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What The Dying Of The PCUSA Means

Image Source: Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (

 By Dr. R. Scott Clark - Posted at The Heidelblog:

When, Dean Kelley published Why Conservative Churches Are Growing (New York: Harper & Row, 1972), the Protestant mainline was already in crisis. They were shrinking, and, as Kelley’s title suggests, the “conservative” churches were growing. This book was published the year before churches withdrew from the old Southern Presbyterian Church (PCUS) to form the Presbyterian Churches in America (PCA), which would become one of the fastest-growing denominations in the USA for more than three decades. The solution Kelley proposed was unsatisfactory. It was written eleven years before the formation of the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) in 1983, which was the result of the United Presbyterian Church USA merging with the PCUS. He argued that what the mainline churches needed to do was to believe something (anything really), stick to that belief, and throw out some people so that everyone could see that the mainliners were serious about it. Then, he argued, Americans would be attracted to the mainline again. I do not recall that Kelley mentioned the case of J. Gresham Machen, who was expelled from the PCUSA in 1936 because he believed the Scriptures to be God’s holy, inspired, inerrant Word, and the Westminster Standards to be the true confession of the Christian faith. The formal cause of his expulsion was his refusal to quit the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, which was founded in response to the theological corruption of the denominational missions agency. That bold act, executed in a kangaroo court (the accounts are painful to read), did not lead to growth but rather signaled the beginning of the end of the Presbyterian mainline.

Take A Look At The Patient’s Chart

The PCUSA is hemorrhaging members and has been for decades. How bad is the bleeding? When the PCUSA was formed in 1983 by the merger, it had 3,121,238 members. In 2000, they reported 2 million members. In 2019, they reported 1.3 million members, and in 2022 they reported 1.1 million members. Church statistics are always to be suspected, and we may reasonably suspect that the actual number of active members in the PCUSA is actually lower. By their own figures, the PCUSA declined by 53,105 members between 2021 and 2022. If we impute the same rate of decline (which is a little smaller than it has been, usually about 70,000 members annually) to 2023, the PCUSA will be right at 1 million members. If that rate of decline continues for another 10–12 years, the PCUSA will meet the PCA numerically.


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