MEMBERSHIP & Presbyterian Church USA reported that it had lost more than 51,000 members in 2021, along with over 100 congregations, and four regional bodies, or presbyteries.

by Michael Gryboski, The Christian Post, 10/26/22.

The most recent numbers for the denomination record that it has around 1.1 million active members and 8,813 member congregations, with 166 presbyteries.

By contrast, in 2012, the PCUSA reported having 1.84 million members (or over 700,000 more than at present) and 10,262 member congregations (or around 1,400 more than at present).

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TRENDS & U.S. Church Membership Falls Below Majority for First Time Due to Millennials, Gen. Z., Less Emphasis Upon Membership & Those With “No Religious Preference.” #Gallup

by Jeffrey M Jones, Gallup, 4/29/21.

… Americans’ membership in houses of worship continued to decline last year, dropping below 50% for the first time in Gallup’s eight-decade trend. In 2020, 47% of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque, down from 50% in 2018 and 70% in 1999.

Line graph. U.S. church membership was 73% in 1937 when Gallup first measured it. It stayed near 70% through 2000 before beginning to decline, to 61% in 2010 and 47% in 2020.

U.S. church membership was 73% when Gallup first measured it in 1937 and remained near 70% for the next six decades, before beginning a steady decline around the turn of the 21stcentury.

As many Americans celebrate Easter and Passover this week, Gallup updates a 2019 analysis that examined the decline in church membership over the past 20 years…

Decline in Membership Tied to Increase in Lack of Religious Affiliation

The decline in church membership is primarily a function of the increasing number of Americans who express no religious preference. Over the past two decades, the percentage of Americans who do not identify with any religion has grown from 8% in 1998-2000 to 13% in 2008-2010 and 21% over the past three years.

As would be expected, Americans without a religious preference are highly unlikely to belong to a church, synagogue or mosque, although a small proportion — 4% in the 2018-2020 data — say they do. That figure is down from 10% between 1998 and 2000.

Given the nearly perfect alignment between not having a religious preference and not belonging to a church, the 13-percentage-point increase in no religious affiliation since 1998-2000 appears to account for more than half of the 20-point decline in church membership over the same time.

Most of the rest of the drop can be attributed to a decline in formal church membership among Americans who dohave a religious preference. Between 1998 and 2000, an average of 73% of religious Americans belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque. Over the past three years, the average has fallen to 60%.

Line graph. Changes in church membership among Americans who express a religious preference or affiliation. Between 1998 and 2000, 73% of religious Americans were members of a church, synagogue or mosque. That dipped to 70% between 2008 and 2010, and it fell to 60% between 2018 and 2020.

Generational Differences Linked to Change in Church Membership

Church membership is strongly correlated with age, as 66% of traditionalists — U.S. adults born before 1946 — belong to a church, compared with 58% of baby boomers, 50% of those in Generation X and 36% of millennials. The limited data Gallup has on church membership among the portion of Generation Z that has reached adulthood are so far showing church membership rates similar to those for millennials.

The decline in church membership, then, appears largely tied to population change, with those in older generations who were likely to be church members being replaced in the U.S. adult population with people in younger generations who are less likely to belong. The change has become increasingly apparent in recent decades because millennials and Gen Z are further apart from traditionalists in their church membership rates (about 30 points lower) than baby boomers and Generation X are (eight and 16 points, respectively). Also, each year the younger generations are making up an increasingly larger part of the entire U.S. adult population.

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EXIT BEHAVIOR & Most churchgoers will put up with a change in music style or a different preacher. But don’t mess with a church’s beliefs or there may be an exodus. #LifeWay #research

by Bob Smietana, Facts & Trends, LifeWay, 6/26/18.

But don’t mess with a church’s beliefs or there may be an exodus, according to a new study from Nashville-based LifeWay Research.

The study of Protestant churchgoers found most are committed to staying at their church over the long haul. But more than half say they would strongly consider leaving if the church’s beliefs changed.

Pastors often worry about changing church music and setting off a “worship war,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. But few say they would leave over music.

Churchgoers are much more concerned about their church’s beliefs.

“Mess with the music and people may grumble,” he said. “Mess with theology and they’re out the door.”


LifeWay Research switch churches

LifeWay Research surveyed 1,010 Protestant churchgoers—those who attend services at least once a month—to see how strongly they are tied to their local congregations.

Researchers found most churchgoers stay put.

Thirty-five percent have been at their church between 10 and 24 years. Twenty-seven percent have been there for 25 years or more. Twenty-one percent have been there less than five years, while 17 percent have been at the same church for between five and nine years.

Lutherans (52 percent), Methodists (40 percent) and Baptists (31 percent) are most likely to have been at their church for 25 years or more. Fewer nondenominational (11 percent) or Assemblies of God/Pentecostal churchgoers (13 percent) have such long tenure.

About two-thirds (63 percent) of churchgoers who are 65 or older are completely committed to attending their same church in the future. That drops to 50 percent for those younger than 35.

Older churchgoers are also least likely to want to leave their church. When asked if they’ve thought about going to another church in their area, 92 percent of those 65 or older say no.

Overall, 15 percent of churchgoers say they have thought about going to another church in the past six months. Eighty-five percent say they have not.

Of those thinking about going to another church, about half (54 percent) have already visited another church. Forty-six percent have not.

“If people are thinking about leaving your church, chances are they’ve already started looking,” said McConnell. “So they’re probably halfway out the door.”

LifeWay Research reasons switch church

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MEMBERSHIP & The Strict Church Theory: Why Strict Churches Grow Faster #LaurenceIannaccone #PennStateUniv

bpc_icon_theory.jpg Strict Church Theory


Strict churches are stronger because they reduce free riding, or the ability of members to belong yet not contribute to the group. The theory predicts that strict churches will tend to retain members and foster ongoing commitment while lenient churches will tend to lose members and exhibit very low levels of commitment. This theory builds off of rational choice assumptions and is compatible with the religious economies perspective.


Iannaccone, Laurence. 1994. “Why Strict Churches are Strong.” The American Journal of Sociology. 99(5): 1180-1211.

Kelley, Dean. (1972) 1986. Why Conservative Churches are Growing.Macon, GA: Mercer University Press.

by The Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA),

Department of Sociology
The Pennsylvania State University
211 Oswald Tower
University Park, PA 16802-6207

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More Theories

Learn about other theories of religion:
arrow.jpgChurch/Sect Cycle
arrow.jpgCivilization Theory
arrow.jpgCognitive Theories
arrow.jpgConversion Theory
arrow.jpgCyclical Theory
arrow.jpgDemographic Transition Theory
arrow.jpgModernization Theory
arrow.jpgRational Choice/Religious Economies
arrow.jpgSocial Network Theory
arrow.jpgSub-Cultural Identity Theory of Persistence and Strength

ALCOHOL & Fast Growing Churches More Likely to Set Rules on Alcohol Use

by David Briggs , US Congregational Life Survey, 7/22/13.

The actress Katherine Heigl has publicly lamented, “If I start going back to church, I’d have to stop the smoking and drinking.”

There is reason for her and others to feel that way.

While many congregations have dropped prohibitions on activities such as homosexual behavior and sex before marriage, the rate of religious communities setting rules on alcohol and tobacco remained fairly steady, according to the U.S. Congregational Life Survey.

In the case of rapidly growing congregations, there is some evidence of increasing strictness regarding both activities. One study showed the percentage of fast-growing churches in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) having rules on smoking and drinking increased more than four-fold from 2002 to 2011.

In 2002, just 2 percent of fast growing Presbyterian congregations reported having special rules or prohibitions regarding members smoking or drinking alcohol. In 2011, nine percent of fast growing churches had special rules on smoking and 11 percent reported rules on drinking.

Smoking chart
The figures are in stark contrast to the dramatic decline in the percentage of fast-growing congregations with special rules regarding homosexual behavior or unmarried adults living together.

More than three-quarters of fast-growing Presbyterian congregations in 2002 reported having rules on homosexual behavior; just 17 percent reported having such rules in 2011. The percentage of fast-growing congregations with rules or prohibitions on cohabitation dropped from 55 percent in 2002 to 13 percent in 2011.

Ida Smith-Williams, a researcher with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the U.S. Congregational Life Survey, compared survey data from 114 fast growing Presbyterian churches in 2011 with responses from 93 fast growing Presbyterian congregations in 2002.

Overall data from the congregational profiles in the 2001 and 2008 U.S. congregational life surveys show far more rapid declines among churches in reporting special rules on cohabitation and homosexual behavior than in rules regarding smoking and drinking.

In the 2001 survey, a quarter of congregations reported having special rules or prohibitions regarding alcohol use and 15 percent reported rules on smoking. In the 2008 survey, 19 percent of congregations had rules on drinking and 13 percent had regulations on smoking.

Compare those modest drops to the changes in the areas of sexuality. Two-thirds of congregations in the 2001 survey reported having special rules on homosexual behavior and 55 percent had guidelines about unmarried adults living together. In the 2008 congregational profile, 38 percent of congregations reported special rules on homosexual behavior and 32 percent had rules on cohabitation.

Why were the rules on smoking and drinking more likely to remain a part of congregational life, or in the cases of some fast growing churches become even more prevalent, during a period of growing religious individualism?

In part, the retention of guidelines on alcohol and tobacco use may also reflect a shifting emphasis in religion and the larger culture in promoting public health even if it means greater regulation of individuals.

That fast-growing churches would be more associated with rules on drinking and smoking also may not be so surprising.

In analyzing the findings, Smith-Williams said the first thing that came to her mind was the strict church theory described by sociologists such as Laurence Iannaccone that notes having clear guidelines tends to screen out members who lack commitment and stimulate participation among those who remain.

Many congregations appear to be easing up on older prohibitions. But none of these special rules appear to be disappearing from American religious life. The rules congregations choose, and how they decide to promote them, are a key part of their identity.

Read more on how growing congregations are keeping up with changing times.

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ALCOHOL & 50 Reasons Not to Drink by Jamie Morgan

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: This spring the Wesleyan Church will discuss changes in membership requirements. Regardless of the outcome, I have found in my own life that it is prudent to not drink alcohol. This recent article by Jamie Morgan sums up well my thinking.

50 Reasons Not to Drink
by Jamie Morgan, Charisma Magazine, 12/29/15.

1. I can’t be sober-minded if I’m not sober.

2. Alcohol has an assignment: destruction.

3. Alcohol is a depressant. Anything that depresses should be avoided at all costs.

4. I don’t want to make my brother or sister stumble in the name of exercising my “Christian liberties.” My choice to drink could lead to someone’s demise.

5. Alcohol skews my judgment.

6. Alcohol leaves me worse, not better.

7. What I do in moderation, my children will do in excess.

8. Even the unsaved know I shouldn’t drink. Bible in one hand, beer in the other—any lost person could point this out as a confusing contradiction.

9. Alcohol doesn’t bring others closer to the Lord when they see me drinking, but further away.

10. Alcohol doesn’t bring me closer to the Lord when I drink, but further away.

11. I want to be fully awake and ready for the return of Christ, not drowsy, sluggish and fuzzy.

12. Show me a family for whom alcohol has made a positive difference in their lives. You won’t be able to.

13. I have never heard anyone say, “Wow, that gin and tonic made me feel so Christlike!”

14. I want to avoid all appearances of evil.

15. Alcohol makes it much harder for me to practice the fruit of self-control.

16. Alcohol causes me to lose my filter.

17. Alcohol is a legal mind-altering drug.

18. Alcohol is addictive.

19. Alcohol is a numbing agent for pain and sorrow only Jesus can heal.

20. Many regrets are associated with alcohol. (I can give you a whole bunch!)

21. No one has ever said, “If only I had taken a drink, things wouldn’t have gotten out of control.”

22. Alcohol causes me to act in ways I normally wouldn’t.

23. Alcohol kills brain cells.


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TRENDS & Cultural, Congregational & Convictional Christians via @EdStetzer

by Ed Stetzer, The Exchange, 6/2/14

1. The Word “Christian” Will Become Less Used and More Clear.

There are three broad categories that make up the approximately 75 percent of Americans who refer to themselves as Christians. I wrote about this earlier inThe State of the Church In America: Hint: It’s Not Dying, but it is worth keeping in our minds moving forward. The fact is that not everyone who uses the word “Christian” is using it the same way.

Cultural Christians, about 25% of the U.S. population, are simply those who, when asked, say they are a Christian rather than say they are an atheist or Jewish. They are “Christian” for no other reason than they are from America and don’t consider themselves something else.

The second type is what I call acongregational Christian. They account for another close to 25% of the population. This person generally does not really have a deep commitment, but they will consider refer to themselves as Christians because the have some loose connection to a church—through a family member, maybe an infant baptism, or some holiday attendance.

Convictional Christians, also about 25% of the population, are those people who self-identify as Christian who orient their life around their faith in Christ. This includes a wide range of what Christian is—not just evangelicals, for example. It means someone says they are a Christian and it is meaningful to them.

So, what’s the trend?

Well, first, the trend is that less people are calling themselves Christians and those who are will take it more seriously. In other words, cultural and congregational Christians, or the “squishy middle,” is collapsing while convictional Christians are staying relatively steady.

In the future, the word Christian will mean more to those who would be considered convictional Christians. However, it will mean—and will be used—less to those who were nominal Christians in the first place. The word will be less used and more clear.”

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MILLENNIALS & How many students are really leaving the church? via @EdStetzer

by Ed Stetzer

“Are students leaving the church in droves? What can we do to stop the bleeding?


Dropout is a key word in today’s evangelical churches concerning teenagers and young adults. The quote often sounds like this: “86% of evangelical youth drop out of church after graduation, never to return.” The problem with that statement (and others around that number) is that it’s not true. But that doesn’t mean there is no reason for concern.

LifeWay Research data shows that about 70% of young adults who indicated they attended church regularly for at least one year in high school do, in fact, drop out—but don’t miss the details. Of those who left, almost two-thirds return and currently attend church (in the timeframe of our study). Also, that dropout rate is from all Protestant churches—evangelical and mainline.”

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