The PCUSA: Proudly Dying Since 1936

Now that the number of persons departing the denomination has increased from 89,296 to 92,433, and the statistical rate of decline has bumped from 4.83 percent to 5.54 percent, Parsons can no longer soothe fellow church bureaucrats in Louisville that decline is somehow slowing – it isn’t. For those keeping track, the PCUSA has lost a staggering 645,895 members since 2005, 28 percent of the denomination’s members having vanished. The PCUSA and its two predecessor bodies have been in decline since 1965.

—Jeffrey Walton, “Presbyterians Collapsing, or ‘Settling Into The New Thing God is Creating’?”

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. But we also have to look to ourselves. We have to ask if we Reformed Christians are effectively reaching out to those of different races, economic classes, and political persuasions? Or are we content to only evangelize people with whom we feel comfortable sitting with in the pews?

    • Curt,

      That’s a fair question. We can do much better. We must do better. In this space I’ve been trying to encourage confessional P&R congregations to reach out and across socio-economic lines.

      Perhaps if we had more resources we could do more? In contrast to many mainline congregations, the typical NAPARC congregation does not have two-hundred-year-old (or older) endowments from which to live and support the ministry. Many of our congregations are composed of working-class people who are struggling to make it themselves; they don’t have a great deal of disposable income. Most of our congregations are 100 persons or fewer. Our annual budget in my congregation, which met in a renovated gas station, in Kansas City was $40K (or 64K in today’s dollars adjusted for inflation). A large chunk of that went to the mortgage so that we had little left over with which to do outreach.

      We did the best we could with what we had and we did reach across socio-economic lines. We had a food pantry, bible studies, counseling and other other opportunities for service to the local section-8 housing project but our experience was that the government, while ostensibly seeking to help, was actually enabling people to live irresponsibly. The government took (by force) funds from members of our congregation and gave those funds to drug addicts and others who could work but who refused because the government enabled them not to work. The government enabled their addiction and their poor choices and made it more difficult for us to help. Further, the racial divide in Kansas City was very deep and it was extremely difficult to reach across racial (as well as economic) barriers. We tried but we were not very successful if we’re defining success by numbers of attenders.

      We did street evangelism, door-to-door evangelism, telephone evangelism, newsletters, and radio broadcasts. I think many P&R congregations do such things but because, among other things, we do not have the “buildings, bodies, & budgets” we (P&R churches) don’t get credit for the outreach we do.

      We can do better but critics need to recognize the very real limitations with which we work.

      I’m increasingly convinced that the way forward is to follow the model of John 9. God’s people in NAPARC congregations need to be witnesses to the faith and their own personal appropriation of it where they are. Perhaps, as we grow, we’ll be able to fund church plants in areas where we’ve not yet penetrated (e.g., the African-American and Hispanic communities).

  2. “I’m increasingly convinced that the way forward is to follow the model of John 9. God’s people in NAPARC congregations need to be witnesses to the faith and their own personal appropriation of it where they are.”

    Hi Scott,

    Have you written about this in more detail somewhere? Thanks.

  3. Catchy title… It got my attention!

    Back to Curt’s comment and your response….

    I would agree that Reformed churches tend to be more Anglo than most. However, I don’t agree that budgets are the issue. While the midwest is dotted with small reformed congregations with smaller budgets, the East coast has many larger congregations with healthier budgets that sill get the same results. It is not a budget issue but a Gospel issue. For if in the church we truly embrace the doctrine that “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave free; but Christ is all, and in all”, then we would see more representatives of the many ethnicities of our communities sitting next to us in pews. Could it be the reason for this lack of diversity is because these people do not feel comfortable because Colossians 3:11 has not become palpable in the life of the church? And by comfortable I don’t mean that seeker-sensitive stuff, I mean the comfort level that a new Christian is looking for in a church that has its eyes on Christ and sees brothers and sisters in believers of every socio-economic stratus, race, and ethnicity.

    This is a separate issue than the reason why the PCUSA has been dying since 1936. The reason for that is the abandonment of orthodoxy for liberalism which is not Christianity at all. You could probably go even further back in history to the 1920’s when Fosdick first dropped the bomb.

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