Things Are Getting Better Edition
The PCUSA released the 2018 data on denominational status in April. The first three paragraphs stressed an improving situation.
After years of seeing hundreds of churches leave the denomination, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is starting to see the number of departing churches decrease. The Office of the General Assembly has wrapped up its latest review of membership statistics which indicates the decline in membership may be slowing down.
In 2015, the total number of PC(USA) members was listed at more than 1.5 million. Within a year, membership declined by nearly 90,000. Last year, the decline was just over 62,000. The number of churches leaving the denomination between 2015 and 2016 totaled 203. In 2018, it was 34.
“While the difference is not great, we are encouraged by the slowing trend downward,” said the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PC(USA). “The church of the 21st century is changing and we still believe God is preparing us for great things in the future.”
The article included the above table that shows total number of churches and members for 2015 through 2018. While the Active Membership data is clear, the Total Churches data is not.
The PCUSA generally reports church data in four categories. On the gain side they can be organized (new church) or received (joins from the outside). On the loss side they can be dissolved (church closes) or dismissed (exits the denomination). Thus the Total Churches number includes these four gain and loss categories.
The article’s discussion of “churches leaving” only includes the dismissed component of church loss. In fact, the number of churches being dissolved is increasing. It’s also confusing that the authors compare the sum of two years of dismissed churches (2015 and 2016) to the single year of 2018. If this detail isn’t noticed then it appears that the number of dismissed churches has improved much more than it actually has. A valid comparison would have been to compare two year values in each case (e.g., 2015 and 2016 compared to 2017 and 2018).
While the article does admit that something unfortunate has occurred, the primary focus is on how things are now getting better. However, the true situation is obfuscated by:
- Including only the most recent years in which there was apparent improvement because the denomination was exiting the worst of the losses;
- Showing only total numbers without context or details that illuminate what has actually happened.
We are missing the big picture if we limit our focus to the single year of 2018. We are now in a new phase of the campaign to obfuscate, deny and diminish the truth about our denomination’s debacle that has been in progress from 2006 to the present.
The following posts will shine much needed light on this situation.