by Zachary Groff | March 22, 2023
As reported in the Where Are They Now? post last year, the Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) has the responsibility to report annually on statistical changes, including departures from the denomination. Each year, the Clerk’s report includes news of church closures and transfers out of the PCA. Since the 41st General Assembly in 2013, the report has included the addition and loss of ministers to the denomination.
In this post, I bring together data from the Minutes of the 49th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America and the data from the Eight Years of Moving Out post published on this site last year to ‘track the stats’ regarding losses from the denomination. I’m particularly interested in the destination denominations of those who transfer out. What can this data point tell us about the changing makeup of the PCA?
The various lists of congregations added, transferred, or dissolved is found on pages 176-177 of the Minutes. Similar lists of ministers added to the PCA, dismissed to other denominations, deceased, or otherwise removed from office in 2021 are found on pages 177-184.
After comparing the statistical reports on pages 176-184 with other information I could find online, here are my summary findings for the changes in the roster of PCA congregations and ministers in 2021:
Congregations Organized in 2021: 23
Gross Total of Congregations Added in 2021: 23
Congregations Dissolved in 2021: 9
Congregations Dismissed to Other Denominations in 2021: 5 (1 BPC; 1 OPC; 3 Vanguard)
Gross Total of Congregations Lost in 2021: 14
Ministers Ordained in 2021: 116
Ministers Received from Other Denominations in 2021: 27 (3 ARP; 1 CRCNA; 1 ECA; 1 ECO; 4 EPC; 6 Independent; 4 International; 3 KAPC; 2 OPC; 1 URC)
Ministers Added (Other) in 2021: 7
Gross Total of Ministers Added in 2021: 150
Ministers Dismissed to Known Other Denominations in 2021: 49 (2 ACNA; 11 ARP; 2 BPC; 2 CCCC; 1 ECC; 9 EPC; 6 Independent; 1 KAPC; 6 OPC; 1 RPCGA; 1 International; 6 Vanguard)
Ministers Lost to Unknown Destinations in 2021: 13
Ministers Demitted, Deposed, or Divested in 2021: 29
Ministers Deceased in 2021: 40
Gross Total of Minsters Lost in 2021: 131
The five departing congregations in 2021 have found new denominational homes in denominations I previously classed as “More Strident” than the PCA. When considering departing ministers, the destinations are more varied and typical of trends from previous years.
As in recent years, the most notable difference between the destinations of departing congregations and departing ministers is the prevalence of ministerial transfers from the PCA to denominations that we could describe as “More Peaceful” or “About the Same” as the PCA. This may be due to a fact of sheer scale. There are many more opportunities for fruitful ministry and gainful employment in denominations such as the EPC as compared to other denominations sharing a theological affinity with quarters of the PCA. However, there was a surprising “bump” in ministerial transfers to the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP), which is very similar to the PCA in many ways (not least of which is geographic concentration).
When we classify the denominational destinations using the taxonomy I introduced in the post Eight Years of Moving Out, and aggregate the data for 2012-2021, this is what we find:
Departing PCA Churches’ Destination-Denominations (2012-2021)
More Peaceful: 18
More Strident: 20
About the Same: 4
Departing PCA Ministers’ Destination Denominations (2012-2021)
More Peaceful: 112
More Strident: 62
About the Same: 44
When compared with recent reports going back to 2013, what I found from a quick look at the Stated Clerk’s report to the 49th General Assembly did not surprise me much, but there are three observations worth noting. First, there were more ministerial transfers out to “More Strident” and “About the Same” denominations than I expected. Second, I was surprised to see that none of the congregational losses this year were to Independency. A third observation worth making is that there were far fewer moves (congregational or ministerial) reported in 2021 than reported in either 2019 or 2020. When viewed in historical perspective (going back to 2013), it remains the case that more than any other denomination, the EPC is the destination of choice for PCA ministers transferring out of the PCA (62 in the years 2012-2021). Though this move is much less common for entire congregations, this is a viable and respectable change of affiliation and/or call that many brothers have made over the last decade.
As I concluded last year, we should not be surprised to see a continued pipeline of PCA-ordained ministers transferring into “More Peaceful” denominational homes such as the EPC. However, we would do well to note that there continues to be a consistent trickle of congregations and ministers out of the PCA into “More Strident” denominations, though the “More Strident” destination du jour changes from year to year.
 It is worth noting that two of these congregations merged, which is not quite dissolution, though it is technically a net “loss” of one congregation.
Zachary Groff is a PCA Teaching Elder serving as Pastor of Antioch Presbyterian Church in Woodruff, SC.