‘We are not dying. We are Reforming.'

Significant Aspects of the 2016 Statistical Report

May 24, 2017


We are moving towards a new future as a denomination. Membership loss, which was experienced since the 1970s, is slowing down. Congregations are refocusing on their mission. Mid councils are experimenting with ways to provide meaningful leadership in challenging times. Congregations are celebrating both anniversaries and new beginnings. Young adults are asserting their desires to serve in both domestic and international mission. Despite cries proclaiming the death of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), we remain a viable interfaith and ecumenical partner in many local communities while proclaiming a prophetic witness throughout the world. Our eulogy as a denomination has been written too soon, because God’s Kingdom has not yet come. We are engaged both in the United States and around the globe. We are well-respected for our priestly and prophetic voice within Christendom. Our challenge is to see the powerful opportunities that are before us while declaring with Holy Spirit boldness that God is doing amazing work within us right now.

We have much more than we recognize. It is my hope that initially we will make bold moves to embrace the communal nature of our theology and practice. I want to encourage mid councils to implement strategies to move congregations categorized as “Fellowships” to the status of chartered congregations, particularly when they have met membership requirements to charter. Many racial ethnic immigrant congregations are classified as “Fellowships.” These congregations are participating in the PC(USA), but are not fully brokered into the membership of the denomination. They are not required, in most instances, to pay per capita, while remaining non-voting members of presbyteries. This “half-in/half-out” status creates a perceived, racially motivated compromise that limits full participation even when many of these congregations outnumber by large margins long-term member congregations. My international travel offers clarity related to the new evangelism field of immigrants that know well the mission of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). We should embrace these immigrants with a sense of kinship while recognizing their long-term familiarity and association with our missionary work. Immigrants are not strangers. Therefore, we must not categorize immigrants as such through existing membership double standards. They are Presbyterians and should be accepted and embraced as we do all Presbyterians. This effort alone could demonstrate our intentionality towards fulfilling our failed commitment to increase racial ethnic participation 20 percent by 2010.[1]

God through Jesus Christ awaits our commitment. As we are challenged to become a more racially diverse denomination in order to grow into the future, it is imperative that we invite new immigrants into our congregations as members; connect with those who benefitted from our ministry partnerships across the globe; hear the voices of our youth and young adults regarding their vision for the future of the church; train a new generation of leaders; and creatively engage in inviting people to a transformative experience in our worship and mission. Take the risk of asking those persons in your midst (both members and nonmembers) the question Jesus asked Bartimaeus “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mk. 10: 51). This question has power when offered in love. 

I pray that a move of the Spirit will come over us in this new period of reform. Claiming persons to both experience the joy of fellowship and the faith within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).


[1] Resolution on Racial Ethnic New Church Development and Redevelopment, Minutes, 1996, Part I, p. 378, paragraph 33.148.

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PC(USA) membership decline continues but slows (Press Release)

A complete report of the comparative statistics is available online. Miscellaneous information also is available.

  1. J. Herbert, how is your statement a comment on "significant aspects of the 2016 Statistical Report," which is what the descriptive line in the title declares? The only interaction with the actual report is found in the second sentence: "Membership loss, which was experienced since the 1970s, is slowing down." In actual fact, membership losses are traced back in an unbroken chain to 1965. And if you look at the 2016 losses in terms of percentage, the figures match those of 2015 at 5.7% membership loss per year. That is hardly a "slow down." Please come back down to earth, and rally your staff to consider how to mobilize the rank and file to share the gospel passionately with the world around them. That would be a reformation, indeed, which would lead to life!

    by Mateen Elass

    May 31, 2017

  2. Sir, With due respect, your words echo the same denial the GA exhibited last year. The math still means a denomination that is not here in 20-25 years.

    by Christopher Carlson

    May 28, 2017

  3. Sir, certainly the denomination is reforming in some way, but it might still be dying as well. No matter how much we spin the declining membership and budget numbers to sound less serious than they appear, slow death seems more and more likely. It's true that God famously raises life out of dead bones. Maybe his grace and mercy will prevail in the PCUSA. Unfortunately I don't think "reforming according to the Word of God" is part of the adjective you have in mind. A more accurate description of the PCUSA's recent reforms is "conforming according to the world". God might delight to preserve the former but we should be wary of his promise to spew the lukewarm latter out of his mouth.

    by John W Potter

    May 26, 2017

  4. In the 19th Century, presbyteries charted congregations with as few as ten members and one ruling elder. We should consider going back to that.

    by Nathan Rolofson

    May 26, 2017

  5. Ms. Albritton, I respectfully disagree.&nbsp; For most of American history, the only translation of the Bible to grace American homes was the King James Version, which, in fact, <i>does</i> distinguish between the singular “you” (thou/thee) and the plural “you” (ye/you).&nbsp; The American Standard Version, published in 1901, also maintained this distinction.&nbsp; It was not until the publication of the Revised Standard Version in 1946 (NT) & 1952 (OT) that a commonly available translation replaced both the singular & plural (in both the subjective & objective cases) with the vernacular “you”.&nbsp; The emphasis on “me me me” that so characterizes American society today does not come from reading a translation of the Bible that does not maintain this grammatical distinction, but rather from a departure from carefully reading, studying, believing, meditating on, and trusting the very words of God, which are the words of Scripture, and pursuing self-centered agendas.

    by Loren Golden

    May 25, 2017

  6. Presbyterian Women in the Rocky Mountain Synod have rewritten the job description of the racial/ethnic member at large to increase communication and focus on issues and to disseminate learning directly to congregations; resulting in measurable progress.

    by Merry Lee Hooks

    May 25, 2017

  7. We are reforming in the midst of a culture being Influenced by rigid conservatism trying to kill steak and destroy. Let's just keep moving and ministering in the love of Christ.

    by Anthony L. Burton Sr

    May 25, 2017

  8. Thanks for this, J. Herbert: " It is my hope that initially we will make bold moves to embrace the communal nature of our theology and practice. I want to encourage mid councils to implement strategies to move congregations categorized as “Fellowships” to the status of chartered congregations, particularly when they have met membership requirements to charter." I have wished all my life that the plural "You" in the Bible in English could be "You all" because MOST of the "you's" in the Bible ARE PLURAL and we in English read them as SINGULAR!!!! I have long believed that that would make a huge difference in the way we in our nation have historically thought---ME, ME ME, ME!!! "How long, O Lord, how long?"

    by Phyllis T. Albritton

    May 24, 2017

  9. Great observations, Stated Clerk Nelson. We all need to delve more deeply into the long but comforting chronicle of the history of God's people, especially in this 2017 Lutherjahr 500. Every 500 years God has sent renewal of the Church through people with faith & boldness enough to follow where Christ leads.

    by Dwyn Mounger

    May 24, 2017

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