Eight Years of Moving Out (2012-2020)

by Zachary Groff | March 14, 2022


Last month, I commented on recent transfers of both ministers and congregations out of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), observing that “the pipeline in the direction of churches that are philosophically committed to more peaceful “bigger tent” expressions of Reformed faith and practice is certainly fully than the pipeline leading to more theologically narrow NAPARC-affiliated denominations.” But is this certainly the case?

My initial conclusion was based on admittedly scanty evidence: some research into the statistical portion of Stated Clerk TE Bryan Chapell’s report in the Minutes of the 48th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America, and “a cursory glance through records going back to the Minutes of the 41st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America.” In the week following my post, a friend of mine[1] challenged me to test my claim against a closer look at the stats. In response, I have combed through the records and collated available data of congregational and ministerial transfers out of the PCA for the years 2012-2020 (reported on in the 41st through the 48th General Assemblies).

My findings somewhat surprised me, and I am offering this post as a follow-up to Where Are They Now?

Handling the Data

Before analyzing the data contained in the Minutes of the various Assemblies, I had to gather the stats. The PCA Historical Center hosts an electronic copy of each PCA General Assembly’s Minutes at pcahistory.org. Here are the page numbers for the relevant statistical lists in the Minutes from 2013-2021 (reporting on the years 2012-2020):

After gathering the raw data, I then input the outgoing transfer statistics into two spreadsheets: one for churches and one for ministers. For each spreadsheet, I organized the years into rows and the denominational destinations into columns. For churches, I included columns for congregations that dissolved (and permanently closed), congregations that merged with other churches within the PCA, and congregations which reverted to mission status. For ministers, I included a column for names which were either “Removed,” “Erased,” or “Withdrawn” without indication of a destination denomination.

After ordering the data, I generated the totals for each destination-denomination column and triple-checked my numbers to ensure accuracy in correspondence with the Minutes. Since 2012, congregations of the PCA have left for the following denominational homes (in alphabetical order, with totals according to the Minutes and additional research):

  • Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP) – 2
  • Bible Presbyterian Church (BPC) – 4
  • Christian Reformed Church (CRC) – 1
  • Evangel Presbytery association (EP) – 1
  • Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA) – 1
  • Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) – 2
  • Independency – 15
  • Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) – 7
  • Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA) – 1
  • Vanguard Presbytery (VP) – 3
  • one international denomination – 1

There are four (4) congregations that left for unknown denominations.

In the same period of time, individual ministers have transferred to the following denominational homes (again, in alphabetical order, with totals according to the Minutes and additional research):

  • Anglicanism (specific communion/diocese not indicated) – 2
  • Baptist association – 1
  • ARP – 25
  • BPC – 2
  • CRC – 1
  • Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches (CREC) – 2
  • Cumberland Presbyterian Church (CPC) – 1
  • EP – 2
  • Evangelical Association of Reformed & Congregational Christian Churches (EA) – 1
  • Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) – 1
  • Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians (ECO) – 7
  • EFCA – 2
  • EPC – 53
  • Independency – 13
  • OPC – 31
  • Presbyterian Church (USA) – 3
  • Reformed Church in America (RCA) – 9
  • Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS) – 2
  • Reformed Presbyterian Church General Assembly (RPCGA) – 1
  • RPCNA – 4
  • Reformed Presbyterian Church in the United States (RPCUS), now absorbed into VP – 1
  • United Methodist Church (UMC) – 1
  • United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA) – 2
  • VP – 6
  • a few international or Korean-language denominations – 18

There are many (81 out of 272) dismissed, withdrawn, or removed ministers for whom the Minutes record no destination-denomination. Having gathered the data and generated destination-denomination totals, I was able to analyze the data for eight years of outgoing transfers (of both churches and individual ministers).

Analyzing the Data

In analyzing the data, I wanted to test the claim from my previous post (cited above): “the pipeline in the direction of churches that are philosophically committed to more peaceful “bigger tent” expressions of Reformed faith and practice is certainly fully than the pipeline leading to more theologically narrow NAPARC-affiliated denominations.” In order to test this claim, I had to define “philosophically committed to more peaceful “bigger tent” expressions of Reformed faith and practice” in denominational terms. There are two ways of going about this.

One approach to categorizing the various destination-denominations listed above is to classify them based on their participation in the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC), of which the PCA is by far the largest constituent member. This division yields the following results:

Departing PCA Churches’ Destination-Denominations (2012-2020)

NAPARC: 10
Non-NAPARC: 32 (this includes 4 Unknown)

Departing PCA Ministers’ Destination Denominations (2012-2020)

NAPARC: 64
Non-NAPARC: 208 (this includes 81 Unknown)

While it is notable that such a large majority both of departing churches (76.2%) and of departing ministers (76.5%) go to non-NAPARC denominations upon dismissal from the PCA, there is a more helpful – though perhaps controversial – way of classifying the destination-denominations.

A second approach to categorizing the various destination-denominations listed above is to classify each denomination by its “philosophical commitment” relative to the PCA. Based on my admittedly limited familiarity with the denominations in question, I tentatively classified them as “more strident” (BPC, CREC, EP, OPC[2], RCUS, RPCGA, RPCUS, and VP), “more peaceful” (Anglican, CPC, CRC, EA, ECC, ECO, EPC, Independent, PC(USA), RCA, UMC), “about the same” (ARP, EFCA, RPCNA, URC), and “other/unknown” (International, Korean-language, Unknown). This alternative (and admittedly subjective) division yields the following results:

Departing PCA Churches’ Destination-Denominations (2012-2020)

More Peaceful: 18 (this includes 15 to Independency)
More Strident: 15
About the Same: 4
Other/Unknown: 5 (this includes 4 Unknown)

Departing PCA Ministers’ Destination Denominations (2012-2020)

More Peaceful: 92 (this includes 13 to Independency)
More Strident: 47
About the Same: 33
Other/Unknown: 100 (this includes 81 Unknown)

When breaking down the data this way, my initial claim that more known departing PCA churches (47.7%) and ministers (48.2%) are leaving for “more peaceful” destination-denominations than any other kind of known destination-denomination holds up under scrutiny. In fact, I was pleasantly (though only somewhat) surprised at just how well my initial claim held up!

However, this assumes that Independency is “more peaceful.” Though this classification is based on my fallible and imperfect knowledge of certain churches’ rationales for leaving the PCA for Independency, my sense is that such congregations choose Independency over another denomination precisely because they desire some peace and relief from denominational infighting over hot button issues. For ministers, the generalization is even less certain. Yet, even if my sense (and classification) is wrong with regard to those congregations and ministers departing for Independency, it is clear that a significantly higher number of departing PCA ministers leave for “more peaceful” denominational homes (excluding the unknowns).

In light of my previous post, it is perhaps worth noting that of the 92 men who have transferred out of the PCA to a “more peaceful” denomination, 53 were dismissed to the EPC, 9 to the RCA, and 7 to ECO. One reason for the relatively high numbers transferring to the EPC, the RCA, and ECO may be the sheer volume of open pulpits in these relatively large Reformed and Presbyterian denominations outside of NAPARC. Another reason for the high numbers may be the relative difficulty which conservative congregations in these denominations face when seeking for a suitably evangelical and confessionally Reformed pastor. Whatever the case may be, the EPC is by far the most prevalent destination-denomination for ministers who are moving out of the PCA.

In conclusion, I encourage you to “check my work” by examining the statistical reports for yourself. One of the beautiful features of the PCA’s polity is the unhindered openness and transparency of our record-keeping in service to Christ and His people.


[1] I wish to express warm appreciation and thanks to TE Andy Lewis of Mitchell Road Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Greenville, SC for respectfully pushing me to substantiate the claim I made in Where Are They Now?

[2] I hesitated to classify the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) as “more strident.” On paper, the OPC is nearly identical to the PCA and arguably better classified as “about the same.” Current debates within the courts of the OPC are less about divergent principles than they are about differences in application of principles which are (nearly) unanimously held in common among presbyters. However, there is a perception among some in the PCA that the OPC is a “more strident” or litigious denomination than the PCA. Out of consideration for this perception, I wanted to strengthen my argument by categorizing the OPC as “more strident” for the purposes of the analysis here. In other words, even if you consider the OPC as a “more strident” denomination rather than classifying it as “about the same,” my conclusion tested in this article holds up under scrutiny.

Zachary Groff is a PCA Teaching Elder serving as Pastor of Antioch Presbyterian Church in Woodruff, SC.


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