The Office of the General Assembly has released the 2009 statistics of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The report includes a comparative summary of the membership, a summary of receipts and expenditures for the past four years, and other statistical information.
As of 2009, the total membership of the PC(USA) is 2,077,138, a roughly 3% decrease, or 63,027 members, from the previous year.
The Rev. Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, said the latest statistics contain both good news and bad.
“The good news is that adult baptisms rose for the first time in at least four years, and the overall number in membership losses was the lowest it has been in the last decade,” Parsons said. “The discouraging news is that while we’re gaining members, we’re still playing catch-up with the rate of decline.”
The total number of PC(USA) congregations dropped by 94 to 10,657, including fifteen churches that were dismissed to other denominations, compared to 25 in 2008. Twenty-six new churches were organized in 2009.
Parsons said, “What continues to sadden me is that the overwhelming majority of the loss in membership is in the category of ‘other,’ which means these are brothers and sisters in Christ who did not die or transfer to another congregation, but probably quietly slipped out the back door.”
Deborah Bruce, manager of the U.S. Congregational Life Survey and a staff member for the PC(USA) Research Service office, offered additional insight on the latest numbers.
“The annual statistics released by the Office of the General Assembly provide a broad overview of what’s going on in the denomination — numbers of congregations and members; trends in baptisms, deaths, and ordinations; changes in financial giving,” she said. “But they don’t reflect the ministry and mission of individual congregations or the experiences of worshipers. Results from the U.S. Congregational Life Survey offer a look inside our congregations.”
In the fall of 2008 and the spring of 2009 a random sample of 521 PC(USA) congregations participated in the U.S. Congregational Life Survey. The survey was given in worship and included the responses of all worshipers age 15 and older.
What do those 40,000 worshipers in PC(USA) congregations have to say?
The median age of Presbyterians is 61, up from 58 in 2001. Four out of five worshipers in PC(USA) pews today are age 45 or older. Related to this trend is a decrease in the percentage of PC(USA) worshipers who have children living at home.
On the other hand, Presbyterians are well-educated. Six in ten who are age 25 or older have a college degree; among all Americans only one in four in that age group are college graduates.
“Our well-educated worshipers have gifts and talents to share with their congregations and communities,” said Bruce. “Can PC(USA) congregations use this advantage to help address the shortage of young people in our pews?”
In the area of financial giving, the annual statistics for 2009 show total contributions of $2,100,705,626, for an average of $1,011 per member.
“Even in a time of serious financial strain, Presbyterians continue to be generous,” said Parsons.
Results from the U.S. Congregational Life Survey reflect an even broader level of giving.
Presbyterians have traditionally focused on improving the quality of life in their neighborhoods, towns, and cities. In 2001, three in ten worshipers (30 percent) reported that they participated in their congregation’s community service, social justice, or advocacy work. Today, more than one in three (35 percent) do.
At the same time, there has been an increase in Presbyterians’ involvement in community service apart from their congregation. Today almost half of Presbyterians (46 percent) contribute time to their community’s soup kitchens, Habitat for Humanity builds, public schools, shelters, scout troops, and a host of other activities.
Fewer congregations today are providing direct emergency services (providing meals, food, or clothing for people in need). Nine in ten congregations provided emergency relief services in 2001. Eight in ten do so today.
Yet more are providing health-related services (blood drives, health screenings, or health education programs, for example) — up from one-third in 2001 to four in ten today. Congregational involvement in environmental activities and cultural or arts programs has also increased.
“Presbyterians make a difference,” remarked Jack Marcum, coordinator of the PC(USA) Research Service office, which is responsible for the survey.
“The latest numbers and the data from this survey do not begin to reflect the depth or richness that exists in this denomination’s many congregations,” Parsons said. “What is most encouraging to me is that this survey also indicates that seven out of ten worshipers in Presbyterian congregations express a sense of excitement about the congregation’s future.
“The challenge,” Parsons concluded, “is to use these strengths and sense of excitement to address important questions, like, how can we become stronger? Where is God calling us?”