The Presbyterian Church (USA), one of the country’s oldest mainline Protestant denominations, is shedding members and congregations while its aging constituency is posing challenges, the group’s news service reported Thursday.
A total of 51,584 members died or left the denomination in 2021, the Presbyterian Outlook reported. A total of 158,908 members, or 12%, have left the group since 2018.
Membership in the denomination has dropped nearly 70% from a 1965 peak of 4.25 million, the news service reported. Today, the church has 1,193,770 members. The membership decline is almost certain to be discussed at the PCUSA’s 2022 General Assembly June 18-July 9 in Louisville, Kentucky.
Some of the biggest losses occurred after the formation of the breakaway Presbyterian Church in America in 1973 and other conservative offshoots. The defections increased when the PCUSA voted to allow clergy to perform same-sex weddings and allow homosexual clergy “with partners” to serve its congregations.
Last year, the PCUSA closed 1,014 congregations and transferred two to other denominations. That leaves the denomination with 8,813 congregations, the group said.
The closings come chiefly because congregations have become too small to sustain themselves, the news service said. One in five congregations have 25 members or fewer; two-thirds have 100 members or fewer, the group said.
The Presbyterian group also reported that 58% of its membership is between the ages of 56 and 71 or older, which “skews significantly older than the U.S. population.”
The group also saw a net loss of 372 ministers from 2020, although there are 13 more candidates for ordination. At the same time, the church reported that 80% of its predominantly Black congregations and “at least 40%” of Hispanic congregations don’t have installed pastors as leaders.