Lack of concentration
What the research shows
by Jack Marcum
This year’s General Assembly is in Pittsburgh, an area of relative Presbyterian concentration. The key word is “relative.” Presbyterians make up less than 4 percent of the population, even counting children who are not yet members. In fact, only 55 U.S. counties are 5 percent or more Presbyterian, led by Treasure Co., Mont., at around 13 percent.
So except for the week when the General Assembly is in town, a stroll through Pittsburgh would mean that fewer than four of every 100 people on the sidewalks are Presbyterian, on average. Compare that with the relative density of Mormons in Salt Lake City (50 percent), Southern Baptists in Birmingham (30 percent) or Lutherans in Fargo (25 percent).
Put differently, Presbyterians don’t have a state or region where they are the predominant religious group. But what they lack in concentration, they make up in spread: In 2010 there was at least one PC(USA) congregation in 2,388 of the 3,221 counties in the United States (74 percent). And the counties without a Presbyterian presence tend to be scattered and sparsely inhabited.
The PC(USA) has congregations in counties that contain more than 96 percent of the U.S. population. Presbyterians reside in thousands of communities, are found in most parts of the country and thus are already in place for local outreach. This is an important reality as the denomination seeks to foster growth through such efforts as the initiative before this year’s General Assembly to encourage the creation of 1,001 worshiping communities over the next decade.
Jack Marcum is coordinator of Research Services of the General Assembly Mission Council of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).