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A 2008 Presbyterian snapshot: More older members, more female pastors

February 11, 2010

LOUISVILLE, Ky.

Nearly half of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) members (43 percent) are age 65 or older and a larger percentage of pastors than ever (27 percent) are women.

These are two of the findings from a survey of representative samples of members, elders, pastors and ministers — known as the Presbyterian Panel — that the denomination assembles every three years.

The fall 2008 profile survey found that the median age of members and elders has continued to climb, from 58 in 2005 to 60. The median age of pastors is 53 and, of ministers whose calls do not involve pastoring congregations, 56.

The survey also found that two-thirds of members (64 percent) and about half of elders (52 percent) and other ministers (45 percent) are women.

“Presbyterians in the pews are becoming grayer,” said Presbyterian Panel administrator Perry Chang. “And we’re seeing more women in our pulpits.”

A report detailing results of the fall 2008 Panel profile survey is available online.

In many other respects, however, Presbyterians today are similar both to Presbyterians in years past and to each other. The profile survey shows that Presbyterians are still typically:

  • Well educated. Two-thirds of members (66 percent) and elders (65 percent) age 25 or older have earned bachelor’s degrees. All PC(USA) ministers have graduate degrees in divinity.
  • White. Most members (96 percent), elders (95 percent), pastors (92 percent) and other ministers (89 percent) are white.

In spite of these similarities, Presbyterians remain less uniform in other ways:

Geographic distribution

  • Roughly 40 percent of Presbyterians live in the South (this is consistent across each group: members, elders, pastors and other ministers), and about one-quarter live in the Midwest (also consistent across each group). The rest live in the Northeast or West.

Theological perspective

  • About 40 percent of members, elders and pastors describe themselves as moderate on theological issues, but only 28 percent of other ministers use this description.
  • Forty-two percent of elders and one-third of members and pastors are theologically very conservative or conservative, but only 18 percent of other ministers use this description.
  • Half of other ministers describe themselves as theologically liberal or very liberal, but only one third of pastors, one quarter of members and one fifth of elders use this description.

Political affiliation

  • Almost half of members and elders identify themselves as Republicans, as compared to one quarter of pastors and 13 percent of other ministers.
  • Two-thirds of other ministers and half of pastors are Democrats, as compared to 30 percent of members and elders.
  • About 20 percent of Presbyterians in each group identify as Independents.

Active in the workforce

  • About 50 percent of Presbyterian members and elders are employed (including those who are self-employed). The rest are students, full-time homemakers, or are retired or unemployed.
  • One-quarter of non-parish ministers are not currently employed.

Conversion experience

  • Nearly half of members (44 percent) and elders (48 percent) report having had a conversion experience – a turning point in which they committed themselves to Christ. The others report no such experience. (Ministers were not asked this question.)

Fidelity within marriage or chastity within singleness

  • Half of elders support last year’s decision by the presbyteries to leave as is the requirement that all Presbyterian deacons, elders and ministers be in heterosexual marriages or be celibate. Twenty-nine percent oppose the decision.
  • Sixty percent of other ministers oppose this decision.
  • More members and pastors support the decision than oppose it (members: 39 percent support and 29 percent oppose; pastors: 49 percent support and 42 percent oppose).

In 2008, the PC(USA)’s Research Services staff sampled denominational databases of ministers and congregations, and gave congregations tools to randomly sample their elders serving on session and other members. Ultimately, 3,500 of the Presbyterians whose names this procedure yielded agreed to participate in the Panel between 2009 and 2011.

Every three months Panel participants receive surveys on topics that Research Services and church leaders select. Research Services makes public the Presbyterian Panel survey results through summaries that are printed, distributed (including to all Panel participants) and posted on the Web.

“The Panel will continue to provide timely information about what Presbyterians around the country are thinking and doing, in a way that helps church leaders make decisions informed by accurate data,” said Chang.

Upcoming Panel surveys will include a variety of topics of interest to Presbyterians across the spectrum, said Chang. The February 2010 survey, for example, includes questions about hunger and Sabbath-keeping.

For more information about Panel surveys and other Research Services studies and services, go to the Research Services Web site.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) comprises more than 2 million members in more than 10,000 congregations, answering Christ’s call to mission and ministry throughout the United States and the world. See more information at the PC(USA) Web site.

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