PC(USA) Head: Continued Membership Drop 'a Wake-Up Call'

The decline of active membership in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) by 43,175 last year is “a wake-up call,” according to the head of the 2.3-million-member denomination.

In a commentary released with the annual statistical report that revealed the 2004 membership drop, the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, stated clerk of the General Assembly, said the Church would only become a growing one “if we begin on our knees, praying for forgiveness for our timidity in evangelism and seeking God's renewal so that we lose our image as God's 'frozen chosen' and become instead joyful evangelists who actively share the good news of the gospel."

Although the PC(USA) remains the ninth-largest denomination in the United States, the 2004 membership drop was the second-largest of the past decade and continued a trend dating to the mid-1960s, according to PC(USA) News.

At the time of Presbyterian reunion in 1983, the denomination had 4.2 million members.

The 2004 statistics reflect declines from last year in most categories: 45 fewer congregations (they now number 11,019); six fewer new churches (25); 2,400 fewer elders (99,000); 700 fewer deacons (67,400); and 1,600 fewer infant baptisms (33,600).

Professions of faith also declined, going from 65,600, to 60,000. Although the report found that more people transferred into the PC(USA) – 40,476 – than transferred out (30,319), it also noted that death claimed 36,034 members, and nearly 109,000 moved to churches "not in correspondence" with the PC(USA), or dropped out altogether.

The results were not all bad, PC(USA) News reported. While infant baptisms declined, adult baptisms increased by 285, to 10,459. Church-school attendance also increased, going up by 7,324 to almost 1.2 million. One-third of PC(USA) congregations reported membership increases, as did 26 of the denomination's 173 presbyteries.

The number of ministers also increased, by 39 (to 21,287), and the number of candidates for ministry was up by 200 (to 1,085).

Meanwhile, Presbyterians' contributions to the church increased by about $3.4 million, to $2,926,762,293.

Kirkpatrick also noted that the racial-ethnic portion of PC(USA) membership increased to 7.1 percent last year, suggesting that the denomination may reach its goal – established in 1996 – of 10 percent racial-ethnic membership by the end of 2005.

With the PC(USA) membership now standing at 2,362,136, Kirkpatrick outlined six "imperatives" needed to reverse the membership trend:

- Stronger evangelistic outreach at the congregational level;
- A concerted effort to reach inactive members;
- Stronger outreach to adults and families to increase the number of infant and adult baptisms;
- Appropriating and adapting evangelism programs and methods that have worked for others faith groups;
- Renewed outreach to racial-ethnic and immigrant communities; and
- More aggressive efforts to plant new churches.