Schools in the Presbyterian Church in America

With respect to membership, PCA churches with schools are significantly larger. The average PCA church has 230 members on its rolls on average. Churches with schools average 630 members, while those without average 190. They have both more communicant members (500 vs. 148) and non-communicant members (131 vs. 41).

Among many of the Overtures that passed at PCA General Assembly last year was Overture 22 from Northwest Georgia Presbytery, which made statistical data digitally accessible. The statistics reported include data on church-led schools. As someone whose professional and personal interests include education and Reformed theology, this of course piqued my interest. What did I learn about schools in the Presbyterian Church in America?

Comparing churches with and without schools

Of the 1,669 churches reporting data, only about nine percent (150) report having an education ministry affiliated with their church. The churches with schools are significantly different from churches without schools in several meaningful ways. In short, they have more members, more elders and deacons, and more income and expenses.

With respect to membership, PCA churches with schools are significantly larger. The average PCA church has 230 members on its rolls on average. Churches with schools average 630 members, while those without average 190. They have both more communicant members (500 vs. 148) and non-communicant members (131 vs. 41). However, even churches with schools had wide variation in membership. Half of the churches with schools had between 50 and 400 members.

With respect to membership changes, PCA churches with schools tend to gain and lose more members than churches without schools. In the most recent year of reporting, churches with schools gained 42 members in the past year (vs. 14). As churches with education ministries may be addressing a growing need in their congregations, it is perhaps unsurprising that many of these new members came by way of child’s profession of faith (7.3 vs 2.5) and infant baptism (6.9 vs. 2.9). Interestingly, churches with schools on average experienced net negative growth, losing about 0.8% of their rolls, while churches without schools experienced net positive growth, adding about 2.1% to their rolls.

As expected with larger memberships, churches with schools had more elders and deacons as well. The average PCA church reported 5.5 elders and 6.1 deacons. Those with a school had roughly 13 elders and 13 deacons, while those without had roughly 5 elders and 5 deacons.

Finally, with respect to church finances, churches with schools had more income and expenses. In the most recent year reporting, the average PCA church had just over $700,000 in total income. Those with schools averaged $2.5 million, while those without averaged just over $500,000. Churches with schools had more expenses as well, including more benevolence, more budgeted expenses, and more building fund expenses. Again, even churches with schools had wide variation in finances. Half of the churches with schools had total income less than $1.2 million, and one-quarter of these churches had total income less than $500,000.

Table 1. PCA churches with and without schools
Has school?
PCA Yes No Diff Sig.
Communicant members 180.0 499.9 148.3 351.6 *
Non-communicant members 49.4 130.6 41.4 89.2 *
Total members 229.7 630.4 189.9 440.6 *
Membership changes
Added 16.5 42.0 14.0 28.0 *
Profession of faith (child) 3.0 7.3 2.5 4.8 *
Infant baptisms 3.3 6.9 2.9 3.9 *
Lost 14.5 43.4 11.7 31.8 *
Net growth (added minus lost) 2.0 -1.5 2.3 -3.8
Growth % (Net growth / Total members) 1.87% -0.82% 2.14% -2.96
Morning worship attendance 149.8 352.8 128.0 224.8 *
Ruling Elders 5.5 12.7 4.7 8.0 *
Deacons 6.1 13.0 5.3 7.7 *
Finances (in thousands)
Total church income $716.5 2,509.2 540.9 1,968.3 *
Total benevolence $99.4 402.6 69.7 332.9 *
Total budgeted expenses $534.6 1,572.6 433.4 1,139.1 *
Total building fund $108.6 303.7 84.2 219.5 *
n 1669 150 1519
Notes. * indicates statistically significant difference between samples, p < 0.001.

Examining the schools of PCA churches

Of the 150 churches in the PCA data that reported having a school, I was able to find information on 116 of them. The most common education ministry is a standalone early education program, that is, a school serving only pre-kindergarten and/or kindergarten, roughly 45 percent of all PCA schools. Nearly 90 percent offer pre-K, three-fifths offer kindergarten, half offer elementary, half offer middle school, and a third offer high school.

By presbytery and geography, churches with schools are concentrated in the southeast. The presbytery with the greatest number of church-led schools is Evangel with ten. Chesapeake and Southeast Alabama each have seven schools. Florida leads the states with 25 schools, followed closely by Alabama with 24. Eleven states have only one PCA school each, and 23 states and the District of Columbia have zero PCA schools.

Table 2. PCA schools by presbytery
Presbytery Churches with Schools
Evangel 10
Chesapeake 7
Southeast Alabama 7
Central Florida 6
Gulf Coast 6
Nashville 6
Mississippi Valley 5
Missouri 5
South Florida 5
79 presbyteries 4 or fewer each

With respect to tuition, for simplicity, I examined the highest level of tuition charged by each school, as reported on their website. The average PCA school charges just under $8,000 in tuition per year. Tuition is much lower at standalone EE programs at $3,700 compared to those offering elementary, middle, or high school grades ($10,700), but tuition for standalone EE programs can rise to as high as $11,484. The most expensive PCA school is Christ Presbyterian Academy, a ministry of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, TN, at $24,925 for upper school tuition.

Next, I considered enrollment, as reported in the PCA statistical data. The average PCA school enrolls around 240 students. Similar to tuition, enrollment tends to be lower at standalone EE programs (83 students on average) than at schools serving other grades (373 students on average). The largest PCA school by enrollment is Briarwood Christian School, a ministry of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, AL, with 1,659 students. School enrollment and church membership tend to be positively correlated, while school tuition and church budget are weakly correlated.

Table 3. PCA school characteristics
Pre-K and K only?
Overall Yes No
Average $7,777.63 3,734.28 10,665.73
Minimum $290.00 290.00 3,000.00
Maximum $24,925.00 11,484.00 24,925.00
Average 243.2 83.1 373.4
Minimum 14 14 27
Maximum 1659 285 1659
Grades Offered
Standalone Pre-K or K 44.8%
Pre-K 87.1%
K 61.2%
Elementary 52.6%
Middle 46.6%
High 34.5%
n 116 52 64

The most common accreditations and school memberships include the Association of Christian Schools International (my employer) and the Association of Classical Christian Schools, though many schools were accredited by Cognia or some state or regional organization. The American Association of Christian Schools, Council on Educational Standards and Accountability, and Christian Schools International were also represented. Many schools are unaccredited, including a handful of homeschool co-ops or hybrid schools in the sample, including Covenant Christian Middle School and High School, a ministry of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Issaquah, WA.

Doctrinally, virtually all schools mentioned affiliation with their church and many explicitly identified the Westminster Standards as their doctrinal standards. Some even require faculty to indicate agreement with the Westminster Standards, for example, Covenant Day School, a ministry of Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, NC.

Final thoughts

This preliminary report does not capture the full extent of the work of PCA churches in ministering to families through education. Some churches with closely related schools are not represented in the PCA data (for example, Westminster Christian Academy and Westminster Presbyterian Church in Huntsville, AL). Other schools did not have information readily available on their websites. Still, this article provides some helpful descriptive information, especially as many churches consider beginning their own education ministries with the expansion of school choice across the country.

Finally, I continue to keep The Covenant School and Covenant Presbyterian Church in my thoughts and prayers. I am grateful for the work of the PCA Foundation in establishing The Covenant Fund. Please consider donating to The Covenant Fund or to the March 27 Fund.

Matthew Lee is a ruling elder at Covenant Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Fayetteville, AR and director of research at the Association of Christian Schools International.

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