Presbyterian churches smaller, older, research shows

Survey also finds PC(USA) members, pastors better educated than average

July 31, 2012


Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations on average are smaller and have older, better-educated, and less theologically conservative participants than U.S. congregations as a whole, according to the recently released 2010 Faith Communities Today survey.

PC(USA) congregations also have better-educated pastors and relatively more women pastors than U.S. congregations overall, revealed the study of 12,000 congregations ― including 700 PC(USA) churches.

The median U.S. congregation (with 110 people attending regular weekend worship services) is more than 50 percent larger than the median PC(USA) congregation (with 70 people in worship).

The median percentage of regular worshipers age 65 or older in PC(USA) congregations (40 percent) is double that in all congregations (20 percent).

The median percentage of regular attendees age 18 or older who are college graduates is substantially greater in PC(USA) congregations (50 percent) than in all congregations (30 percent). 

Leaders of two-thirds of all congregations describe the theological outlook of the majority of their congregation’s regularly attending adults as “very conservative” or “somewhat conservative.”  Leaders of only four in nine PC(USA) congregations (44 percent) characterize the theological outlook of their congregants as such.

“The average Presbyterian congregation is relatively small and includes more older adults and fewer theological conservatives than the average congregation in other denominations,” said Perry Chang, the PC(USA) researcher who oversaw the 2010 survey of PC(USA) congregations. 

“Many of the other ways that Presbyterian congregations differ are connected to one of these three factors,” he added.

Differences in the frequency of worship with people from other Christian or non-Christian faith communities and conflicts over members’ personal behavior offer examples of this: 

  • More PC(USA) churches (73 percent) than all congregations (60 percent) have been involved in the past 12 months in interdenominational or interfaith worship;
  • Fewer Presbyterians (29 percent) than other church-goers (43 percent) have experienced conflict over members’ personal behavior in the past five years. 

The research showed that both interdenominational or interfaith worship and a lack of conflict over members’ personal behavior are found more often in congregations whose participants have a liberal or moderate theological outlook, compared with those with a conservative theological outlook.

In two-thirds of all congregations and nine in ten PC(USA) congregations, the key pastoral leader has earned a master’s degree.

Women lead one-quarter of PC(USA) congregations, as well as one-quarter of mainline Protestant congregations, but only 12 percent of all congregations.

“Compared with congregations of other denominations, Presbyterian congregations are better able to meet the spiritual needs of people who value educated pastors or are open to women pastors,” Chang said.

Information for this story furnished by the PC(USA)’s Research Services. For more information contact Perry Chang by phone at 800-728-7228, ext. 5071 or by email at

  1. The PCUSA, along with most other "sideline" denominations are all in severe crisis and remarkable denial. Their relevance and vitality in the community and the nation is virtually non-existent. As they continue to decline and die, other more relevant and less haughty bodies will emerge and are emerging. Just look around or outside the box....

    by David Traverzo

    April 2, 2014

  2. Wake up Presbyterians, you are deceived! on average are smaller - they are shrinking have older - not attracting young families because the church belongs to God, not the GA, and God is working in his church other places, but not the PCUSA. Teach Jesus alone, not church! better-educated - pedigree only, learned in the ways of man, knowledgeable enough to be deceived into trusting their own decisions, or their governments, not necessarily wise in God's wisdom, not wise enough to seek Gods will, but knowledgeable enough to discern it for themselves without benefit of trusting His Word, being deceived by their own learnedness. less theologically conservative - deceived into trusting their knowledge, not rooted in the Word, not bible believing. Sad circumstances indeed.

    by Dakota

    August 1, 2012

  3. I am not encouraged by the informtion in this article. How I interpret the data is that: PCUSA congregations are more highly educated, have loosened their grip on the scriptures, have become less theologically relevant even to the youth and are dying. Sad circumstances.

    by Lisa Wright

    August 1, 2012