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Statistically speaking

‘Comparative Statistics 2008’ analyzes 25 years of Presbyterian reunion

August 21, 2009

Louisville

Comparative Statistics, an annual publication of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Research Services, provides a yearly snapshot for tracking denominational trends across a spectrum of statistical measurements.

But the current release — Comparative Statistics 2008 — takes this analysis a step further. For the first time and in one place, the new book gathers comparative data going back to Presbyterian reunion in 1983 on membership, congregations, baptisms, women in ministry, and financial contributions.

In addition, the new publication traces trends in two categories dating back to when data were first reliably collected: attendance (1990), new church developments (1992), and race/ethnicity (1999).

Released this week, Comparative Statistics 2008 features an introductory essay, “The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) at 25,” by Jack Marcum, coordinator of research services for the General Assembly Mission Council. 

Marcum’s analysis gives clear markers for many of the related issues of decline that have faced the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) since reunion:

  • Membership (from 3,131,228 to 2,140,165, a loss of 31.6 percent or an average of 1.3 percent per year);
  • Baptisms (child baptisms declined by 48.9 percent and adult baptisms by 63.0 percent);
  • Congregations (from 11,662 in 1983 to 10,751 in 2008, a total decline of 7.8 percent, or an annual average of  0.3 percent);
  • New church developments (a “ragged decline” ranging from  a high of 45 in 1992 to a low of 16 in 1999, with 20 in 2008);
  • Worship attendance (from a weekly estimated 1,360,000 in 1990 to 1,090,000 today, down 19.7 percent); and
  • Active ministers (declined by 11.7 percent, while the number of retired ministers has more than doubled).

At the same time, several areas of growth can also be traced:

  • Attendance as a percentage of membership (from 47.6 percent to 51 percent);
  • Women in ministry (a fourfold increase, from 1,010 in 1983 to 4,253 in 2008);
  • Asian membership (from 57,517 in 1999 to 69,912 in 2008);
  • Hispanic membership (from 27,800 in 1999 to 29,699 in 2008);
  • and Financial giving (on a per member basis, adjusted for inflation, from $677 per year to $1,109 per year.)

“The trends really stand out when we’re able to view a quarter century at a glance,” says Marcum. “We may not always like what we see, but with such a long time period, we have a clearer sense of where we’ve come from and where our future as a denomination seems to be headed unless we make intentional changes.”

In addition to the introductory article covering the first twenty-five years of the PC(USA), Comparative Statistics 2008 contains these popular regular features:

  • a set of easy-to-read tables reporting the most recent data on membership and finances for each presbytery;
  • detailed information on ministers, including tables that show gender differences in types of call and the distribution of ministers by call for each synod;
  • a table showing the 15 largest PC(USA) congregations; and
  • a table showing the number of congregations by size, how many have installed pastors, and what percent of those installed pastors are women.

Comparative Statistics 2008 is available in print for $5 from Presbyterian Distribution Service (item number 02056-08032) or online at no charge through the Web site of Research Services.

Some information for this story furnished by Barry Creech, coordinator for executive office communications.

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