Presbyterians are older, even more involved in their communities

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Almost half of worshipers in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) are at or near retirement age, new survey results reveal. The median age of PC(USA) worshipers is 61 — up from 58 in 2001, the last time the survey took place. Along with this trend comes a decrease in the share of worshipers who have children living at home (down from 38 percent in 2001 to 34 percent now).

Conducted by the PC(USA) Research Services office, the U.S. Congregational Life Survey tallied responses from 40,000 worshipers in a national study of Presbyterian congregations. In the fall of 2008 and the spring of 2009 a random sample of 521 PC(USA) congregations participated in the U.S. Congregational Life Survey. The survey was given in worship and included the responses of all worshipers age 15 and older. In 2001, a random sample of 523 PC(USA) congregations participated.

Other, more hopeful news also emerged from the recent survey: Presbyterians were a well-educated group in 2001, and that’s even more true today. Six in ten have a college degree, up from half in 2001. Among all Americans only one in four are college graduates.

Survey results also show an increase in Presbyterians’ involvement in community service work either through their congregations or on their own. More than a third of worshipers (35 percent) participate in the community service activities, social justice ministries, or advocacy work of their congregation. Fewer worshipers reported doing so in 2001 (30 percent). Presbyterians’ commitment to community service work beyond their congregations has also increased. Today almost half (46 percent) work through other organizations to make the community a better place to live. Fewer did so in 2001 (43 percent).

“Presbyterian congregations have abundant strengths, including well-educated worshipers and high levels of community involvement,” commented Deborah Bruce, who manages the U.S. Congregational Life Survey. “This good news often gets lost in the stories of denominational decline.”

Despite these changes, the survey results show that many other areas of congregational life have remained stable since 2001:

  • Six in ten PC(USA) worshipers are women.
  • Almost seven in ten are married.
  • Half are employed either full- or part-time.
  • Four in five are members of their congregation (most of the rest attend regularly, but haven’t joined; a few are visitors).
  • Large majorities say they “always or usually” experience God’s presence, joy, and inspiration during their congregation’s worship services.
  • Most report their pastor is a good match for the congregation (86 percent).

A Field Guide to Presbyterian Congregations: Who’s Going Where and Why (available through Presbyterian Distribution Services, order item 02056-10100, or on the Research Services website) presents more findings from the recent survey. The new resource is a companion piece to A Field Guide to U.S. Congregations, previously released by Presbyterian Publishing Corporation (available through The Thoughtful Christian, Cokesbury, or other bookstores).

The overview of PC(USA) worshipers and congregations provided in A Field Guide to Presbyterian Congregations shows the “strengths and challenges that Presbyterian congregations — as a group — demonstrate,” Bruce said. Individual congregations may have different strengths. Bruce noted that any congregation seeking to identify their strengths can take the U.S. Congregational Life Survey, which will help them do so (details available online). Survey results can be used to answer important questions: How can we become stronger? Where is God calling us?

Ida Smith-Williams, (502) 569-5159
PC(USA) Research Services

My comments: No information about the racial-ethnic composition of the church which might assume that the church is all white. And I wonder: if Presbyterians say they “always or usually” experience God’s presence, joy, and inspiration during their congregation’s worship services,” why is it that the churches are empty during their worship services?

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