The Presbyterian Church (USA) suffered its largest single-year decline in membership in 25 years, losing nearly 70,000 people in 2008.
Church officials in Louisville, Ky., announced this summer that total membership now is just over 2 million in more than 10,000 congregations.
"Almost 104,000 people joined the PC(USA) last year, but that good news was more than offset by the 34,101 Presbyterians who died, the 34,340 who were members of the 25 congregations that left the PC(USA) for other denominations, and the staggering 104,428 who were removed from the rolls by their sessions without apparently joining any other church," the Presbyterian News Service said.
Jack Marcum, the denomination's coordinator of research services, said the main cause for the decline is demographic. Like other denominations, pews are filled more with older people than younger. Compared to the 34,000 Presbyterian funerals last year, the church recorded fewer than 26,000 baptisms of children, Marcum told The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville.
Marcum also noted that Presbyterians "shy away from evangelism" and only added around 6,000 new members through adult baptisms last year. Church planting also is suffering, the newspaper said.
"Since the 1960s, few new churches have been started, and so most Presbyterian churches aren't in growing population centers," The Tennessean said. "Last year the denomination started only 30 new churches, or one for every 330 or so churches. The Southern Baptist Convention, by contrast, starts one new church for about every 30 established churches."
Most of the people who have left the Presbyterian Church haven't necessarily joined another denomination. They seem to have fallen out of the habit of churchgoing, Marcum said, citing "people who are just drifting away from church."