The PC(USA) is projecting massive losses in membership in 2005 and 2006. According to this article in the Presbyterian Layman, in those two years, the church is projecting a loss of 150,000 members. To put that number in prospective, in 2004, the PCA claimed a total membership of 330,182. So, the number of lost members from the oldine church is almost equal to half the total membership of the next largest Presbyterian denomination.
While evangelicals in the PC(USA) (and outside observers) want to pin this two-year loss solely on theological and social liberalism, and no doubt some of that is in play here, I can't help but wonder if there are other sociological phenomenon here as well. For example, from my own engagement with that church, it strikes me that the PC(USA) is a graying denomination--visiting their seminaries or Montreat, for example, reveals the fact that there are few 20- and 30-somethings. And so, I wonder if this is, in part, a generational phenomenon. Still, as their own scholars have argued, theological and social progressivism has also played an important part in the demise the oldline church (e.g. Dean Hoge's Vanishing Boundaries and Robert Wuthnow's The Restructuring of American Religion).
The temptation for conservative evangelicals is to gloat and point fingers--"see what happens when theological liberalism is tolerated in a denomination." But I can't help but think the entire situation is incredibly sad for this reason: this historic church with its wonderful resources and history is dying. It's like having a wealthy relative who has lived an amazing life, but at the end of his life somehow contracted a disease from his own actions (perhaps lung cancer?) and is now dying. It is simply sad and no amount of finger-pointing and chiding makes it better.
There is a scene from C. S. Lewis' The Magician's Nephew in which Digory and Polly show up at Charn just as that world is dying. The darkness and death of that world coming to an end was incredibly melancholy. To view the PC(USA)'s death is equally sad. Now is not a time for gloating, but a time for tears.
HT: Al Mohler