an afternoon Bible Study.  All I got was resistance and rebuke over the work we were doing. 
      @Mark - You made me chuckle about the music.  When I was in about 10th or 11th grade we had an older pastor there who very clearly didn’t like teens, yet ran the youth group.  I was just grateful to actually having a group.  He had told us we could bring in some of our music so we could discuss it’s content.  One night one of the girls brought in her Prince album and we discussed the lyrics to the song “God”  So the following week, I brought in Carman’s “The Champion”  When I gave it to him, he read over, turned to me and asked “Why do you have to listen to songs about Satan?”  I went right over to his phone, picked up, called my mom and had her come pick me up and never went back.  This of course is the same man that looked right at me walking away from my car on the side of the road with a gas can and didn’t stop.

      Most PCUSA churches I have been in contact with have no Biblical foundation.  They are more about the world then they are the Gospel.  They are merely an obligation with social benefits.

    10. Oliver on Mon, July 26, 2010

      ok enough denominational bashing, mega churches are just as shallow as any older line church, period.  Come on people, stop and think, first doctrine, how many churches out there are not just flourishing but exploding and they have the worse heretical teaching and personality driven churches you ever met?  How many “mega churches” have sex scandals etc.  All churches mega and otherwise have problems.  Period.  These denom churches have a lot going for them others have the same problems.  get off your high horses, its time we looked at the overall problem with all institutional churches, not just the ones that don’t differently that we do.

    11. Erik Ullestad on Tue, July 27, 2010

      Most of these comments express a narrow understanding of ecclesiology and Scriptural interpretation; not to mention a lot of self-righteous judgment. 

      “Mainline denominations are becoming too liberal…they’ve abandoned Scripture…they have sold out to popular culture…they aren’t as faithful/devout as the non-denominational churches.”  (Not to mention the condescension in saying “I’m praying for them”; the implication being, “I’m praying that God will make them agree with me.”) 

      Perhaps the Biblical literalists have forgotten about the log and the speck…or the man who draws attention to himself for being so pious, but has already received his reward. 

      Every church has its problems.  If we Christians are all members of the same Body, why are we so eager to pile on the members that are struggling? The reasons for church shrinkage are far more complex than the issues listed above.  If the solutions were simple, the problems would have been solved by now. 

      For example, ONE of the many possible factors that has impacted denominational shrinkage has to do with a new generation of young adults that call themselves �spiritual, but not religious�.  The era of Christianity being the American Civic Religion is over.  Many of the people that used to be in mainline churches were there to be seen by others.  Attending worship was a way to let everyone in the community know you were a “good” person.  Taking your family to church for an hour each week and putting a few bucks in the offering plate demonstrated a person’s trustworthiness and general morality. The focus was on “membership” more than “discipleship”.  This rapid growth during mid-1900s led to artificially inflated membership rosters. 

      In an attempt to establish authentic lists of active disciples, many congregations have “trimmed the fat” off their membership directories.  A quick glance at raw numbers would indicate that the church got smaller…but a closer look might reflect a congregation’s desire to grow deeper in faith by being honest about who they are. I, for one, think this might lead to a true renewal of our denominations, congregations, and individual believers.

      Contrary to what some people think, members of many mainline churches are Spirit-filled, God-fearing, Bible-believing Christians that take seriously God’s call to serve Christ by serving their neighbor.  I think denominations like the PC(USA) are still doing God’s work, even in the midst of an overall numbers decline. Perhaps we could rejoice about what God is doing in and through the people in these congregations.

    12. Gene L. Warner on Fri, November 19, 2010

      Written to a staff member in a troubled congregation �

          Your Presbytery seems to be fairly decent as to resources for small congregations. They make these opportunities available as a means of strengthening your congregation in terms of both leadership skills, and through the building of camaraderie (“fellowship”) with other congregations in the Presbytery, and the larger church. If your people had ever taken an interest in participating at that level, you wouldn’t be having the problems you’re having today.

          Coming in regularly on Sunday morning to sit in the pews with a smiling face, while presuming that someone else is taking care of business, isn’t enough. Your “particular church” is the local representative of, and the presence of, the Presbyterian Church USA. You are members of the 2-million member PCUSA, not merely a little provincial sect in your town. What’s going on is a bunch of “smallness” and that does not serve the greater purposes of the church, or your particular congregation.

          This is not a fault unique to your particular church. PCUSA has shrunk by more than half over the past two generations and, this is primarily the reason why. When people are disconnected from the big picture (a.k.a. “the greater purposes of the church”) they become involved in petty squabbles over things that don’t really matter, expending resources on bulwarking their positions, rather than respecting each others dignity as fellow Christians, and allowing for differences that arise from the fallibility that we all share.

          The same thing happens in civil affairs. When the people become disinterested and apathetic, the administrative bodies gradually become effete and self-serving, with a penchant for confidentiality and non-inclusiveness growing more and more ominously with time. Then the people they are supposed to serve find themselves on the outside, looking in, feeling irrelevant and dis-empowered. Once established, this is always a very difficult situation to reverse; one that usually doesn’t get fixed without a lot of heartache and, historically in civil affairs, bloodshed. In the case of the church, it’s easier and safer to simply walk away to greener pastures, watching from an emotionally safe distance as the organization slowly dies.

          The lesson here is that the people in a participatory system like the Presbyterian Church have the responsibility of remaining interested and engaged in its larger purposes, and that those elevated to positions of leadership, for their own good and the long-term interest of the organization, serve those purposes with a keen concern for openness and inclusiveness.

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