Category Archives: membership

A First Look At Some New PC(USA) Numbers

Over the last couple of weeks the Office of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has released two sets of data that will be the focus of attention at the upcoming General Assembly. At some point in the next few of months I hope to really drill down into the data some more, but to do that there is a third report that I am waiting for so a detailed analysis will have to wait for its release. But because they will be the focus of attention in a couple of weeks, here are some initial comments.

The first one I will look at is the annual report of the summary statistics for the denomination including the 2015 membership data. To some degree this is either “move along, nothing to see here” or a case of Alfred North Whitehead’s famous quote “It takes a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious.” But here we go anyways.

The money quote is always the totals so the PC(USA) finished 2015 with 9,642 churches, 20,077 teaching elders and 1,572,660 active members. That is a 1.9% drop in churches, fairly consistent with the 2.1% and 2.2% in the two preceding years. The number of teaching elders declined by 1.5% after declines of 0.9% in 2014 and 1.4% in 2013. The membership decline has been rising slightly with a 4.8% drop in 2013, a 5.3% drop in 2014 and then a 5.7% drop this past year.

Often times the story is “look how many churches and people are leaving the PC(USA) for more conservative denominations.” Now I will not deny that is an issue in these numbers but let’s add a little perspective here. The statistics show that in 2015 the PC(USA) dismissed 104 churches to other denominations. In the same year they dissolved/closed 91 churches. In general, over the last four years the number of churches dismissed has typically been roughly the same as the number closed. (2012: 86 closed, 110 dismissed; 2013: 74 closed, 148 dismissed; 2014: 110 closed, 101 dismissed) Over those four years there have been 13, 24, 15 and 14 churches organized.

It is the same story with membership losses. While the church lost 47,728 members by certificate of transfer in 2015, 27,469 joined the Church Triumphant (death) and 79,002 were lost to “other”, i.e. walking out the door and being dropped from the rolls. In general, the number of members transferred has been about half the number in the other category over the last several years. For perspective, the total gains by profession of faith, transfer, and other over the last year were 59,092.

In case you have not picked up where I am going with this my point is that dismissals are only part – roughly half – of the problem. Even ignoring dismissals of congregations and members the replacement rate in the PC(USA) is still well below the losses to dissolutions, deaths and disappearances.

There is another important component to keep in mind and that is the statistics use an old model and do not reflect a new paradigm. The major development emphasis in the PC(USA) right now is the 1001 New Worshiping Communities and as most of those are not chartered and do not have regular members they are not in these numbers. I could not find a specific current number but the number of 1001 NWCs appears to be between 250 and 300 at this time.

One piece of good news in the numbers is that for 2015 the total giving was up by 0.5%. With the decrease in membership this means that the per member giving rose 6.6% from $1043 to $1112.

The second report that was issued is the final report on The Church In The 21st Century. This resulted from a church-wide consultation and conversation on the denomination’s identity and where the PC(USA) should head. The report itself focuses on an online survey to which over 3000 members responded. There are two versions, a report only version with OGA annotations called When We Gather At The Table, and The Church in the 21st Century report from Research Services that has the appendix with detailed statistics. While the narrative is very similar, and in places identical in the two reports, I will be working from the latter one for the detailed statistics.

Maybe the most important thing to remember about this report is that it is self-reporting and not a random sample. Here are the two important paragraphs printed in both reports (page 6 of the detailed report):

Because this project invited the input of any and all people and entities of the PC(USA) (individuals, congregations, seminaries, mid-councils, and various affiliated groups [e.g. new worshiping communities, immigrant fellowships]) within a short time frame, creating a probability sample to ensure a representative group of Presbyterians was not feasible. Instead, a convenience sample (that is—a sample of volunteers) was used. As such, we cannot calculate a response rate.

Findings from the resulting convenience sample will not be as generalizable as findings would be if they had been taken from a (random) probability sample. However, an analysis of the demographics of those who participated in the study reveals that the sample somewhat matches the known demographics of Presbyterians as a whole. Exceptions are noted in the Demographics section, which follows.

So here is the caution: You can not take the numbers in this survey and say “According to the survey we know X about the PC(USA).” You can say that we know X about those that responded to the survey.

So does this mean that the survey is not useful? μὴ γένοιτο (by no means) But to consider what it does represent let’s take a look at a couple of points about who responded.

The report in Appendix A gives the results of each question. While I wish they would give the raw numbers we can work with the total responses and percentages of each question. To begin with, there were 3,427 responses and 98% were PC(USA) affiliated so that would be about 3358 PC(USA) individuals. Now, 3,055 submitted an answer to the question of whether they were ordained. Of those, 30% said they were teaching elders so that is about 917 meaning the other 2138 are members of churches. Considering those numbers, that means that 4.6% of teaching elders responded (based on the 2015 numbers discussed above) and 0.14% of members responded.

Let’s drill down on those members for a moment. Of the total of 3,055, 41%, or 1253, are ruling elders. Converting that into percent of members of churches, 59% of those who respondents who are not teaching elders self-identified as ruling elders. For comparison to a more controlled sample, in the 2011 demographic profile of the Presbyterian Panel 36% of members surveyed said they were ordained ruling elders.

In the new report participants were asked to rate their social orientation and theological orientation on a scale of 1 to 7. Based on the responses the report categorized 62% of all participants as socially liberal, 9% neutral and 29% conservative. The question was also asked for theological orientation with 54% liberal, 11% neutral and 35% conservative.

There is no perfect way to compare these results to the denomination as a whole. The question about social orientation has not been asked in previous surveys but the report makes a comparison to a question about political party affiliation in an earlier, more controlled study. A similar theological question was asked in the 2011 demographic profile with 19% of members saying they were liberal or very liberal, 39% saying they were moderate and 39% saying they were conservative or very conservative. The problem is that the earlier numbers are for members while new survey also includes teaching elders, who – based on that same survey question – are known to identify as more liberal, and there is no cross-tabulation or analysis of variance information to back out member versus ruling elder versus teaching elder groupings like the demographic profile does.

Has the denomination grown more theologically liberal? The departure of conservative congregations has almost certainly made this the case. But by 35%? That seems like a stretch. Similarly, has the middle shrunk by 28%? Maybe, but that is hard to understand as well.

Instead it seems more likely that the respondents to the survey are those that are the most connected and care the most about the PC(USA) — a fact that the survey acknowledges. The high response rate of teaching elders and ruling elders relative to members in general certainly seems to show this. By extension then it would follow that those on the theological ends are also more concerned and interested in being heard and those in the middle did not have as great an interest so they have a smaller response rate.

So what this survey says is that a lot of hard-core PC(USA) folks care about the PC(USA). Is it no wonder that when asked why it was important to a respondent to be part of the PC(USA) the top three answers were Theology (41%), Polity/Governance (29%), and Thinking Church/Educated Clergy (24%).

So that is what well-connected and involved members of the PC(USA) care about and see as the denomination’s identity and strengths.

But let me end this with this caution: While the study is a great snapshot of the identity and thoughts of the PC(USA) at this time it is biased towards those that know and care the most about the church. In one sense that is OK, because they are the ones who will be doing a lot of the heavy lifting related to restructuring in the years to come. But in another sense it is a problem because it reflects the status quo. If the PC(USA) is looking to recover and move forward it needs a close examination, more than can be done in one week at GA, ask some hard questions and make some difficult decisions. It is not just closing ranks around what it knows and understands but challenging some of the strongly held beliefs reflected in this report and possibly develop a new identity.

We will see where this goes. Stay tuned…

Postscript: I do want to acknowledge that there is a lot more material in the new identity reports and if you care it is worth a read. While I found it frustrating that more raw data was not released with it there is a lot of interesting info in there. Due to my intended focus of this article, as well as time constraints, I won’t be diving into it more now I may return to it later, probably in regards to how it is received by the General Assembly.

2016 General Assembly Of The Church Of Scotland

Church_of_Scotland_Logo

Tomorrow morning the 2016 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland will convene in Edinburgh for their annual week-long meeting. While the hype in the main-stream media probably exceeds the reality – more on that in a minute – it should still be an interesting meeting with all the usual pomp, ceremony, formality and of course interesting discussion that we come to expect of this GA.

If you are interested in following along, here are some starting points to help you:

  • There will be live streaming of the proceedings and you can connect to the stream appropriate for your device from the media page.
  • Most of the Documents pertaining to the Assembly are linked from the General Assembly Publications page. This includes the Proceedings and Reports volumes, known as the Blue Book (and it is back to its blue cover this year) in several different electronic formats including the traditional PDF as well as MOBI and EPUB formats for your eReaders. There is also a separate Order of Proceedings. The Daily Papers will contain late-breaking changes are available on the Papers, minutes, letters, and speeches page. There is an option to subscribe to notifications of new documents being posted. In addition, there is a General Assembly App with versions for Apple iOS and Android.
  • Reports are also available individually from the Reports and minutes page.
  • If you need to refer to the documents about how they do this decently and in order most of those are linked from the Church Law page. Unfortunately the essential “An Introduction to Practice and Procedure” is still listed as under revision and not available.
  • A brief order of the docketed events and reports can be found on the General Assembly 2016 page.
  • And from the media page there will be regular daily updates in print, audio and video if history serves. And as always, hosted by the Rev. Douglas Aitken.

What we all want to know of course is how to follow along on social media and there will be no lack of that. You can begin with the Church of Scotland’s official Facebook page as well as the Facebook page for the National Youth Assembly.

On Twitter the starting point is the Kirk’s main feed at @churchscotland and the official hashtag #ga2016. There is an official account for the Moderator of the General Assembly, @churchmoderator, but during the Assembly we will have to see how much opportunity there will be to tweet. Similarly, the Church of Scotland Youth will likely be tweeting at @cosy_nya and the official account for the NYA Moderator, currently Hanna Mary Goodlad, is at @NYAModerator. The church’s official publication, Life and Work, is also a good source for information on the web, on Facebook and on their Twitter feed @cofslifeandwork. In addition, while it is a personal account, you can follow the editor, Lynne McNeil, at @LifeWorkEditor.

This year I would also suggest three semi-official accounts. The account Church Scotland Voices with weekly rotating contributors at @churchscovoices will be curated by GA commissioner Andrew Kimmitt (@akimmitt). The official photographer will be Andrew O’Brien at @AndyOBrienPhoto. And during the Assembly I. D. Campbell (@idcampbellart) will be the artist-in-residence painting people from the Poverty Truth Commission (@PTCScotland).

In suggesting personal accounts to follow, let me start with two past Moderators of the General Assembly. The first is the Very Reverend Lorna Hood who is always a good read at @revlornascot and has been very active the past few years with projects related to Srebrenica justice and remembrance (@SrebrenicaUK). The other is the Very Reverend Albert Bogle at @italker who has been getting some recent traction with the Sanctuary First ministry (@sanctuaryfirst) that is now seeking to become a completely online church. Another well-connected individual to follow is Seonag MacKinnon, the head of communications for the Kirk, who tweets on her personal account at @seonagm.

In suggesting other personal accounts let me begin with the Rev. Peter Nimmo of Inverness who is a member of the Church and Society Council (@ChurchSociety01) and always a good source of information at @peternimmo1. Others I regularly follow from the Kirk include Darren Philip (@darphilip), Alistair May (@AlistairMay) and Michael Mair (@MichaelMair). Another who will probably weigh in, whether or not he is in Edinburgh, is Glasgow theologian Douglas Gay (@DougGay). I will update with more as the Assembly gets under way.

Once again the Assembly will have its annual Heart and Soul festival on the Sunday afternoon of the Assembly week that will again be happening in Princes Street Gardens near the Assembly Hall. The theme of both the Assembly and the Heart and Soul event this year is “People of the Way.” One of the new features of Heart and Soul this year will be link-ups with concurrent local events throughout Scotland.

Concerning the business before the Assembly there is a nice summary of each report on the Life and Work site. Three items in particular have been in the news. The first is the Columba Declaration for mutual recognition between the Church of Scotland and the Church of England. After the Moderator of the Kirk spoke at the CofE General Synod in February the Archbishop of Canterbury will participate in the CofS debate on the Declaration as part of the Ecumenical Relations Committee presentation on Wednesday. (I hope to post a few of my observations and thoughts on this in the next couple days.)

The big mainstream media coverage the last few days – which has even made it over here to the states – relates to the Legal Questions Committee report on Saturday and specifically item 14:

14. Instruct the Committee, jointly with the Mission and Discipleship Council and the Theological Forum, to research the implications for the Church of Scotland of the development of online church and report to the General Assembly of 2018.

The body of the report itself focuses on new technologies and particularly their application to voting and administrative contacts. There is mention of the changing nature of membership in that section of the report and one, just one, reference to sacraments in general that says “As fewer people join up in the traditional sense and as they make choices which include ever greater interaction with the Church through online access and social media, questions arise about online membership and even about access to the sacraments while not being physically present in the congregation.” The next line begins “There are no easy answers…” It should be an interesting discussion but the report is really concerned with particular administrative items yet in looking forward does contain an invitation to start thinking more broadly about issues that will arise. However, it is nowhere near the invitation to approve online baptisms as the media reports would make you think. The Church of Scotland issued a press release to put the reports into perspective.

Finally, the Assembly Arrangements Committee report contains the results of a review of the Assembly operations and response to many suggestions that have been made. Some, like biennial assemblies or moving out of Edinburgh, are recommended against based on factors considered in the study. The committee does seek permission to further review one suggestion, moving the Assembly to the second week of June so more young adults are available following completion of university exams. This discussion will also occur on Saturday and there is a Kirk press release on this as well.

So fasten your seat belts and get ready for the full week of Presbyterian action. As always, our thoughts and prayers are with the commissioners and officers of the Assembly and we look forward to following along with your discernment process.

Top Ten Presbyterian News Topics Of 2015

Once again, as I think back on the year and review what has happened I decided to make a list of the different themes that stood out to me from different Presbyterian branches. Here, in no particular order, is my list. Your list may vary.

Racial Reconciliation

One of the more dramatic moments in a Presbyterian General Assembly this year occurred at the 43rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America. A good narration of the action comes from Travis Hutchinson’s blog. He begins his post with this description of the personal resolution offered from the floor of the Assembly:

Mississippi Teaching Elders, Drs Sean Lucas and Ligon Duncan entered a personal resolution at the beginning of the Assembly which acknowledged the involvement of our denomination (and our predecessor denomination) in promoting racism and failing to act to support the goals of the Civil Rights movement. It encouraged us to seek repentance and carry this message to our local churches. The resolution was referred to our Overtures Committee for a recommendation.

The Overtures Committee recommended referring it to the next GA to allow for it to be perfected but when it returned to the floor it was clear that many commissioners felt making the statement at the current Assembly was a more important action than waiting for refinement. But in that parallel universe that is Standing Rules and Parliamentary Procedure the choice before the Assembly was not to adopt the original motion but to refer it back to the Overtures Committee or refer it to the next GA. After much debate, a couple of votes and not a small amount of prayer the Assembly voted to send it to the next Assembly. Then a protest was filed “expressing [personal] confession of sin and hope for repentance.” Over 200 of the commissioners signed onto the protest according to the official news item. Another detailed description of the Assembly action on this item can be found on TE Timothy R. LeCroy’s blog.

Other news in this topic includes the continued work of the Reformed African American Network, the formation of the African American Presbyterian Fellowship within the PCA’s Mission to North America ministries, and the PC(USA) has launched an anti-racism campaign.

In the PC(USA) the presbyteries approved the addition of the Confession of Belhar to the Book of Confessions leaving only the final approval of the 222nd General Assembly in 2016.

Finally, in Canada, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been working with the indigenous peoples and at the release of their final report the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada made a statement that acknowledged the pain of the past while expressing hope for the future.

 

Mass Shootings and Gun Violence

With several high-profile mass shootings in the U.S. this year it may be impossible to chronicle every Presbyterian connection. But two in particular caught my attention. The first was the shootings at Charleston’s Emmanuel AME Church in June. Among many connections, the church has had a long and close connection to Second Presbyterian next door. I chronicled some of the many connections in a headlines piece at the time. The other tragedy was the recent San Bernardino shootings close to where I live and several friends were mentioned in local news stories about responses and pastoral care. The PC(USA) issued both a pastoral letter as well as an initial and then a follow-up news article.

In addition, the Vice-Moderator of the General Assembly, Larissa Kwong Abazia, issued her own personal statement about the situation and asking the denomination to seek ways to respond to gun violence in general. In addition, in light of all the shootings it was a year in which the PC(USA) film about gun violence, “Trigger“, was highlighted.

As I said above, there were multiple incidents world-wide and that same June Headlines piece also contained links to several stories about a terrorist attack in Tunisia that killed adherents from the Church of Scotland.

 

Presbyterian denominations and same-gender relationships

This was an issue across many Presbyterian branches this year with the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada beginning a study process to consider making their standards more inclusive and the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland debating and sending to the presbyteries under the Barrier Act the proposed changes to their governing documents. For the Canadian church the study documents have been released. In the case of the Kirk the indication is the changes to the Acts and Proceedings have been approved by a majority of the presbyteries but the results will not be certified until next year.

In the American Presbyterian church, the PC(USA) presbyteries approved a change in the definition of marriage in the Directory for Worship in the Book of Order. That change went into effect at the end of June and in early September the chapel at the PC(USA) national offices hosted its first same-gender wedding ceremony.

 

Reaction within the Presbyterian family to same-sex marriage decisions

The reaction to these decisions is worthy of its own item in the list with the reaction to the PC(USA) decision being swift and wide-spread. Within two weeks of the vote total being reached the National Black Church Initiative cut ties with the PC(USA) over the vote. A couple of months later the Independent Presbyterian Church of Brazil (IPIB) and the Evangelical Presbyterian and Reformed Church of Peru (IEPRP) ended mission partnerships on the national level. The PC(USA) has issued a news article acknowledging these breaks but also saying that other mission partners have decided to continue the partnerships.

Elsewhere, the decision by the Church of Scotland was a concern in the Presbyterian Church of Ireland which initially expressed “deep sorrow” at the decision and during their General Assembly decided that they would not send a representative to the Kirk’s 2016 General Assembly. Outside the Presbyterian family the Russian Orthodox Church has broken off ecumenical discussions with the Church of Scotland over this.

 

Shifting between Reformed branches

The movement of churches between different Presbyterian and Reformed branches continues unabated. ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians announced that their membership had grown to over 240 churches, most are congregations that have departed the PC(USA). In Scotland the Free Church continues to see a few congregations and ministers wishing to move from the Church of Scotland. In addition, a few churches completed the process of transferring from the Reformed Church in America to the PCA.

 

Property

With shifts in Reformed branches comes the question of taking or leaving property. Those moving from the Church of Scotland to the Free Church typically do not get to take it. University Reformed Church was assessed about $300,000 to take their campus to the PCA.

But bigger and more plentiful property disputes came from churches departing the PC(USA) including congregations that walked away, were graciously dismissed with a payment, kept their property in civil suits, lost their property in civil suits, and one of the more unusual cases where the court awarded the property to the PC(USA) faction of the congregation but not on behalf of the presbytery.

Other interesting property cases include a very convoluted property case in California with the KAPC and a case in Malawi where the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) “sued itself” over property.

 

Presbyterian branches working together

Particularly in light of very recent developments this might qualify as the most interesting topic of the year.

Let me begin with the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America whose Unification Task Force is on track to bring a proposed set of bylaws to the 2016 General Assembly. This would put the two denominations on track to make final approvals in 2017 and unite in a single general assembly in 2018.

While not a move with unification in sight, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America and the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church held their General Synods jointly in a move to strengthen the ties between these two streams of American Presbyterianism. For those not aware, each of these branches traces their heritage back to Scotland separately and apart from the mainstream branch of American Presbyterianism.

Finally, in a move that is not between two Presbyterian branches but between two national churches, the Church of Scotland and the Church of England just formally announced their intent to be more intentional in their joint work in what they are calling the Columba Declaration. This was followed by the Church of England’s Anglican partner in Scotland, the Scottish Episcopal Church, issuing something of a “what about us” statement.

 

Refugees

In putting this list together it seemed at times that I could have filled it with humanitarian crises. But if there is one that that Presbyterians world-wide seemed not just outspoken about but responsive to it would be the Middle East refugee crisis.

Regarding statements, these came from all quarters including the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Presbyterian Church in Canada, the Free Church of Scotland, the Church of Scotland, the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand, and the PC(USA), and many others.

In terms of action, there are accounts of relief and resettlement efforts all over the news. The Presbyterian Church in Ireland is partnering with the Hungarian Reformed Church. Presbyterian churches are among those across Canada ready to help resettle refugees. Similar things can be said for the U.S. where, among many towns and churches, Trinity Presbyterian in Atlanta is ready to sponsor two families. And in Princeton, NJ, Nassau Presbyterian Church and the Seminary are working together to help resettle a family.

And we also have the account of a PC(USA) group traveling to Turkey and seeing relief efforts first hand as they worked in a local soup kitchen and food pantry to help feed Syrian refugees.

In another refugee story, the final Central American individual who found sanctuary at Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson was able to go home after 15 months under a confidential agreement. However, with an announced round of deportations coming up the church, with others, has responded that they are ready to offer sanctuary to more refugees who fear for their lives if they are deported.

 

Membership trends continue

Not much new to say here. As with all the mainstream churches in the U.S., the PC(USA) membership decline continues with a loss of 2.1% in the number of congregations and a 5.3% decline in the total membership. What is interesting, at least to me, is that when normalized and compared the membership decline in the PC(USA) over the last decade is very similar to the decline in the Church of Scotland.

 

Publications and Media

Not sure what it was this year but publications and media, particularly those recognized with awards and honors, seemed to catch my attention more than most years.

Let me begin with the Learn resources from the Church of Scotland, particularly the Learn Eldership book that I reviewed last spring. It has been joined by two additional pieces – hard to call the relatively short How Will Our Children Have Faith? a book – that I might get time to review in the future.

But the series in general, and the Learn Eldership in particular, have been recognized by different organizations. In addition to being a best seller, Eldership was a finalist in the Publications category of the Scottish Creative Awards. It was also recognized in the Innovation category as being among the crème-de-la crème of Scottish magazines in the Scottish Magazine Awards.

From Westminster John Knox Press we have a winner of the 2015 Christianity Today Book Awards in the Theology/Ethics category. It is Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine by Kevin J. Vanhoozer. (Yes, technically announced in 2014 but awarded in 2015)

I would also include in this topic the just-released book by Dr. Sean Michael Lucas, For A Continuing Church: The roots of the Presbyterian Church in America. It is described as the “first full scholarly account of the theological and social forces that brought about [the PCA’s] creation.”

Finally, two films directed by PC(USA) Presbyterian Disaster Assistance agency photojournalist David Barnhart have been invited to the Beaufort International Film Festival in February. The films are “Kepulihan: When the Waters Recede” about the aftermath of the 2004 Indonesian Tsunami and “Locked in a Box” about immigration detention facilities.

 

So there you have my list of what caught my attention.

Some of you may be wondering where all the issues that were happening in Louisville are? In my list above I tried to capture more broad themes and those are more denomination specific. But, to add them here the news out of Louisville included: an outside audit of cost overruns at the last Presbyterian Youth Triennium; continued investigation, dismissals and lawsuits related to the New Church Initiative fiscal management; the departure of Linda Valentine and hiring of Tony de la Rosa in the Executive Director position; the search for a new Stated Clerk and Gradye Parsons announcing he would not apply again; and the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s own budget crisis.

For more information specific to the PC(USA) you can check out the Presbyterian Outlook’s list of top stories. For that matter, the Free Church of Scotland has their own year in review, and the Church of Scotland Mission and Discipleship agency has one as well.

And so I hope that 2015 was a good year for you and my prayers for all of you for a good 2016. My year will start out on a very high note, so stay tuned for that. Until then

Happy New Year and a Joyful Hogmanay

Musings On How Big Is The PC(USA) Big Tent – Part 2: He’s In My Church?

I found it an interesting exercise over the last week or so to see the reaction to a particular political candidate declaring he was a Presbyterian and, with some corroborating evidence, he could specifically be affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). An interesting set of reactions ensued, most seeming to have the implicit or explicit expectation of “How could he be one of us?” I will return to that at the end, but my reaction to the reaction is “If the PC(USA) is a big, inclusive tent why can it not include him?”

In case you have missed it, the political candidate in question is Donald Trump. His Presbyterian affiliation was not a mystery if you caught the early religion media coverage like the Religion News Service’s article 5 Facts About Donald Trump: A Presbyterian who collects Bibles, or World Religion News’ article Donald Trump is a proud Presbyterian. It really seemed to catch people’s attention when he Tweeted last weekend “I am now in Iowa getting ready to speak. People are always amazed to find out that I am Protestant (Presbyterian). GREAT.” For the record the current retweet count is 1002 and the favorite count is 2812. There are far too many replies to spend time counting those. And for good measure he also posted on Instagram a picture of him with his confirmation class at First Presbyterian Church, Jamaica, Queens, New York.

Let me drill down in this a little bit, but this is probably a good time for me to add the clarification that this is mostly a thought exercise and that where I am going with this is far from an endorsement of his – or any – political candidacy. This is intended to be a case study aimed at considering the question of membership in the PC(USA) and the church as a big tent that includes a diverse group of people. So based on the confirmation photo we can confirm that he joined the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. in 1959. I have not asked the church if he is still carried on the rolls and a direct inquiry on the Facebook page has not been answered. And while First Pres seems to be the first answer to his affiliation, Marble Collegiate Church , a congregation in the Reformed Church In America, seems to be regularly mentioned as a more current choice and one source says that is where he is a member. An old Faith and Reason article does a good job of listing his various church associations.

But let’s consider his self-identification at face value – make it a hypothetical situation if that makes you feel better. He says he is a Presbyterian, can we work with that? A lot of people have trouble with that including a response on twitter that says “He have better luck convincing ppl he’s Rasta.” and a Washington Times column by W. Scott Lamb titled “Donald Trump is a Presbyterian? Who knew? – When it comes to Presbyterian theology and social witness, Trump is an equal opportunity offender.” Taking it one step further, I am sure dozens of Reformed theologians, at best, cringed when he was interviewed last week and when asked if he had asked God for forgiveness:

“I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don’t think so,” he said. “I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.”

Yes, it sends chills down my spine just doing the cut-and-paste. (And his other comments in the article about the Lord’s Supper are equally cringe-worthy.) But now let us turn to the PC(USA) Book of Order. Specifically, what does it take to be a member? G-1.0302 says:

A congregation shall welcome all persons who trust in God’s grace in Jesus Christ
and desire to become part of the fellowship and ministry of his Church (F-1.0403). No person shall be denied membership for any reason not related to profession of faith. The
Gospel leads members to extend the fellowship of Christ to all persons. Failure to do so
constitutes a rejection of Christ himself and causes a scandal to the Gospel.

So in the PC(USA) membership requires a profession of faith – which he would have done as part of his documented confirmation class. It does not require an understanding of the Reformed doctrines of Original Sin, Pervasive/Total Depravity and the need for confession and pardon for sin. But I will acknowledge that his comments do point to a problem with the “trust in God’s grace” part.

Now, one would expect a member once they have joined to continue growing in their faith, something we don’t have documented in this case. But to be a member, following the period of instruction, requires professing your faith in Jesus Christ and God’s grace, renouncing evil and saying that you intend to participate. Further agreement with church doctrine as guided by the confessions or policy statements of the General Assembly are not in there.

And yes, to be clear, the standards are much higher for the ordained offices of the church. We have an example from another denomination this week where a pastor/theologian was removed over his doctrinal views and the Presbyterian Church in America is in the continuing process of deciding the extent to which those officers that hold tenets of what is known as the Federal Vision theology deviate from the Westminster Standards.

It is also worth noting that he would also probably have problems in those Presbyterian branches that “fence the table.” Even in the PC(USA), if his attendance has been low – although he does say he attends regularly and especially Christmas and Easter – he could easily be removed from the active rolls. And even if he were an active attender one would hope that through the word preached, the sacraments administered and church discipline his understanding of Reformed theology would be developed. You could even go so far as to argue that regular attendance might moderate or change views that you don’t agree with.

But returning to the thought experiment, my question is not really about the specific individual here except to the extent that based on his history we know that he has been confirmed in a predecessor denomination and he self-identifies as a Presbyterian. But we also know that he is outspoken and has views not in line with pronouncements of the General Assembly, remembering that the GA speaks only for itself. So here is the question for the PC(USA): “Is the tent big enough to include an individual that publicly expresses views that some (many?) would strongly disagree with but who has the characteristics for membership and who seeks to be considered a member of the denomination?”

The answer is left as an exercise for the reader…

[Editor’s note: For those of you going to Big Tent – enjoy. I am hoping to read lots about it. I am about to begin my August quiet period and will probably have more to say about Big Tent and the big tent a few weeks from now.]

A Closer Look At Denominations And Twitter

My musing about Twitter accounts that I posted a week ago started a bunch of conversations and got me looking at it a bit more closely. Now fair warning – that post was the beginning of a look at the diversity of a denomination by thinking about how many different “voices” there are coming from that branch. Ultimately I want to find a way to categorize those voices on a diversity spectrum but a  couple of metrics I have tried already did not pan out. However, in casting the net a bit wider, that is in bringing more denominations into the data set, an interesting relationship appeared.

As we drill into that data a brief reminder about the data set. I was looking for official Twitter accounts from a denomination. My original list from the PC(USA) included the primary account, agencies, committees, periodicals and news sources. It did not include what I characterized as commercial project-specific accounts – like the Glory to God Hymnal and the Feasting on the Word series – as well as not counting seminaries and conference centers. As I move on to other denominations I will stick to these same parameters even though some have seminaries and conference centers with much closer oversight by their highest governing bodies. In addition, I am choosing at the onset of this analysis to include the inactive, duplicate and periodical accounts.

In this search for denominational Twitter accounts I found one more for the PC(USA) and have added that to the list in the original post and annotated it as an update. For the rest of the usual American Presbyterian branches I have these that I found:

ARPC – 32,000 members (from current issue of The ARP)

RPCNA – 7,000 members (from current issue of The ARP)

OPC – 31,122 (from Statistician’s report to 2015 GA)

No official Twitter accounts found

PCA – 358,516 members (from Clerk’s summary of 2015 GA)

EPC – 149,527 reported (from statistical report to 2015 GA)

BPC – 3500 members (Wikipedia)

No official Twitter accounts found

ECO – 60,000 members (report from 2014 Synod meeting)

Cumberland – 72,370 members (2015 GA Minutes Statistical Reports for 2014)

CPCA – 7676 members (2014 GA Minutes Statistical Reports for 2013)

No official Twitter accounts found

So if we take these and plot Twitter accounts versus membership what do we get? Here is the graph.

twitter_1

That’s a pretty nice trend line there — all the data give a correlation of 0.990. Tough to beat that. But those who regularly deal with statistics will notice a couple of issues.

First and foremost the trend line is highly leveraged. That is to say that you have a lot of data on the left and then a really, really long space until you get to the PC(USA) on the right. When calculating the trend that isolated data point can dominate and pull the trend line to itself. Compared to the actual number of 39 Twitter accounts the trend line predicts 39.06 accounts. Yes, there is the clear possibility of leveraging.

Second, even the data point for the PCA is a bit isolated there away from the cluster. In a sense, we have the statistics of small numbers with three meaningful populations: the PC(USA) point on the right, the PCA point in the middle and the cluster containing everyone else on the left.

However, looking at the data and the trend line it still seems to be a decent fit. Yes, the PC(USA) has leveraged it but the predicted 9.11 accounts for the PCA is still reasonably close to the actual 10 accounts. So let’s test the leveraging.

Dropping the PC(USA) point from the linear regression and fitting only on the lower nine points, including the PCA, the correlation drops to 0.827. So there is a correlation drop indicating some leveraging but that is still a respectably strong number. But have a look at the plot…

twitter_2

So if the trend line is only based on the lower nine data points and then extrapolated out four times that distance to predict the PC(USA) value, it only over-estimates by 1.54. This is starting to look like a more robust relationship.

Having now had a look at the data let me tell you that what I found is significantly different than my expected outcome. You might have noticed that a bit of my bias crept into the last post regarding the PC(USA) having a high number of Twitter accounts. As I was compiling that list it seemed to me that the church had gone wild in creating accounts.  Well, when viewed from the perspective of number of accounts per thousand members (that would be 0.024 accounts/member for the trend line if you care) the number is right in line with everyone else. They just happen to be four times larger than the next largest branch so the number of accounts is four times larger.

From a statistical point of view I went into this expecting that I would never be able to plot this on a linear line. I was expecting to have to fit it to a log scale on the number of accounts axis. Furthermore, from past experience I also expected the leveraging to be more dramatic and the extrapolated line to miss by a wider margin. So I share this little experiment to document something that truly surprised me when I took a close look at it. And furthermore, the decision of which accounts to include and which to exclude from the count was made at the beginning and carried through the analysis. It would of course be interesting to try this again with other subsets but I have not tried those and will leave that for another day.

Now, what we can say is that the number of accounts that the PCA and the PC(USA) have are completely in line with each other and generally with the smaller churches as well. While the smaller branches scatter a bit more around the line the trend is generally evident in that cluster.

What we can not say is whether, from an administrative and social media point of view, the PC(USA) and maybe the PCA have too many Twitter accounts. There is a statistical relationship here but that does not tell us whether the number of accounts per member helps or does not help get the message out. Furthermore, this relationship does not answer any questions about the consistency or coherence of the message in social media or the diversity of the branch as a whole.

Some of my preliminary thoughts are what this might mean for scaling relationships of institutional structure and self-similarity as a means of probing institutional development. In particular, it might be an interesting on-going study to see how accounts might be added as ECO becomes larger and how accounts might go dormant as the PC(USA) scales back its operations.

But it is a very interesting relationship and I put it out there for any social media theorists or practitioners who might be interested in this sort of thing. As I said, I was surprised by the proportionality, robustness and consistency of the relationship. I welcome any of you that are interested to continue pondering with me what possible implications there might be.

PC(USA) 2014 Membership Numbers

At about the same time that I was drilling into the religious affiliation numbers from Pew Research the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of the General Assembly was releasing their membership numbers for 2014. Since the numbers did not show much new, and not much beyond the general pattern of the Pew numbers, I did not rush to print with an analysis. In addition, there was an interesting change in one number that I wanted to find out more about. Now I am ready so let’s dig in.

Between 2013 and 2014 the PC(USA) decreased by 209 congregations, dropping from 10,038 to 9,829. An interesting point in 2014 is that the church returned to dissolving more churches (110) than they dismissed (101). The last two years the dismissed churches (2012: 110; 2013: 148) outnumbered the dissolved churches (2012: 86; 2013: 74). It is important to note that if a church majority unilaterally leaves for another denomination without the formal dismissal from the presbytery they usually either remain on the books if there is a continuing congregation or are listed as dissolved.

Regarding gains, no churches were received from other denominations and 15 churches were chartered. Here again, there are some shadow congregations as many of the 1001 New Worshiping Communities are not chartered and are working under a new model in many presbyteries so that it may be a long time, if at all, before they would be chartered and appear in these stats.

So over all the change in the number of churches in 2014 represents an annual decline of 2.1%.

Membership numbers are also declining from 1,760,200 in 2013 to 1,667,767 in 2014, an annual drop of 5.3%. The largest category of loss continues to be Other – people who leave without transferring – at 78,107. Certificate, or transfer, losses are second at 51,352 and transfers to the Church Triumphant (deaths) were 28,389. The largest categories for gains is profession of faith for those over 18 with 24,051 joining the church and 16,637 transferred in.

The PC(USA) had a total of 65,415 join the church and 157,848 leave for a net loss of 92,433 and a ratio of loss to gain of  2.4.

A couple of comparisons: The Pew survey found that the percentage of individuals in the U.S. who identified as mainline Protestants declined from 18.1% of the total population in 2007 to 14.7% in 2014. Converting that to absolute numbers that would represent a 14.1% decline in the number of members of the mainline. For the PC(USA), the decline was from 2,209,546 in 2007 to 1,667,767 in 2014 or a 24.5% decrease, a number significantly ahead of the mainline as a whole.

The second comparison is with the Church of Scotland. A little while back I looked at their numbers and compared them to the PC(USA). Now that I have the 2014 numbers I can add that last PC(USA) data point and do the full comparison. From 2003 to 2014 the Church of Scotland had a 10.8% decline in the number of churches while the PC(USA) had an 11.2% decline. For membership, the Church of Scotland declined 31.1% and the PC(USA) declined 30.7%. Very close numbers and I have updated the graphs of the ratios from the previous post and you can see they have very similar trends. In both graphs the PC(USA) is in blue and the Church of Scotland in red.

CofS_PCUSA_Congregations_2014b CofS_PCUSA_Membership_2014b

There is one piece of data in the report that really caught my attention: The number of PC(USA) candidates for ministry declined by about 50%. With thanks to the folks at Research Services and Assistant Stated Clerk TE Timothy Cargal for answering my question, this is a known issue and represents a change in reporting method. Rev. Cargal answered this question for someone else in the comments of the report download page:

Most of this change resulted from transition in January 2014 from one reporting system used by the presbyteries that relied on mailed in forms to a new, easier online reporting system. During the transition, many individuals who had left the preparation for ministry process in previous years by withdrawal, removal, or even ordination, but for whom this information had not been reported, were removed from the system. The new system encourages more accurate reporting because presbyteries have direct access to the system and so make more regular use of it. Additionally, those under care can now also see their status in the system through their online exam accounts and encourage their presbyteries to make sure their individual profile records are accurate. We are seeing a decline in inquirers and candidates (just as the Association of Theological Schools is reporting declines in total seminary enrollment across the country), but nothing on the order of 50% in a year.

So, from a statistics point of view this is a reset of the number and no comparison of 2014 to preceding data is relevant. In addition, this is one of my bellwether numbers every year and I have commented on it multiple times in the past. The implication is that previous numbers have lower reliability so my past analyses and comments must now be viewed with a more critical eye.

It is still interesting to note that there are 562 (new system) candidates reported and 292 ordinations last year. But, Rev. Cargal helps us out here in a piece he just wrote for the PC(USA) Preparing for Ministry blog. The new system gives greater granularity and he shares with us that as of mid-May there are 288 candidates that have been certified ready to receive a call. (For those not familiar with the system, “certified ready” is short for the last formal status in the PC(USA) preparation process: certified ready for examination for ordination, pending a call.) So of those 562 candidates just over 50% were certified ready. Furthermore, those 288 are close in number to the 292 ordained last year.

But Rev. Cargal informs us of another interesting data discrepancy: While 292 ordinations were reported on forms to the OGA Records Manager, only 166 teaching elders listed in the online rolls have a 2014 ordination date. It looks like we will have to stay tuned for resolution of that discrepancy.

Looking further at Rev. Cargal’s analysis, he notes that of the 288 certified ready candidates in the system, about 3 of every 10 have been searching for less than a year, 4 of 10 have been searching between one and three years, and the remaining 3 have been searching for more than three years. He also says that for those that have been ordained, 29% were ordained within six months, 30% ordained in the next six months, 25% ordained in the following year and 16% after more than two years.

I am glad to see that better numbers have resolved one of the big issues that I have had with the PC(USA) call system, the high number of candidates and low number of ordinations. I am curious to see the more detailed comparative statistics in the fall to see what additional light those data might provide regarding the current status of the PC(USA) call system.

So is the PC(USA) in a death spiral? Losing 92,000 members a year would bring the church to zero in about 19 years. If the loss is 5% each year over that time in 20 years the church would have a membership of a bit more than 600,000. If it were to return to the average mainline loss from Pew of 2% per year then the PC(USA) would have about 1.1 million members in 20 years.

There are a couple of factors which could work in the PC(USA)’s favor over the next two decades. First, maybe it has its controversy now behind it so going forward the church could find a missional rallying point and work to decrease or reverse the decline. The other is that the PC(USA) has started thinking about what church membership means in the current cultural context and as New Worshiping Communities grow these annual membership reports may not properly reflect the numbers affiliated with the PC(USA). We may end up with a new model of being a church that is less concerned with statistics, per capita and formal membership.

Finally, if you are concerned with the overall decline in church affiliation currently in the news, I would encourage you to consider the long view and have a look at a piece by Tobin Grant, “Religious decline in America? The answer depends on your time frame.”

So, regarding membership and the pastoral preparation and call process there is a lot here for us to do some further thinking about. I am not sure where it will take me next, but this is GA season and with a bunch of GA’s coming up next week more analysis on this will probably wait a while. As I always say… Stay Tuned!

The Latest US Religion Demographic Data

Ah, the Siren Song of new data…

In case you were not on social media yesterday the Pew Research Center released their new report on American’s Changing Religious Landscape and it is all over the interwebs from national mainstream media, to local news outlets, to the religious news sources to bloggers to the people in the pew. And don’t worry if you have missed it because it probably only quantifies what you already know. I like the way Derek Rishmanwy put it on Twitter:

The cool thing about Pew numbers is how versatile they are; bloggers can wear them with triumph, grief, & multiple shades of schadenfreude!

And a nod to Andrew Wilson and his tweeted observation:

Ironic, a few days after the UK discovered just how inaccurate polls can be, to see so much excitement / distress in the US over … a poll.

All that to say, I initially thought I would just look at it and say “Nothing to see here. Move along folks.”

But remember that my mantra is “I never met a data set I didn’t like,” so casting caution to the wind I jumped into the fray. Now join me as I drill down into a very small piece of the data released with this report.

First, in the event you have not taken a look, let me give you the bullet points everyone else is focusing on. Between the last survey in 2007 and this one in 2014:

  • The proportion of the population identified as part of mainline denominations has dropped 3.4% from 18.1% to 14.7% of the population
  • At the same time those classified as part of evangelical Protestant churches has dropped 0.9% from 26.3% to 25.4%
  • There was a 1.2% gain in non-Christian faiths (now 5.9% of the total population) and a 6.7% gain in what they identify as Unaffiliated which has grown to 22.8% of the population.

Now, Pew favors reporting in percentages since they are most interested in the proportional interplay of groups. But it is instructive in this case to convert this into absolute numbers. So in 2007 the estimated population of the U.S. was about 301.6 million. By 2014 it had grown to 318.9 million. Using the above numbers that means that the mainline decreased from 54.6 million to 46.9 million. However, in an absolute sense the number of evangelical Protestants grew from 79.3 million to 81.0 million.

OK, now my two biggest pet peeves about this data set. (Yes, this data set pushes the limits of meeting data sets I didn’t like).

  • The basic categories for Protestants are mainline, evangelical and historically black. In other words, if you are not the first or the last you must be evangelical – that mushy category that is tough to define. So, for example, you are combining into a single group those that subscribe to the Westminster Standards with those that have “No creed but Christ, no book but the Bible, no name but the name Christian.” I think this classification could be a bit more granular.
  • The category Unaffiliated is similarly a catch-all, at least at least as I look at it. The category includes Atheists (3.1% of the population), Agnostics (4.0%) and Nothing In Particular (15.8%). Furthermore, the Nothing In Particular are further divided into Religion Not Important (8.8%) and Religion Important (6.9%). Jack Jenkins over at Think Progress dissects this corner of the classification a bit more.

Specific to that first bullet point though, Appendix B says:

Protestant respondents who gave a vague answer to denominational questions (e.g., “I am just a Baptist” or “I know I am Methodist but don’t know which specific Methodist denomination I belong to”) were placed into one of the three Protestant traditions based on their race and/or their response to a question that asked if they would describe themselves as a “born-again or evangelical Christian.”

OK, so if I am PC(USA), but don’t know or admit that I am PC(USA) and acknowledge to being born again, I get placed in the Evangelical Presbyterian category. Likewise, someone in another Presbyterian tradition that does not identify which one but does not consider regeneration to be technically the same as being born again, they would be placed in the mainline. To this point the report goes on:

Overall, 38% of Protestants (including 36% of evangelical Protestants, 35% of mainline Protestants and 53% of those in the historically black Protestant tradition) gave a vague denominational identity, necessitating the use of their race or their born-again status (or sometimes both) to categorize them into one of the three major Protestant traditions.

That appendix does list 16 different Evangelical Presbyterian categories that were reported, some of which were specific (exempli gratia: Presbyterian Church in America, Cumberland Presbyterian, Bible Presbyterian), some of which are ambiguous (does Reformed Presbyterian refer to the RPCNA or to the Hanover Presbytery?) and some are general catch-all categories like Ethnic Presbyterian and “Presbyterian, ambiguous affiliation.”

[I will note that the main report does have a two page section (beginning on page 30) on identifying evangelicals and they discuss how it can be by denomination (so Presbyterians are never evangelical), by the born-again test, or by a more detailed analysis of their beliefs. The latter is outside the scope of this report but they expect another report on that later.]

So in the report of data they group Presbyterians into three categories: the mainline PC(USA) and two Evangelical categories: PCA and everyone else. I found it interesting that in the population numbers reported in that appendix the size of the PC(USA) and the size of the Evangelical everyone else was the same with each being 1.1% of the population in 2007 and 0.9% in 2014. The PCA held steady at 0.4% of the population. For comparison purposes, if the PC(USA) had about 1.7 million members in 2014 and the US population was 318.9 million that means that only 0.5% of the population of the US was a member of the PC(USA). So based on the Pew results the adherents, or those who identify with the PC(USA), almost doubles when you consider how people self-identify or the survey classifies ambiguous answers.

Moving on to the detailed data, I will focus only on Presbyterians and refer only to the breakout pages for Presbyterians. There is one for Mainline Presbyterians generally and a subset for the PC(USA). Similarly, there is one for Evangelical Presbyterians and the subset for the PCA. So keep in mind that for the the general evangelical numbers, about half are the PCA. In addition, since I am not sure what a mainline Presbyterian who is not in the PC(USA) is I will simply focus on the PC(USA) data. But there is another 0.5% of the population that they classify as being mainline without being PC(USA).

And as I start this drill-down let me add this warning: I will be looking at small changes in some of the categories but my interest must be tempered with caution, or even skepticism, because the table of Margins of Error shows that for these sample sizes the margin is between +/-7% and +/-5.5%. That means that while many of the differences between the numbers below are interesting, very few of them are statistically significant.

So let’s start with Age.

I find it interesting that differences between all the Presbyterian categories were so similar in the 2007 survey. In general, they all had about 10% in the 18-29 age group, and 30% in each of the other age groups – 30-49, 50-64 and 65+. Yes, there are some slight differences but the pattern looks solid and there are uncertainty ranges (and the ambiguous classifications) to consider so I don’t get too concerned about that range.

Between 2007 and 2014 the PC(USA) and the PCA show very similar patterns of change in the age ranges. The youngest range stays the same, the 30-49 range decreases markedly ( -11% for the PCA and -9% for the PC(USA) ), the 50-64 range also remains the same and the 65+ range increases markedly ( +12% for the PCA and +6% for the PC(USA) ). The general evangelical as a whole shows less change in each category except that there is a marked increase in the 50-64 range ( +6%).

Gender composition

In terms of gender composition the PC(USA) remained steady at 45%/55% men to women. The PCA and the overall general evangelical both had a 5% shift from men to women.

Racial composition

Each of the groups became more diverse over the last five years with the PC(USA) dropping from 91% to 88% white, the PCA from 86% to 80% white and the general group from 88% to 81%.

For the PC(USA) the change was distributed over all the other categories with Black respondents increasing from 4% to 5%, Asian from 2% to 3% and Latino from 2% to 4%.

In the PCA it was a similar pattern for Black adherents with an increase of 5% to 6%. Asian members decreased from 4% to 3%. The biggest increase was in the Other/Mixed category jumping from 1% to 5% and a noticeable increase in the Latino category from 4% to 6%.

For the combined general evangelical category the Black percentage increased from 4% to 6%, the Asian from 3% to 5%, Other/Mixed from 1% to 4% and Latino was constant at 4%.

Income and Education

These two demographic measures appear to have some correlation as you might expect. For the PC(USA) the peak in annual household income shifted from the $50,000-$99,999 group in 2007 (37%) to the $100,000+ group in 2014. Actually, considering the margin of error the two bins are pretty close in 2014 with that lower bin having 29%. For education, the distribution is pretty flat in 2014 with just about 25% in each of the categories – High School or less, Some College, College, Post-graduate.

The interesting thing across all three classifications of Presbyterians for income is that it is bi-modal as they have binned it. In all the cases there is a lower peak in the <$30,000 bin. For 2014 the PC(USA) it is 24%, for the PC it is 27% and for the general evangelical it is 28%.

For the PCA and general evangelical the income distributions have their primary peak in the $50,000-$99,999 range with 31% in the PCA and 21% in the general. Likewise, the education peak for both groups is in the Some College bracket with 37% of the PCA and 35% of the general.

I suggested the income/education correlation, but another one comes to mind. Is the apparent correlation age reflecting the higher incomes in the PC(USA) does an older demographic with higher earning power or with more two-wage earner households account for that result.

Switching and Retention

The last set of data I want to look at is the information on individuals switching denominations and the retention of members. For this we need to turn to the section in the full report beginning on page 32. Overall, 19.0% of the country grew up in the mainline Protestant church. In the survey the measurement is that 10.4% of the population has left, 6.1% have switch into the mainline giving 14.7% now in the mainline. For evangelical Protestants the numbers are 23.9% that grew up in it, 8.4% left, 9.8% joined and now 25.4% are in that category.

Looking at all Presbyterians, 3.0% of the population grew up in a Presbyterian church of some flavor. Those who have left make up 2.0% of the US population and those that have joined make up 1.1% for a current total of 2.2% of the population.

Now, returning back to that margin of error stuff – in compiling all this data is struck me that there are some interesting differences between these three groups, but based on the demographic data in the report these three groups of Presbyterians are not that different after all.

So where do we go from here?

One thing that struck me was the “the sky is falling” response. As I said in the early discussion there is nothing new about these demographic changes. A lot of attention is being paid to the Unaffiliated growth but this group comes in a number of flavors and I am not sure combining them gives much insight. Looking at the data my interpretation is that the Nothing in Particular category has now become the point for loosely or barely affiliated individuals to now identify with. As Ed Stetzer puts it in his helpful analysis

One of the primary reasons it appears as though “American Christianity” is experiencing a sharp decline is because the nominals that once made up (disproportionately) Mainline Protestantism and Catholicism are now checking “none” on religious affiliation surveys.

In the long view what is happening now is more of a pruning or consolidation. A vital core is still there for the church to move forward.

However, this consolidation does not seem to favor the mainline. There are enough theories as to why that is the case that I won’t go there now. But I think the same principle applies — there is pruning and consolidation going on with that branch. The key will be finding a central core and shared vision to organize around in the years ahead.

Can the mainline do that? It will be interesting to see. There is certainly a lot of pruning going on in the PC(USA) although you will get significant discussion as to whether there the mainline is the core that needs to be pruned or the part that is being shed in the consolidation. But with the Split-P’s the divisions come and reunion later comes as well. We will have to see which groups can develop strong cores or whether the declines will overtake them before they can.

I also wanted to add that for purposes of forecasting future trends grouping and reporting the data a bit differently would be useful. The primary example is the age data where the ranges are large enough that having a report with shifted age ranges so that individuals in the 2007 report are in the same group in the 2014 report would be useful. Even better, maybe a report with the age ranges reflecting the customary demographic groups – Builders, Boomers, Gen X and Millennials – could be considered. The purpose of course is to isolate the groups to see if they fit the oft-reported trends. Similarly, when dealing with something like household income it would be helpful to not just see it in the bins but also report the quartiles of the data.

So there are a few of the things I was chasing here. A couple other items jump out at me but this close to the opening of the Church of Scotland General Assembly convening that I want to chase those any further. Lots to think about here so something to return to later if times get slow. And there is always that report on Evangelical Protestants. But for now…

… On to Edinburgh

Church of Scotland Statistical Report (And Comparison to the PC(USA) )

As I was looking through the reports to the Church of Scotland General Assembly 2015 I found the most recent statistical report at the end of the Legal Questions Committee Report.

The numbers in the report help to quantify the comments about the declining number of adherents in the Kirk. For example, over the last year the number of individuals On the Rolls has declined from 398,389 to 380,163, a decrease of 4.6%. Since 2003 – the time span covered by the report – the Total on the Rolls has decreased 31.3% from 553,248. Similarly, back in 2003 there were 1546 congregations, in 2013 it had dropped to 1389 and in 2014 the number had further dropped to 1379. Since 2003 it reflects a 10.8% drop and a 0.7% decrease in the last year.

Looking at the categories of membership change, over the last decade I found it interesting that membership loss to the Church Triumphant (deaths) was almost always right around half of the losses. Removals by transfer shows a fairly steady decline while removals in the other category are consistently higher than transfer but jumps around a bit. On the plus side, admissions by Profession and by Resolution run about equal while admissions by Certificate are a bit higher. However, in the bottom line the number of removals was about three times the number of admissions in 2003 and they gradually diverge over the next decade until by 2014 the removals were more than four times higher than the admissions.

Considering the similar patterns seen in the PC(USA) I thought I would compare the two data sets to see how similar they are.

The numbers for 2014 for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) are not out yet so the decade drop to 2013 will be considered. The PC(USA) numbers can be found in the annual Comparative Statistics reports.

In 2003 the PC(USA) reported 11,064 congragations and 2,405,311 members. The Church of Scotland had 1,546 congregations and 553,248 total on rolls. In 2013 the PC(USA) had 10038 churches and 1,760,200 members. The Church of Scotland had 1,389 congregations and 398,389 total on rolls.

The decade drop in number of congregations is 9.3% for the PC(USA) and 10.1% for the Church of Scotland. The membership drop is 26.8% for the PC(USA) and 27.9% for the Church of Scotland. A difference of just about 1% for each of the measurements.

Since the two branches have significantly different numbers of congregations and members I have plotted comparison graphs using their numbers normalized to 2003 and so it shows the proportion of members or churches in each of the following years. The red line and points are for the Church of Scotland the the blue line and points are for the PC(USA).

CofS_PCUSA_Congregations_2014CofS_PCUSA_Membership_2014

There are some interesting differences between the plots, particularly the higher rates of decline for the Church of Scotland earlier in the time period and an increased rate of decline for the PC(USA) in the last few years. But overall, declines for both are fairly steady and very similar.

This raises all sorts of questions about why this is. This is too limited a data set to really speculate too far, but similar combinations of factors are certainly in play for both. On the one hand they have been wrestling with very similar internal discussions and actions regarding the role of same-sex partnered leaders within the church. On the other hand, they both have the bigger cultural issues that are causing the decline of mainstream/established churches throughout the western developed world. Figuring out the interplay and strength of those two components, and some others we might be able to think of as well, will take a much broader set of data to consider.

The strength of the similarity came as a bit of surprise to me because of the accounts I see about the rapid decline of Christianity in Europe (exempli gratia) and I expected to see Scotland declining noticeably faster than the American branch. If there are significant differences between the continents, this either speaks well for the Church of Scotland or poorly for the PC(USA), or both. More work is needed here.

It is probably worthwhile briefly noting one additional statistical item from the report and a point of significant divergence between the two branches. The final table in the Church of Scotland report shows that at the end of 2014 there were 215 vacant charges, just about one-fifth of all the charges in the Kirk. Furthermore, 39 students were training for the ministry. In the PC(USA) the Church Leadership Connection Applications and Positions Report shows that there are currently 45 Head of Staff positions being searched for and over 800 individuals who might want those positions. There are 213 solo pastor positions in the search process and 1421 individuals who are searching for such a position. And in 2012 – the last year these statistics are available for – there were 12,807 active teaching elders and 1,078 candidates for 10,262 churches. (And for those not familiar with the PC(USA) system, candidates are those students in the final stages of training or those who have finished and not yet ordained to a call.) And yes, I have skimmed over a whole bunch of nuance in both sets of numbers, but it does show the marked difference between the scarcity of Church of Scotland clergy and the abundance of PC(USA) clergy.

The membership and congregation data is however an interesting and enlightening comparison and it shows two related and culturally similar Presbyterian branches in similar circumstances. I will keep an eye out for additional data sets which may throw more light on the forces which might be controlling the similar behaviour. But that is what I see in the data now – your mileage may vary.

Postscript: If you are interested in the data set and the calculations you can view them on a Google Sheet.

PC(USA) 221st General Assembly — Actions Related To Marriage

Yesterday afternoon the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) considered the report of Committee 10 – Civil Union and Marriage Issues. Here is a brief summary of the four basic actions that the General Assembly took.

[10-07] On Creating a Task Force to Identify Common Ground and Reconcilable Differences with Respect to Same-Gender Marriage
The first item to be considered came as a overture from Eastern Korean Presbytery requesting a Task Force whose charge it would be to

a. identify common ground and reconcilable differences in biblical understanding and confessional interpretation with respect to same-gender marriage;

b. study the nature, scope, and controversies of the same-gender marriage laws legalized in certain states;

c. assess the impact of such laws and related sociopolitical changes on the ministry and mission of the church;

d. provide the local presbyteries and congregations with theological guidelines for
their ministry, as to understand and apply the concepts and functions
of family and parenting based on biblical norms and ethics; and

e. bring forth practical and futuristic recommendations that would not
only strengthen and promote unity within the church, but also solidify
ministries and missions with ecumenical partners locally and globally.

The Task Force would report back two GA’s from now in 2018.

The Committee recommended disapproval and there was a minority report advocating approval of this request. After some discussion, a lot focusing on whether the PC(USA) needed four more years to study this, the substitute motion was not made the main motion by a vote of 237 to 372 and the Committee recommendation was approved 401 to 185.

[10-03] On Issuing an Authoritative Interpretation of W-4.9000 to Affirm Pastoral Discretion in Performing Marriage Ceremonies

The next item was this Authoritative Interpretation that would permit pastors in jurisdictions that recognized same-sex marriages to perform those ceremonies. The core line in the AI reads, with the amendment:

[W]hen a couple requests the involvement of the church in solemnizing their marriage as permitted by the laws [of the civil jurisdiction in which the marriage is to take place] [of the place where the couple seek to be married], teaching elders have the pastoral responsibility to assess the capabilities, intentions, and readiness of the couple to be married (W-4.9002), and the freedom of conscience in the interpretation of Scripture (G-2.0105) to participate in any such marriage they believe the Holy Spirit calls them to perform.

The AI would also permit the use of church facilities with the consent of the session.

This debate began with a point of order as to whether this item was out of order under Roberts Rules of Order because it was in conflict with the definition of marriage as found in the Book of Confessions.

Just as when this point arose at the 220th General Assembly, the Moderator turned to the Clerk who suggested that the Assembly receive advice from the Assembly Committee on the Constitution. In 2012, the ACC’s response was along the lines of the narrative found in the front material to the Book of Confessions in the Confessional Nature of the Church Report. At one point the Report says “Nevertheless, for Reformed Christians all confessional statements have only a provisional, temporary, relative authority.” In other words, while important the multiple confessions need to be considered as a body of work and individual points not singled out from the who body.

At this General Assembly the ACC advice took a different direction. The advice was essentially that this action and the confessions are in tension and that it is the responsibility and within the authority of the GA to resolve that tension. Within the ensuing discussion is was observed that in their original advice on the overture the ACC said:

The Advisory Committee on the Constitution advises that the 221st General Assembly (2014) disapprove Item 10-03

[snip]

Section W-4.9001 and related citations (W-4.9002a, W-4.9004,
W-4.9006) limit marriage to couples who are “a woman and a man.” Because
these statements are clear and unambiguous, they can not be interpreted
in a manner that is inconsistent with their plain and ordinary meaning.

When asked about this the ACC response was essentially the same as was previously given – that the Assembly could deal with this tension.

The Moderator ruled the item was in order, the commissioner challenged the ruling of the Moderator and after some significant discussion over the nature of the point of order the Moderator’s ruling was sustained.

With that out of the way the item was debated and the debate was generally civil and respectful. One of the things about this Assembly seems to be the number of times that points of debate are incorporated into questions from the floor. When debate was closed and the vote taken the commissioners voted 371 to 238 to approve the AI.

[10-02] On Amending W-4.9000, Marriage

This item is based on an overture from the Presbytery of Cascades with 16 concurrences. The proposed new wording of W-4.9000, as amended mostly by the committee but slightly on the floor, would be:

Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the well-being of the entire human family. Marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a women, to love and support each other for the rest of their lives. The sacrificial love that unites the couple sustains them as faithful and
responsible members of the church and the wider community.

“In civil law, marriage is a contract that recognizes the
rights and obligations of the married couple in society. In the
Reformed tradition, marriage is also a covenant in which God has an
active part, and which the community of faith publicly witnesses and
acknowledges.

“If they meet the requirements of the civil jurisdiction
in which they intend to marry, a couple may request that a service of
Christian marriage be conducted by a teaching elder in the Presbyterian
Church (U.S.A.), who is authorized, though not required, to act as an
agent of the civil jurisdiction in recording the marriage contract. A
couple requesting a service of Christian marriage shall receive
instruction from the teaching elder, who shall agree to the couple’s
request only if, in the judgment of the teaching elder, the couple
demonstrate sufficient understanding of the nature of the marriage
covenant and commitment to living their lives together according to its
values. In making this decision, the teaching elder may seek the counsel
of the session, which has authority to permit or deny the use of church
property for a marriage service.

“The marriage service shall be conducted in a manner
appropriate to this covenant and to the forms of Reformed worship, under
the direction of the teaching elder and the supervision of the session
(W-1.4004–.4006). In a service of marriage, the couple marry each other
by exchanging mutual promises. The teaching elder witnesses the couple’s
promises and pronounces God’s blessing upon their union. The community
of faith pledges to support the couple in upholding their promises;
prayers may be offered for the couple, for the communities that support
them, and for all who seek to live in faithfulness.

“If they meet
the requirements of the civil jurisdiction in which they intend to
marry, a couple may request that a service of Christian marriage be
conducted by a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), who
is authorized, though not required, to act as an agent of the civil
jurisdiction in recording the marriage contract. A couple requesting a
service of Christian marriage shall receive instruction from the
teaching elder, who may agree to the couple’s
request only if, in the judgment of the teaching elder, the couple
demonstrate sufficient understanding of the nature of the marriage
covenant and commitment to living their lives together according to its
values. In making this decision, the teaching elder may seek the counsel
of the session, which has authority to permit or deny the use of church
property for a marriage service.

“Nothing herein shall compel a teaching elder to
perform nor compel a session to authorize the use of church property
for a marriage service that the teaching elder or the session believes
is contrary to the teaching elder’s or the session’s discernment of the
Holy Spirit and their understanding of the Word of God.”

I wish I could have heard more of the questions and debate concerning this item but my schedule did not permit hanging around for most of the livestream. In the part of the discussion I did hear there were numerous questions about global partners and their reactions. I can also say that in what I heard there were no slippery-slope arguments made. And in a nod of cooperation and forbearance the wording in the first paragraph that said “two persons” was changed to “two persons, traditionally a man and a woman.”

In the final vote the new language was approved and will be sent to the presbyteries on a vote of 429 to 175. For comparison, the 220th General Assembly defeated an amendment of similar intent but significantly different wording on a vote of 308 to 338. Note that after that vote the business was bundled into an umbrella item to answer all business in one fell swoop.

This will now be sent down to the presbyteries and will require a concurrence of a majority of them.

[10-NB] New Business
The final item of business was a resolution crafted by the Committee following their completion of the other business. Compared to the extensive text of the rest of these items it is pretty simple:

Recommend the 221st General Assembly (2014) direct the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board and
the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly to engage in the process of working together with churches in the task of reconciliation, starting with visiting
each presbytery and serving as a resource for each presbytery’s
discussion of these actions in congregations and the presbytery at-large
and present voices of reconciliation for the unity of the church.

This is a response to the recognition that for this decision there will be some who will be hurt by the outcome in the same way that some were hurt by the outcome of other decisions in this matter in previous years. The committee itself was careful in its work about being respectful and developing a sense of fellowship in the group. One of the things it did to insert some levity during its work was to have committee members share embarrassing moments during worship. (Example 1, example 2).

It should be pointed out that there was a vote to reconsider this item this morning as the first item of business and a substantive and pastoral amendment was passed without changing the basics of the item.

What’s next
Here are three items the come to mind regarding this action going forward.

First, the amendment to the Directory for Worship does need the concurrence of the presbyteries. if approved by a majority of the 171 presbyteries it will become part of the 2015-2017 Book of Order which takes affect a year from now.

Second, as we know from ordination standards an AI from the Assembly is not the last word. Even if the Book of Order change is approved there is an outside chance that a challenge to a same-sex marriage ceremony could go through the judicial process fast enough that the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission would have the opportunity to supersede the GA’s AI with a ruling that W-4.9001 does prohibit such ceremonies in spite of the AI.

Finally, expect the departures to continue. I am not sure that this action will suddenly and dramatically increase the exodus of churches leaving the PC(USA) as many that I have talked to have anticipated this and taken action on departure in a proactive manner. For most, this is not unexpected but a validation of what they have been saying for years. And while there are numerous factors at play between the action at the last GA and this proposed change to the Book of Order, we have to accept that the exodus has been at least partly responsible for the dramatic swing from a 308 to 338 vote to a 429 to 175 vote. (And at some point I hope to do some number crunching to explore what constraints could be put on the numbers.)

Following these actions a number of pastoral letters and statements have been released. In addition to one from the General Assembly leadership, there is one from Presbyterians for Renewal and another from the Covenant Network. I would also highlight one from Philadelphia Presbytery by their Executive Presbyter Ruth Santana-Grace.

As a bit of an aside, at the same time yesterday afternoon the 42nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America was considering their ascending overtures, including two (Overtures 2 and 5) that reiterated that denomination’s stated views against homosexual practice and same-sex marriage. Both of those overtures were dispensed with fairly quickly, although with a little discussion, as they were ruled out of order since they were both affirmations of what is already established doctrine. However, in an independent occurrence that got a bit of a chuckle from some of us in both denominations, at least one news source got the two largest American Presbyterian branches a bit confused.

So, returning to the PC(USA), it is now time to see what happens as this descends to the presbyteries – both to approve the Book of Order amendment and in general to see what the reaction is. And we pray for the initiative to encourage reconciliation as this effort goes forward. Stay tuned…

PC(USA) 2013 Membership Summary — A Look At The Categories


I have to admit to being caught a bit off guard when the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) released their membership numbers a couple of weeks ago. The summary numbers are typically released right around the time of the start of General Assembly in years that it meets. As for whether the early release was because they were ready or they wanted to get bad news out well before the GA I will leave to others to speculate.

Once again, I took a look at the numbers and wondered “what can I possibly say about them that is not being said by others and is worth my time?” Well, in thinking about it a bit I decided to drill down and look specifically at the categories of membership gain and loss and see if there was interesting information if we picked them apart a bit.

For the data set I use the Summary Statistics released by the Office of the Stated Clerk. While for many things the Comparative Statistics from Research Services are more detailed, for the gains and losses categories the Summary works better. Rummaging around on the web site I got summaries from 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2013 taking the data back to 2005.

I decided not to deal in absolute numbers but to look at gains and losses as percentages of the total membership relative to the previous year’s total membership. This will help filter out the trend and allow a better year-to-year comparison.

First let’s look at where the gains have come from for the last nine years. Gains are reported in four categories – Profession of Faith, Reaffirmation, and Restoration for those 17 and younger, the same for those 18 and over, Certificate (i.e. documented transfers) and Other.

 Year  Profess <17 Profess >18 Certificate Other Total
2005  1.04%  2.10%  1.54% 0.62% 5.29%
 2006  1.05%  2.07% 1.46% 0.53% 5.10%
 2007  0.97%  2.00%  1.33% 0.51% 4.81%
 2008  0.95%  1.98%  1.30% 0.46% 4.68%
 2009  0.96% 1.97% 1.17%  0.48% 4.57%
 2010  0.91% 1.93%  1.04% 0.45% 4.33%
 2011  0.90%  1.81% 1.00% 0.59%  4.30%
 2012  0.84%  1.61% 0.99% 0.57%  4.00%
 2013  0.81%  1.49% 0.97% 0.68% 3.95%



Here is the data in graphical terms. This is a stacked graph so for any given component its value is the distance between that symbol and the one below it. The plotted value of the top symbol (for Certificate gains) is the number in the Total column in the table above.


It is interesting that the Other category has held relatively constant – there was a bit of a dip but some recovery in recent years. The Profession of Faith for 17 and under has a bit of a drop, significant in its own right but smaller than the remaining two in both an absolute and proportional comparison. The real decreases are seen in the Profession of Faith for 18 and over and the Transfer by Certificate. So we have not just a problem retaining the youth as they grow up but getting them back to church as adults.

Turning to the categories of losses, here is the breakdown shown in corresponding table and graph form. This table also includes the percentage net change to the total membership number.

 Year Death Certificate Other Total Total Net Change
2005  1.53%  1.21% 4.60%  7.34% -2.05%
 2006  1.50% 1.21% 4.41%  7.12%  -2.01%
 2007  1.48%  1.34% 4.53%  7.35%  -2.54%
 2008  1.54%  1.55% 4.73%  7.82% -3.14%
 2009  1.53% 1.30%  4.68% 7.52% -2.94%
 2010  1.56%  1.44% 4.27% 7.27%  -2.94%
 2011  1.58% 1.14% 4.74% 7.46% -3.16%
 2012  1.53% 2.67% 5.07% 9.27% -5.27%
 2013  1.55% 2.71% 4.47%  8.73% -4.79%



It is interesting here that losses from Death are fairly stable and the losses by Other show some greater variability but do seem to fall into a bit of a range. To no surprise the spike is in losses by Certificate from churches being dismissed and their membership being transferred to the new denomination. And, as usual, the largest source of loss is the Other category – members walking out the door.

Bottom Line? Not only is the PC(USA) losing members – accelerated in the last couple of years by dismissals – but the gains are decreasing on a percentage basis each year as well. Without an increase in gains there is no way to offset the losses.

So how do we explain this? While a number of explanations come to mind let me discuss four possibilities. And let me emphasize that these explanations are not exclusive from one another and that this data set alone is probably not sufficient to clearly distinguish between them – more work would have to be done.

1. The departing churches were the biggest contributors to growth. For many this is a temping explanation and there is a hint that this may be a contributor. It does appear that as the dismissals have accelerated over the last two or three years that the gains in membership by profession of faith have an accelerated decrease. A quick plot, not shown here, did show a suggestive correlation, but the data are clustered to the point that interpolating between the clusters would be problematic.

This is an easy explanation to fall back on since building churches and making disciples are part of the mission statement of ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians and so you could argue that churches drawn to ECO would be more growth-focused. The problem is that the trend has persisted for longer than ECO has been in existence so this could be only a partial and recent contributor, recognizing that there was an earlier exodus to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

2. Fatigue or Distraction: Another thing that comes to mind is that the PC(USA) is falling behind in making disciples because it is tired or it is distracted. Maybe we are tired out or distracted by our internal discussions about various issues (fill in the blank yourself or see what bubbles to the surface at GA next week). Or maybe, with an aging population we are losing the energy and drive to reach out to bring others into the church or distracted by the work of keeping the church, both people and building, going.

3. Public Relations Problems: In a similar vain, rather than our internal discussions only distracting us, maybe it presents a public relations problem for the church. Are we presenting to those that we are tying to reach an image that is not appealing, one that does not resonate with the culture today? And this may not be just a result of the ongoing discussions in the church but could include those other issues that are brought up like worship style and music as well as building style or conditions.

4. Counting the Wrong Thing: Maybe, just maybe, we are counting the wrong thing. We are frequently told that younger generations are not joiners. We have an ecclesiastical theology of the Body of Christ and a covenant body that sees joining as a statement about being called by God belonging to Christ. That may work in our theology but does not necessarily work with current culture. I would not advocate giving up that ecclesiology, but for statistical purposes recognize that our worshiping communities may not all reflect that view. There is the drive to form 1001 New Worshiping Communities and at the present time their structure and activity is not reflected in the annual statistics as they are currently collected and reported. So can we hold onto our covenant theology but for statistical purposes recognize some who are part of us but see the joining through the eyes of modern culture and our outreach?

Just a few thoughts I have, you probably have a few of your own.

The take-away for me from this exercise is that our losses are just one part of the equation and that our decreasing gains are a significant issue that also must be addressed if the PC(USA) is to consider itself a vital denomination.