Younger PC(USA) members less likely to pray, read Bible than older members

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) members aged 45 and younger are less likely to pray or to read the Bible on their own than older generations in the mainline Protestant denomination, according to a recent survey.

A report by the PC(USA) Research Services project Person in the Pew published Monday found that 90 percent of respondents pray multiple times a week and 42 percent read the Bible on their own several times a week.

However, the project also found that respondents aged 45 and younger were the least likely to do both spiritual disciplines. When it came to prayer, 77 percent of the 45 and younger group reported praying at least several times a week.

This was lower than respondents from other age groups, with 88 percent of those aged 45 to 54, 94 percent of those aged 55-64, and 89 percent of those aged 65 and above reporting the same.

The 45 and below demographic also was the least likely to report reading the Bible at least several times a week, with 26 percent of respondents responding in the affirmative.

This contrasted with the 45-54 demographic (35 percent), the 55-64 demographic (44 percent), and the 65 and above demographic (42 percent).

The Reverend Jason Santos, the PC(USA) Presbyterian Mission Agency’s mission coordinator for Christian formation, said in a statement that the demographic differences on spiritual practices may be attributed to technology.

“Twitter, Facebook and Instagram (and other similar social media platforms) have changed how much people are accustomed to reading,” explained Santos. “This has had an influence on how younger generations see reading the Bible.”

Santos also believed that the 55-64 demographic scoring the highest on prayer and Bible reading could be attributed to generational influences.

“The notion of devotions has played a significant role in the formation of the boomers,” he stated. “Those behavioral requirements for discipleship aren’t as persuasive with younger generations.”

The survey drew from those connected to PC(USA) congregations and excluded pastors, focusing on laity. 2,479 individuals participated in the survey.

According to the survey’s participant profile, which was released on Sept. 5, the average age for the respondents was 65, with 92 percent being white and 67 percent being female.

The profile also found that on theological views, liberals held a slight majority at 37 percent, followed by moderates at 32 percent, conservatives at 27 percent, and those with “no stance” at 3 percent.

The Person in the Pew survey results were released months after the PC(USA) released statistics showing that they lost about 5 percent of their active membership from 2017 to 2018.

While still the largest Presbyterian denomination in the United States, PC(USA) active membership declined from approximately 1.41 million in 2017 to approximately 1.35 million in 2018.

The number of PC(USA) member congregations also decreased during that time period, going from 9,304 in 2017 to 9,161 in 2018, or a difference of 143 congregations.

In a statement released in April in response to the latest statistics, the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PC(USA), expressed optimism over the apparent slowing of the membership decline.

“While the difference is not great, we are encouraged by the slowing trend downward,” stated Nelson. “The church of the 21st century is changing and we still believe God is preparing us for great things in the future.

“God is moving through churches, presbyteries and synods, finding new, innovative ways to share the gospel with a lost world and we are thankful for that.”

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