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.
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).
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.