pcusaseal

By Jeff Gissing (@jeffgissing)

The Presbyterian Church (USA) recently released the findings of its “Religious and Demographic Profile of Presbyterians 2011” (the report). More than 6,000 clergy and members of the PC (USA) were asked to participate in the study for a three-year period. The goal was to sketch a broad landscape of the denomination in demographic and theological terms. The report is available here in its entirety. In many respects the report is grim reading. In fact, it points to the coming collapse of the PC (USA)—demographic and theological realities will force the denomination to accept a new, diminished future.

The report reveals, perhaps unsurprisingly, that the PC (USA) is old and white. 94% of the randomly selected members reported their race as “white or Caucasian,” as did the randomly selected Ruling Elders. Of clergy, 91% of pastors and 89% of specialized ministers (chaplains, professors, etc) reported their race as white. For all categories of respondent, more than 90% were born U.S. citizens. The study notes, most alarmingly, that the racial-ethnic makeup of the denomination has remained virtually unchanged in the last forty years. This discontinuity makes the future of the denomination untenable since it has not reached either immigrant communities or people of color in any meaningful way. While there are flickers of light in the 1001 New Worshipping Communities initiative, it seems to be rather too late for this to significantly offset coming losses.

The denomination also continues to age. The median age of members rose from 60 to 63 between 2008 and 2011. That means that if you were to list the ages of each of the member respondents, half of them would be older than 63 and half younger. The number is similar—62—for ruling elders. The report also indicates that almost 50% of church members are not employed, while only 7% of members report being “full-time homemakers.” Could it be that almost half of our church members are retired? Perhaps the PC (USA) should be called the AARP at prayer?

Pastor median age is 55 whereas for specialized ministers it is 57. As a point of comparison, the median age of the United States (as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau) is 36.8, a significant difference. If we isolate for race and report only non-Hispanic whites, the median age is still only 42.3.

This does not bode well for the future. Over the last forty years, the make up of our nation has changed considerably. That this change is all but absent in the profile of the PC (USA) suggests that it has been unable to effectively carry out the very essence of its stated mission—bearing witness to the kingdom of God in there here and now—which includes both ethnic and age diversity under the gospel.

What does the report show us about the devotional practices of members and clergy of the PC (USA)? 80% of pastors reported praying privately “daily/almost daily.” For members the number was less, 56%. It is, of course, difficult to discover a cause for this lack of attention to prayer. I’m sure there are numerous reasons, but it is alarming to think that one of the chief means of grace is so absent in the life of church members and even clergy.

The church is also not attending well to Scripture. Only 39% of members report reading the Bible weekly. For ruling elders the number is higher—49%. This is a serious problem. Where professed Christians are failing in the practice of prayer and of reading the Scripture, we can be sure that a sense of “cheap grace” will also be present. Scripture and prayer—both individually and corporately—shape us to follow Christ. Where they are absent, or unattended to, other voices and influences will exert power to form us.

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