So I've had several people ask me about Presbyterian membership numbers in recent days. I don't know why. But I figured, hey, may as well update some of my data on the topic!
The extraordinary decline of PCUSA is continuing apace. PCA's growth continues, but does seem to have slowed down ever so slightly.
However, PCA and PCUSA are not the entire millieu of conservative/progressive Reformed churches! When I broaden out to include all current and past denominations ARDA identifies in that family, here's what we get:
PCA's growth, then, is *not* being driven by consolidation among conservative denominations: there is net growth of more conservative Reformed-tradition denominations in general. Nor is PCUSA's decline going to other progressive or mainline Reformed groups.
Oh dang folks I may have a big error. I did not know about ECO, the splinter denomination that formed in 2012. Gotta go back and re-do.
ARDA's last big update was pre-ECO, so they weren't in my list.
Okay. Added ECO. And because there could be dispute on where to class ECO/EPC, I class them together as PCUSA dissenters. The story changes: fast decline on the left, stable membership on the right, growth of PCUSA breakaways.
There's an interesting question here about institutional structure's effects on ideology. I suspect splitting from PCUSA allowed EPC churches to become more conservative than they otherwise would have. Same may be true for ECO in the future.
The same has certainly been true for many Anglican churches in recent times. Thus my bias is to call EPC/ECO "conservative" churches (by this point EPC seems a shoe-in for that). But that does seem to obscure the membership trend.
Here's different treatments of PCUSA dissidents. Basically, even without these breakaways, conservative reformed denominations are stable. But strikingly, even WITH the dissidents included, the mainline is in freefall.
Even if they still had their dissidents, the mainline reformed tradition would STILL be shrinking.

Now give me a minute and I'm gonna do Lutherans next.
Okay here's Lutherans. I know more about Lutheranism so my first-pass is a bit more detailed than for Reformed people.
Within Lutheranism, the conservative denominations like LCMS and WELS are shrinking, just not *quite* as fast as the big mainliner, ELCA. Of course, much of ELCA's shrinkage is due to breakaways. Again, you could debate how to categorize them.
Lumping things together a bit, you can see that ELCA is in hard decline no matter whether you count their breakaways with them or not, just like PCUSA. But even among conservatives, there is a clear negative trajectory. Even adding in the breakaways, recent years show decline.
Here's change in membership indexed to 2000, color-coded by denomination-orientation pair (warm-conservative, cool=progressive), with solid lines showing just that group and dashed lines showing the combo.
The differences in growth rates within Presbyterianism are FAR larger and more striking than within Lutheranism. PCUSA's decline is much faster, and the conservative churches are holding steady even without PCUSA breakaways. WIth them, it's a genuine boom.
The decline of ELCA is much slower than the decline of PCUSA. PCUSA *with* their breakaways is still declining faster than ELCA *without* their breakaways, which is striking to me.
Aaaaaand I did not share the chart I'm discussing. ROugh day here folks. I spent all of last night chaperoning sleepaway camp for a few hundred kids here in Hong Kong.
But while the left/right growth gap within Lutheranism is much smaller than within the Reformed tradition, it's still there. ELCA *with* their breakaways is still decline faster than conservative churches *without* those breakaways.
Look while we're here let's just go ahead and do this thing.

How's the situation for Episcopals? Well, it's rough.
Because the Anglican communion's presence in America was historically *just* the Episcopal church + a few very small groups for specific Commonwealth immigrant communities or liturgical eccentricities, it makes no sense to talk about conservative vs. other growth rates.
Suffice to say, essentially 100% of the growth in "Other Anglicans" is among more conservative denominations breaking away from the Episcopal church.
So where does the Episcopal Church rank, with/without schismatics, in our many-colored-graph? Well, despite the inarguably much-higher-profile nature of Anglicanism's schisms.... the Episcopal Church is doing better than ELCA or PCUSA.
Not a lot better. But better.

I am really having a change to my priors here folks. I would not have bet that the Episcopal church was outperforming its mainline peers, nor would I have bet that PCUSA was the big laggard.
Okay last one for today, Methodists!

The Methodist family can be tricky to define. For today's exercise, I'm going to ignore the traditional Pietist denominations, as well as the various African Methodist denominations.
This is partly because there are very different trends happening within these churches, and also partly just because data collection for them is often non-comparable. Alas.
Anyways, we do have historic conservative Methodist denominations, like the Free Methodist Church, to compare against UMC.
Actually, interestingly, while ~50% of UMC members live outside of the United States, for the Free Methodist Church, it's more than 90% of membership outside the US!
So even though FMC is small on our graph, keep in mind that while in US terms it may be 6 million UMC vs. 77,000 FMC; in global terms is 12 million vs. 1 million. Still lopsided, but both groups very much "at scale."
(I'm sensitive to this issue because I grew up in an FMC hub; I think something like 10% of the US membership lived within 30 miles)
ANYWAYS. What's the trend? Mainline Methodism is going down down down down down.... and to be clear, like 99% of that line is UMC members.
Meanwhile, the FMC line is too small to see. Which tells you most of what you need to know. Although I should note, FMC is actually growing ever-so-slightly.
When we add mainline and conservative Methodism to our chart, we see that UMC is shrinking at just about exactly the pace of Episcopals/Anglicans, and FMC is growing at just about the exact pace of conservative Reformed groups without PCUSA breakaways.
I'm not sure exactly what the takeaway from this should be. But at least now you know the basic trends!
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