Presbyterian Membership Drop Hits Record Low

Membership in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) declined by more than two percent in 2005, marking the highest percentage loss in the graying denomination since 1975.

Membership in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) declined by more than two percent in 2005, marking the highest percentage loss in the graying denomination since 1975, according to statistics released Friday by the church.

Figures indicated a loss of 48,474 members – 2.05 percent – since 2004. Including 318,290 baptized but not confirmed members and 466,889 inactive members, the total PC(USA) membership now stands at 3.1 million.

“The first year of losses was 1966 and the decline has never been less than 1 percent since 1969,” Jack Marcum, associate for survey research told the Presbyterian News Service. “There was an acceleration in the early 1970s but since 1975, the losses have been somewhere between 1 and 2 percent.”

The losses occurred in “virtually every statistical category,” according to PNS, with 28,680 lost by transferring to other churches and 36,191 leaving by death. More than 108,000 people also dropped out of the church altogether or moved to churches “not in correspondence” with the PC(USA). This exodus offset the 125,000 new people who joined the denomination last year.

Baptisms also declined. Statistics showed that adult baptism dropped by 1,216 to 9,243, and child baptisms declined by 2,889 to 30,727. Church school attendance declined by more than 36,000 to 1,081,084.

The downward trend is nothing new for the historic mainline denomination, which at its heyday accounted for two out of every 100 Americans. With the steady drop in membership since 1967, the PC(USA) now accounts for only 0.78 percent of the population – the lowest figure since 1870.

Last year, the denomination’s Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick issued a “wake-up call” to the Presbyterians and encouraged members to baptize, evangelize and transform the church. He renewed his call to repentance and prayer again this year.

“I believe they are even more relevant in 2006, and I commend to the church these callings to prayer and repentance, to reaching out to our inactive members, to giving priority to adult baptisms, to learning from our growing churches (40 percent of our churches in 2005), to transforming our congregations into multicultural churches, and to having a new passion for starting new churches and Christian fellowships,” he said.

He also predicted this decline will be heavily discussed at the denomination’s biennial assembly next week.

“This is obviously a concern for the church, and I’m sure it will be discussed,” said Kirkpatrick.

Ironically, while membership plummeted, total giving to the church increased by more than 5 percent, topping three billion dollars for the first time.

“I give thanks to God for the growing faithfulness in stewardship and mission concern that these figures represent among Presbyterians,” Kirkpatrick said. “Giving to the church is up substantially in every category and at every level of the church’s life.”

Total giving to the church rose $146.9 million last year to $3,073,684,927. Adjusted for the membership loss, the average Presbyterian gave 7 percent more to the church last year than the year before.