PCUSA lost over 56K members, 116 churches in 2020: report    

The national office for the mainline denomination Presbyterian Church (USA), located in Louisville, Kentucky.
The national office for the mainline denomination Presbyterian Church (USA), located in Louisville, Kentucky. | (Photo: Courtesy of PCUSA)

Presbyterian Church (USA) lost approximately 56,000 active members and closed more than 100 congregations in 2020, according to a recent annual report on denominational statistics.

The PCUSA Office of the General Assembly released the annual statistics on membership and giving on Monday, which included minutes from the 224th General Assembly.  

According to Section IV of the minutes on statistics, PCUSA had approximately 1.245 million active members in 2020, down from 1.302 million in 2019, or a decline of 56,689. 

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The data is derived from reporting by 82% of PCUSA churches, which represent 90% of the denomination's membership. 

The largest Presbyterian denomination in the United States also saw a drop in congregations, going from 9,041 in 2019 to 8,925 in 2020.

Although 2020 was a year of pandemic lockdowns, which impacted churches of all denominations, PCUSA losses were comparable to 2019, when the denomination reported losing around 50,000 members and closing 120 congregations.

Over the past several years, as with other mainline Protestant denominations, PCUSA has experienced a considerable decline in membership numbers and congregations.

The decline in membership comes as data has shown in recent years a decline in Americans who consider themselves Christians and a rise of Americans who consider themselves religiously unaffiliated. 

Another factor for PCUSA has been the theological direction of the church, as its affirmation of gay clergy led several congregations to leave the denomination in protest in recent years. 

The OGA report documents were released exclusively in a digital format for the first time in the denomination's history.

PCUSA OGA Stated Clerk Rev. J. Herbert Nelson II said in the announcement that this switch to digital was partly in response to the decline in revenue the church has experienced.

“For one, it costs approximately $25,000 to produce 2,000 copies of this book. Secondly, it can quickly become outdated as things change throughout the church,” stated Nelson.

“I have said many times over the past year that we need to be moving the church forward in the 21st century. … But economics have also prompted us to make smarter decisions on how per capita dollars are spent. We find this to be more efficient and timelier, giving Presbyterian leaders the information they need in real time.”

Additionally, PCUSA has openly considered no longer hosting its biennial General Assembly as a mass gathering due to financial woes and declining membership.

In a statement last August, Nelson attributed this plan to end “the big tent General Assembly” due to declining membership and financial giving.

“That is happening, basically, because we are at a place financially with the drying up of per capita as it is and the whole system is strained with regards to the fallout in the denomination with membership loss,” he said last year.

“Dealing with the issue that we are not a denomination right now ... that can afford the kinds of things that we have been doing.”

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