As many of you know, I belong to a Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation. Moreover, I am in the ordination track for the Presbytery of Charlotte. And if that were not enough, I attend a PCUSA seminary, and I work at the seminary. Needless to say, I have an invested interest in the controversies plaguing the Presbyterian Church (USA). It pains me beyond words to see our denomination complete its long trajectory of cultural pandering and shameless accommodation.
A few weeks ago, the session (elders) of our church voted unanimously to be dismissed from the PCUSA. The Sunday after the vote, each elder gave his or her perspective on the decision, resulting in a remarkably diverse enumeration of grievances. I know from talking with the pastoral staff and some of the elders that this was not an easy decision. It was soaked in prayer, especially in the immediate weeks prior to the vote. There was no triumphalism in their statements, yet a confidence that God will continue to be faithful in the journey ahead. The elders were especially intent on making it clear that we are not morally superior to the PCUSA, for we are all equally dependent upon God’s grace. The congregation still needs to vote, but I expect wide support for the elders’ decision. Like most of the recent dismissals, we are planning to enter ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.
Naturally, I am in the middle of all this as a seminarian. I have told the session that where the church goes, I will go. Thus, I will likely transfer into the ordination process of ECO.
In our area, the most significant dismissal to ECO has been First Presbyterian Church, Greenville (SC), which is about 3,100 members. I know that we are supposed to be pious and not focus on numbers, but it is a significant fact that the average ECO congregation is over 500 members, with FPC-Greenville and FPC-Colorado Springs as the largest. As well, there have been significant departures to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC), notably First Presbyterian Church in Orlando, which is nearly 4,000 members. By contrast, the average PCUSA congregation is just shy of 100 members. I know, numbers aren’t everything, we shouldn’t focus on numbers, and so on. I understand the sentiment, but when you are looking at a demographic catastrophe in membership loss, numbers are actually pretty damn important. So, what are some of the denominational numbers?
We all know that the heyday of the mainline was the early 1960’s, when the Presbyterian Church (USA) was over four million members. By 1990, we were at three million. By 2000, we had 2,525,330 members. By 2011, we had 1,952,287 members. That is a 22.69 percent decrease in membership in a little over a decade! They have not released the 2012 numbers (which will include the loss of some significant churches), and they will prove to be horrendous I am sure. The PCUSA lost 53 percent of its membership between 1960 and 2011. Meanwhile, the U.S. population increased 72 percent between 1960 and 2010.
But, that is not quite the worst of it. The median age of a PCUSA member is over 60. This is the baby boomer generation, which is not exactly my favorite generation (but they gave us some good music). To put it bluntly, they will be dying in the next twenty years or so. There is scarcely anyone to replace them (except for over-educated, affluent young seminary grads who can’t find a job…but I digress). So, the projected statistics for the PCUSA is not merely a continuing decline but a demographic free-fall. So, yeah, numbers matter at this point. One sorta benefit, however, is that the bloated bureaucracy of the PCUSA has been forced to shrink…presbyteries are firing nearly all full-time employees and Louisville (headquarters) is likely to be further gutted. Of course, I am sure they’ll keep their political lobby groups going (Israel-Palestine Mission Network and support for the National Council of Churches, which has been reduced to a pathetic lobby group in Washington).
Now, in terms of numbers, there will be tough times ahead for all denominations, evangelicals included. For the time being, both the EPC and ECO are beneficiaries of PCUSA silliness. But once the evangelical wing of the PCUSA is depleted, they will have to grow and maintain on their own, in prayer and fidelity to Holy Writ.
Just to be clear, this is a personal blog, and my views are my own, not on behalf of my church or seminary.