The largest Presbyterian denomination in the U.S. has hemorrhaged membership in recent years, which several conservative Presbyterian clergy members partially attribute to a departure from its own historical teachings.

"I believe that the lampstand has been removed, that Christ has removed his blessing from the PCUSA, and the end result of that will be just fading into oblivion," Presbyterian pastor Zachary Groff told Fox News Digital, referencing the second chapter of Revelation.

The Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), which is the largest Presbyterian denomination in the U.S., made headlines in October when its Office of General Assembly announced that it would be adding a "nonbinary/genderqueer" option to its official church statistics in a push to be "inclusive," according to a press release. The mainline denomination is theologically liberal and ordains women as well as practicing members of the LGBTQ community.

The PCUSA boasts 1.1 million active members and 8,813 member congregations, but it has been rapidly losing numbers during the past decade. It reported having about 700,000 more members and 1,400 more congregations in 2012. More than 51,000 members have left since 2021, according to its most recent annual report.


LGBT flag outside Presbyterian church in Chicago

Lake View Presbyterian Church hangs a pride flag in support of Gay Pride Week on June 23, 2020, in Chicago. (Timothy Hiatt/Getty Images)

Rick Jones, director of communications for the PCUSA's Office of General Assembly, attributed the diminishing numbers to factors such as aging congregations, the COVID pandemic and an increasing skepticism toward institutions generally.

Jones also told Fox News Digital that many have left because of "the denomination’s understanding of the Gospel and how it compelled us to take more progressive stands on gay marriage as well as issues like Israel/Palestine or divestment from fossil fuels." 

"The PCUSA is not alone in that nearly all mainline Christian denominations have seen a decline in membership as less and less people in this country see themselves as Christians," he added.


‘An issue about theology’

Groff, who pastors a church near Greenville, South Carolina, is now a member of the conservative Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), but said he grew up and found his faith in a PCUSA church in Pennsylvania. He mentioned that his home church was one of the congregations that ultimately departed from the mainline denomination over doctrinal issues.

Issues of sexuality and gender have sowed discord not just among Presbyterians, but among all Protestant denominations in the U.S., Groff said, though he traced the root of "the current woes" in churches to deeper disagreements on the authority of the Bible.

"All of this goes back to not even an issue about sexuality directly, but an issue about theology and what we believe about God and His Word," he said, adding that Protestant clergy's confidence in the Bible's teachings has been steadily eroding since theological liberalism swept into U.S. seminaries from Europe during the 19th century.

PCUSA headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky

A Black Lives Matter flag adorns the headquarters of the Louisville, Kentucky-based Presbyterian Church USA, which has lost approximately 700,000 members since 2012. (Credit: Google Earth)

Groff believes that the growing rifts among Presbyterians and Americans generally are manifestations of "a spiritual and supernatural battle."

"This culture of sexual perversion is inextricably tied into a culture of death, a culture of decreasing birth rates, a culture of abusing children and twisting their minds," he said. "And that's nothing if it's not spiritual in its weight and significance."


Groff said he is "not at all surprised" at the apparent decline of the mainline Presbyterian church. "But I'm deeply grieved and sad, and I still regard the PCUSA as my mother church. It was in the PCUSA where I was converted, where Christ drew me to himself under the preaching of the Word and of his gospel."

"To see where she has fallen just makes me sad," he added. "I still pray that the Lord would revive his work in the mainline church, but increasingly so, day by day, I lose hope that's going to happen."

‘A serious cost’

Sean McGowan, who pastors a PCA church in Tallahassee, Florida, echoed Groff's assertions.

McGowan noted how the PCUSA's recent press release about its "nonbinary/genderqueer" distinction emphasized a desire to be inclusive, which he warned "may get accolades and respect from the culture," but comes "with a serious cost."

"As the culture has gotten worse, the church has gotten worse," McGowan said. "So it's not surprising for many of us why the mainline church is now capitulating on transgender issues and things of that nature."

McGowan said that being a welcoming church is not the same thing as affirming lifestyles and behaviors that he believes the Bible condemns. A church that endeavors to be accepted by the prevailing culture necessarily allows that culture to place demands on it, he explained.


LGBT event at Presbyterian church in Austin, Texas

Community members celebrate the Supreme Court decision on marriage equality at an event hosted by Texas for Marriage at the Central Presbyterian Church in downtown Austin, Texas, on June 26, 2015. (Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc/Corbis via Getty Images)

"I think if a church abandons the Word of God, abandons the binding authority [it has] on the practice of the church and on the lives of the people, then I think anything goes in some respects," he said.

"I think that's the difference [between liberal and conservative Presbyterians], because our authority is the Word of God," he said. "We call sin what the Word of God calls sin and call people to repentance; to know that by embracing Jesus Christ, there's hope for sinners like us."

‘The moderates are disappearing’

"The speed with which the PCUSA is going down the tubes right now is because they have no conservatives left in their denomination, and so they don't have any real agenda except being opposed to something," said Garrett Craw, senior pastor of King's Cross Reformed Church in Buda, Texas.

Craw's congregation is a member of the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches and adheres to the Westminster Standards, which are the foundational documents of Presbyterianism.

Noting how there was once robust debate between liberals and conservatives in the PCUSA, Craw said most conservatives have since fled, leading the mainline church to "grasp for smaller and smaller straws, trying to copy the culture around them, because they don't have somebody to be in opposition to within their denomination."


LGBTQ flag outside a Methodist church

An LGBTQ+ flag flies over Union United Methodist Church in the South End of Boston on Jan. 5, 2020. (Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

For lack of a better phrase, Craw said, the PCUSA has assumed "a woke position."

"All these things are separate and brewing: things like same-sex marriage, abortion, ordination of homosexuals, that kind of thing," he said. "But recently, it's just become one big blob, and the PCUSA has embraced all that and done it in such a way that I think it's made it uncomfortable for the remaining conservatives to stay."

"I think people sense when you don't stand for something, and over time, people are just going to leave," said Craw, who added he thinks "the moderates are disappearing everywhere" in American society.


"I don't know if that's necessarily a bad thing," the pastor added. "I think having a moderate and middle ground enabled people to massage things so that their real positions weren't really clear. Now I think everything's become very clear, and it cuts to the quick."