PCUSA lost 51K members, 100-plus churches, 4 presbyteries in 2021: report

The Presbyterian Center, headquarters of the Presbyterian Church (USA), located in Louisville, Kentucky.
The Presbyterian Center, headquarters of the Presbyterian Church (USA), located in Louisville, Kentucky. | PC(USA) Office of the General Assembly

The Presbyterian Church (USA) lost over 51,000 members in 2021, as well as over 100 congregations, and even four regional bodies known as presbyteries, according to a new report.

The largest Presbyterian denomination in the United States announced the release of its annual statistics on Monday, which were compiled by the PC(USA) Office of the General Assembly.

According to the latest numbers, PC(USA) saw its number of congregations drop from 8,925 in 2020 to 8,813 in 2021. It also saw its active membership decline from approximately 1.24 million in 2020 to 1.19 million in 2021.

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The mainline Protestant denomination also saw a drop in the number of clergy, going from 18,785 ministers in 2020 to 18,458 in 2021, or a decline of 372.

In contrast to recent years, PC(USA) also saw a slight decline in the number of presbyteries that make up the denomination, going from a total 170 in 2020 to 166 in 2021.

This loss of four regional bodies can be traced to two events, the first being the reorganization of presbyteries in New Jersey in March of last year, which saw the number of regional bodies in the state go from seven to four.

The second took place in California last July, when the Presbyteries of Sacramento and Stockton merged to form the Presbytery of North Central California. The merger came in response to a drop in member congregations.

In an announcement about the results on Monday, PC(USA) General Assembly Stated Clerk J. Herbert Nelson emphasized that the drop in membership was smaller than the year before.

“We have come to the realization that our church has been forever changed by this pandemic,” explained Nelson.

“But this report shows that even though the number of active members continues to go down, we are seeing a slight slowdown in number of people leaving.”

While noting declines in various areas, the statistics also reported a slight increase in the number of “youth professions of faith” and “professions of faith & reaffirmations.”

According to the numbers, youth professions increased from 5,319 in 2020 to 5,708 in 2021, while reaffirmations and professions of faith rose from 9,210 in 2020 to 10,921 in 2021.

These numbers are both well below pre-pandemic levels, as 2019 saw 9,023 youth professions of faith and 21,408 professions of faith and reaffirmations.

“The challenge for the PC(USA) and other Christian denominations is reaching and retaining young people, developing new leaders for tomorrow’s church,” said Nelson, as quoted in the announcement.

“I am encouraged to see this turning around and it will be imperative that we find new ways of being church in the years to come.”

Approximately 82% of the churches in the PC(USA) submitted data for the report, representing 91% of all denominational membership.  

Over the past couple of decades, as with most other religious groups in the U.S., PC(USA) has experienced a considerable decline in its membership and number of congregations.

In 2011, the mainline denomination slipped below the 2 million active member mark, while in 2014 PC(USA) saw its total number of congregations go below the 10,000 mark.

One factor in its decline has been its increasingly theologically liberal stance on LGBT issues, which has prompted hundreds of congregations to leave in protest in recent years.  

In 2010, the PC(USA) voted to allow presbyteries to ordain non-celibate homosexuals and changed its definition of marriage in 2015 from "a man and a woman" to "two people, traditionally a man and a woman."

In 2019, PC(USA) church in Virginia ordained the first clergy candidate who identified as gender nonbinary.

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