Presbyterian membership continues rapid decline

Louisville, USA - Membership in the Louisville-based Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) slipped 2 percent last year, and church leaders say further declines lay ahead.

The church lost over 46,000 members in 2006, dropping its membership to 2.3 million, just over half its peak membership 40 years ago.

Though the decline was slightly less than 2005, the church is projecting losses of as many as 150,000 members by the end of next year.

"The bottom line: For growth to appear, our overall losses need to go down and our overall gains need to go up," Kris Valerius, manager of the church's Office of General Assembly statistics, said in an online commentary.

The drop in adult baptisms also fell 3 percent, meaning there are fewer members able to share their faith with others, a troubling development for the church as it attempts to regain its footing.

"This tells me very clearly that Presbyterians do not know how to share the 'good news' of their faith and welcome people into our churches through baptism," wrote the Rev. Eric Hooey, director of evangelism and church growth.

The numbers drop was the latest in a series of setbacks for the church, which has cut staff at its headquarters and drawn criticism from some congregations over a long-running debate on homosexuality.

Several congregations informed the church of their intent to leave following last year's General Assembly, when church leaders adopted a policy that would make it possible for noncelibate homosexuals to be ordained.

The assembly also received a paper that suggested nontraditional images for the divine Trinity.

Memorial Park Presbyterian Church in McCandless, Pa., - which has over 1,700 members - voted recently to leave the church and join the more conservative Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

The Rev. D. Dean Weaver said in a statement that the "church has stood firm for biblical truth in the midst of a denomination that has consistently moved away from historic Christian teaching."

While the numbers are distressing to Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) leaders, they also see signs of hope. Nearly half the churches have reported membership remaining steady or going up.

"I am one of those 'glass is half full' types of people," Valerius wrote.

"This is an exciting number to me. We have gotten so caught up in the overall loss figures that we forget to notice those churches that report growth and are doing well."