PCUSA Decline in Churches, Members Continued in 2013

The Presbyterian Church (USA) continued its years-long trend of losing congregations and members in 2013, according to statistics released by the mainline Protestant denomination last week.

According to the data compiled by the PCUSA's Office of the General Assembly, by the end of 2013 membership was approximately 1.76 million, compared to approximately 1.84 million by the end of 2012.

Additionally, the number of PCUSA congregations decreased during 2013. There were 10,038 churches in 2013, versus 10,262 in 2012.

Of the 224 churches no longer with PCUSA, 148 of them were dismissed to other denominations while the remaining number were dissolved.

For the third straight year, the number of dismissed congregations increased, having been 21 in 2011, 110 in 2012, and 148 in 2013.

The Rev. Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the PCUSA General Assembly, said in a statement that he saw hope in the numbers, given that the overall decline was diminishing compared to previous years.

"Yes, the numbers reflect a decrease in active members in the denomination … But the numbers also illustrate fewer losses than the previous year. The membership declined by 89,296 in 2013, compared to 102,791 in 2012," said Parsons.

According to the PCUSA General Assembly Mission Council, in 2000 the denomination had over 2.5 million members. Over the past decade the entire denomination lost over 20 percent of its membership.

In 2011, PCUSA membership fell below the 2 million mark, with the denomination experiencing a decline of 63,804 members and the loss of 96 congregations in that same year.

Regarding the 2011 numbers, Stated Clerk Parsons released a statement saying that there were two major challenges before the Presbyterian denomination to reverse the losses.

"The first and primary need is to continue to increase our efforts to live out the Great Commission and share the good news of Jesus Christ," said Parsons in 2011. "The second is to connect with the growing number of the 'Spiritual But Not Religious.'"

One of the causes of the declining number of congregations in the PCUSA was the creation of the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians, a theologically conservative body.

Formed in early 2012 in response to the PCUSA allowing for practicing homosexuals to be ordained as ministers, many of the congregations dismissed from the PCUSA have proceeded to seek affiliation with the ECO.

Congregations that have recently left for the ECO have included the 4,000-member Highland Park Presbyterian Church of Dallas and the 3,500-plus member Menlo Park Presbyterian Church of California.

By the end of 2013, the ECO had its hundredth congregation join the Reformed body, and will hold its 2014 National Gathering in Dallas, Texas, come August.

For its part, the PCUSA has launched efforts to counter its membership and congregation declines. One such endeavor, the 1001 Movement, seeks to plant over 1,000 new worshipping communities over the next decade.

Already 200 new communities have been initiated under the movement, which given their status of not being official congregations yet means they were not counted in the 2013 statistics.

A positive number in the recently released statistics found that church spending on local and non-local missions had increased by a total of approximately $7.45 million.

"What we are seeing in many of our congregations, old and new, is a commitment to more fully engage in their communities," said Parsons.

"That means the number of lives our 10,038 congregations are touching in any given week far supersedes what the membership figures reflect."

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