The Research Services unit of the PCUSA has published a look at statistical trends in the denomination since it was formed through merger in 1983. The Presbyterian News Service offers the following regarding the book and its information:

Released this week, Comparative Statistics 2008 features an introductory essay, “The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) at 25,” by Jack Marcum, coordinator of research services for the General Assembly Mission Council.

Marcum’s analysis gives clear markers for many of the related issues of decline that have faced the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) since reunion:

  • Membership (from 3,131,228 to 2,140,165, a loss of 31.6 percent or an average of 1.3 percent per year);
  • Baptisms (child baptisms declined by 48.9 percent and adult baptisms by 63.0 percent);
  • Congregations (from 11,662 in 1983 to 10,751 in 2008, a total decline of 7.8 percent, or an annual average of  0.3 percent);
  • New church developments (a “ragged decline” ranging from  a high of 45 in 1992 to a low of 16 in 1999, with 20 in 2008);
  • Worship attendance (from a weekly estimated 1,360,000 in 1990 to 1,090,000 today, down 19.7 percent); and
  • Active ministers (declined by 11.7 percent, while the number of retired ministers has more than doubled).

At the same time, several areas of growth can also be traced:

  • Attendance as a percentage of membership (from 47.6 percent to 51 percent);
  • Women in ministry (a fourfold increase, from 1,010 in 1983 to 4,253 in 2008);
  • Asian membership (from 57,517 in 1999 to 69,912 in 2008);
  • Hispanic membership (from 27,800 in 1999 to 29,699 in 2008);
  • and Financial giving (on a per member basis, adjusted for inflation, from $677 per year to $1,109 per year.)

There are undoubtedly a variety of theological, cultural, and demographic factors involved in this picture of decline. Without survey work being done among those who have left, whether for other denominations or through inactivity, it’s impossible to say what is the most important. Sounds like a worthy project for a researcher in religious trends.

(By the way, even the items referred to as “areas of growth” should not really be of any solace: the jump in the number of women ministers is not a sign of vitality in itself; the Asian and Hispanic figures are really pathetic compared to the increases in the size of those groups in the general population; and the attendance percentage and giving figures are primarily a sign that the PCUSA has been able to keep a higher percentage of committed members as opposed to the less committed, which is certainly good, but the relatively small increases indicate that many committed members have left or died as well, and aren’t being replaced very well.)