October 12, 2012

Latest Episcopal Church Stats Reveal Fewer Parishes, Members

Episcopalians welcomed almost 29,000 fewer members in 2011 (photo: Ethan Jewett)

Updated 2011 figures released today by the Episcopal Church Office of Research show that the U.S.-based denomination’s membership continues to decline, while the church’s attendance largely remained the same as the previous year.

The figures show a continued drop in membership from 1,951,907 members in 2010 down to 1,923,046 in 2011, a decline of 28,861 persons. The number of total parishes dropped from 6,794 in 2010 to 6,736 in 2011, a decline of 58 congregations.

The church also reported that 27 of its 100 domestic dioceses posted membership growth. While this conversely means that almost three-quarters of the church’s dioceses are shrinking, the picture is less dire than 2010, when only a single diocese reported any growth.

Dioceses posting growth are disproportionately located in the South, with almost all listing less than a 200 person increase over the previous year, and many with only single digit increases. Standouts include the Diocese of Texas (968 new members and 1.3 percent growth), the Diocese of Dallas (468 new members and 1.5 percent growth) and the Diocese of North Carolina (887 new members and 1.8 percent growth).

Several dioceses stand out on the statistics with significant changes: the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire, where outgoing Bishop Gene Robinson is completing his term in office this month, posted a drop of 1,018 members, or down 7 percent, the worst in the northeastern regional Province 1. The “renewing” Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, locked in a court struggle with the departing Anglican diocese, posted a shocking 18.1 percent decline in attendance in a single year, even as it reported 106 new members.

Some of the church’s small and rural dioceses took the biggest hits, with Western Kansas and Montana dropping membership 16 percent and 12.4 percent, respectively, while the renewing diocese of Quincy saw a drop of 6.3 percent in attendance down to 340 persons, even as it posted three new members. The tiny Diocese of Northern Michigan, which famously elected a lay Zen Buddhist as bishop only to have the denomination reject him in 2009, posted a 5.4 percent drop down to 592 attendees, even as it added six new members.

The Office of Research compiles statistics that are self-reported by dioceses and parishes in their parochial reports, and thus relies upon local churches to provide updated and accurate records. Church observers have pointed out glaring discrepancies in some of those local reports, such as numbers from the Diocese of Los Angeles, which continues to report among its totals 1,500 members and nearly 600 attendees at St. James Church in Newport Beach, CA. St. James’ congregation departed the diocese over five years ago and is now affiliated with the Anglican Church in North America.

The Office of Research has posted diocesan statistical totals here.

A “fast facts” list of trends can be viewed here.


  • http://www.wpfences.com/ William W. Birch

    The demise of the liberal (apostate?) ECUSA is heart-wrenching (I chose the worst time to be a convert).

    What I find amazing is how liberals in the EC point to the declining numbers of other mainline denominations as some sort of comfort for their own declining numbers.

    The alarming aspect of that “comfort” is that only liberal denominations are declining in numbers, not all denominations. Conservative Baptist, Anglican, and Pentecostal churches are growing exponentially; while liberal congregations are dying the death that liberalism inevitably brings.

    Praying the collects daily, I pray that God will bring about a Reformation in the ECUSA, starting from the top down. God, either convert *her* or remove *her* for the sake of Your name.

  • http://notesfromthepastorsoffice.wordpress.com Chris Tiedeman

    The noting of declining numbers isn’t a liberal phenomenon. It doesn’t matter if you are liberal of conservative, your mainline denomination is probably failing. This is even in those denominations with strong conservative parachurch organizations attempting their version of “renewal.” Nearly all data shows that declines are universal, based upon cultural ideas about what the church has become. Too political. Judgmental. Closed-off. Hypocritical. Anti-gay. I am not blaming one side of the ideological spectrum over another, because I realize that God is no great respector of persons (Acts 10). I’m just saying that there is a general consensus about who best encompasses those traits.

    You can go ahead and keep blaming liberals, though.

    • http://www.wpfences.com/ William W. Birch

      Chris,

      By way of example, the 2010 statistics rate given in the Washington Times noted growth only in conservative circles. The liberal churches (i.e., liberal Presbyterians, liberal American Baptists, liberal Lutherans, etc.) were declining (link). So I’m not sure how I’m awry in “blaming liberals,” as you put it, in what I stated about declination.

      I don’t want to fight you on this, especially since I agree with you that the “church” is too political, hypocritical, etc.; but the statistics speak for themselves. If the “liberal” churches are *not* too political, too judgmental, too closed-off, hypocritical or anti-gay, then why are their numbers decreasing and not increasing, if the attributes you brought forward are really the reason for declining numbers?

      • Cody

        13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:

        14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. Its a lot harder to incorporate science, philosophy and reason into faith. Liberal churches mainly struggle due to the effects of the downfall of organized religion. They are hit most hard because they are the oldest Protestant churches and most representative of organized religion. All religion is dying. Catholics and Orthodox Christians especially. To get to my bible quote, fundamentalist religions struggle less because they are like cults. Their doctrines are easy to follow because you cannot question them. You believe only the interpretation of the bible your church leaders tell you. Liberal Christianity allows you to interpret yourself. We use reason, science and philosophy. It only makes sense in our modern times to allow women bishops, gay priests and a belief in science. To deny women, gays and science would be foolish and morally wrong. Conservatives get the people who can’t think for themselves(most people). Liberal churches get the few leftover who can think and still have faith.

    • Savannah

      If you were right, then the ECUSA would not be declining.

    • Captain DG

      “[T]he Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire, where outgoing Bishop Gene Robinson is completing his term in office this month, posted a drop of 1,018 members, or down 7 percent, the worst in the northeastern regional Province 1.”

      I think “anti-gay” is thrown in your remarks without much thought, just because it is so often said. And I do understand you are writing about a perception and not a fact. But if a diocese can be headed by a gay bishop and the perception remain and still be a factor in decline then there is no saving any church from decline due to it.

    • Fred Garvin

      Both Fundiegelicals and “Progressives” are shrinking; it’s religion itself that’s having a problem. The largest single slice of the religious pie among those 18-30 isn’t Southern Baptist or Catholic or Mainline Protestant-it’s “None of the Above”.
      All religious institutions are having problems; they have them to different degrees and they started declining at different times but they’re all having problems.

  • http://contextintn.wordpress.com/ dover1952

    Mr. Birch. I would remind you that one of the most basic tenets of scripture is that most people go in at the broad gate because the human heart has an evil problem and diffifculty discerning truth. The message is simple. In the business of religion, wherever the most numbers of people are flocking to in great masses at a given point in time is almost surely NOT the true faith and belief. Most people rush to a faith that feeds their flesh and works to confirm their lust for money, property, violence, war, an attitude of “I am better than you,” me and mine first, pointing the finger of loveless judgement, display of riches, and—most important of all—when all semblance of true love has been bled away.

    The Christian fundamentalist and conservative evangelical churches of today feed all of those passions and more. The church where Jesus Christ truly dwells will espouse beliefs that are hard for basic human nature to accept because they are counterintuitive to what most humans believe is right, and their numbers will be small or declining because people in general will be disgusted in any church setting where people are actually believing and doing what Jesus told them to do. Go read the red words in the New Testament that are hard to stomach—the ones you like to shy away from and steer clear of reading because they are just too hard for your ears to hear and accept because “no human being could really ever do that.” The churches trying to do those will be either small or declining—but they will be closer to Jesus than any megachurch could ever hope to be.

    • http://www.wpfences.com/ William W. Birch

      Mr. Brown. I cannot stand the mega-church phenomenon, and so I partly agree with you. I would just as well see its demise as I would any other detriment to the true Gospel.

      But if what you’re aiming at is true, overall, then the declining numbers in the Episcopal Church USA, for example, are a sign of its orthodoxy. Is that what you’re suggesting — that the ECUSA is merely reading the red words in the NT and doing what Jesus did — marrying homosexuals, making social-justice causes synonymous with the Gospel, being universally all-inclusive salvifically?

      I’m not looking for numbers to validate Christ’s gospel; and if that is the impression I gave then I apologize, sincerely. I was just (naively) hoping that the liberals in the ECUSA (et al.) would “wake up” and realize that their declination just may be due to non-gospel, unbiblical values and agendas which they have been promoting and not because of a decline in general.

      • Cody

        Marrying homosexuals is a moral necessity. What would you want if you were gay? Does being gay cause any negatives in the world? It’s not a sin. The best and most healthy way for most gay people to live is with a partner. It’s morally necessary for a church to bless the union of gays that would be blessed if they were straight(homogenous, religious).

        • Leonard McLaughlin

          “It’s not a sin”??? Have you read Romans, chapter one?

    • http://gravatar.com/wyclif wyclif

      …but let’s not forget the undeniable evidence that it is liberal churches that are dying, not conservative ones with a vibrant faith and the orthodox Christian Gospel. That point has not been disproved by anyone in this thread. The numbers clearly show that secularism and forms of theologically weak gruel have hastened the decline of ECUSA and their corresponding mainline companions.

    • Cody

      Yes. You nailed it. Liberal Christianity is the narrow gate. It’s so much easier to believe fundamentalism. Keep up the good fight. Even if our churches die the spirit of Christ lives forever. Until then let’s get the message out! Jesus loves EVERYONE, wants us to help the least of these in the most effective ways and doesn’t want us to deny science that he created!

  • http://contextintn.wordpress.com/ dover1952

    I don’t know Wyclif. Let’s think about it hypothetically for a moment. People are fleeing their churches to sign on with a new and exciting Christian ministry that has just come to town. It is a new and exciting worldwide ministry that is really making waves and all sorts of wonderful things are happening because of its main ministerial program: Faith and Praise 666 led by Ayn T. Kryst. Sure. It’s exciting. People are flocking to it in droves. Great miracles are occurring right and left. Peace is breaking out everywhere. A new moral code that seems right has been instituted, and as a result, murder, theft, and so forth are way down. It seems as if God himself must be touching mankind—finally.

    I guess you see my point by now. One cannot assume that just because a “ministry” is exciting and lots of people are flocking to it—that it must be blessed by the Lord.

    You cannot even say that that it “must be right” because people are following what the Bible says. As Matthew 23 makes abundantly clear, you can follow the written word of the Bible down to the last black and white jot and tittle and still be on the highway to Hell. And who is to say what understanding or interpretation of the Bible is correct when you can stick 10 people in a room and start a huge argument over one Bible verse. Look at all of the denominations and how they disagree. It’s a carnival and circus all rolled into one.

    The Apostle Paul makes it clear that faith must be in the person of Jesus himself—not the Bible. It also says that the Holy Spirit will lead and guide people. I think one of the most important failings of Christian fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism lies in the fact—and it is a fact—that they both diminish the role of the Holy Spririt in human affairs to almost nothing except a little passing lip service. I believe he speaks to people individually and collectively and leads people completely apart from the words in the Bible.

    If I had a “sola scriptura” (whatever that is) here in my office, I would gladly unzip my fly and tinkle on it. I hold the concept in about that high a regard compared to what one should hold in highest regard. Christ is the center—and He alone. He is the WORD.

    Let’s face it guys. Most of you spend more time thumping the Bible than reading it. When you do read it, you go for the most shallow and surficial understanding of it as possiblle on the assumption that the Bible is “simple” and was made for every man to read and understand—easy as pie under the shade of his own fig true. If that is the case, I have to wonder why God gave the Old Testament to priests and temple intermediaries. If what you believe was his intent, he would have taught every ancient Hebrew how to read and made Torahs rain down from the sky like manna so every man could have his own copy.

    God says that those who diligently seek him will find him. A little surficial Bible reading everyday and ignoring the role of the Holy Spirit in one’s life and as an active force in the world is not diligently seeking the Lord. He is buried deeply and He demands a long, hard, and difficult search to find out who He really is. It is not an easy search—but when you do find him—you will be surprised. If you are not surprised when you find him, then you have not found him. “Surprise” is the litmus test.

    • Fred Garvin

      Clearly all things have been revealed to you.
      What a shame that I didn’t discover atheism earlier; why would anyone waste time on these arguments over someone invisible?
      Vapid, simpering primness; self-congratulation mincing around in silk robes at someone else’s expense….

    • Sola Zola

      I hope you were trying to be funny when you said you would tinkle (how fey!) on sola scriptura. I am afraid, however, you do not know what sola scriptura is. Luther said that everything necessary for our salvation is written about in the Bible. That is what sola scriptura is. And I think idea is exactly what you are advocating.

    • Cody

      Let’s get this message out! You’re right. We need to spread the good news that liberal Christianity offers. I’m sick of going to church and asking myself where everyone is. We have the most beautiful liturgys and best theologies. We just need to get it out to people.

  • Donnie

    Once upon a time I thought people like John Shelby Spong were extremists. Then I found out his outlook is shared by many, many “pastors” in various mainline denominations.

    Truth is, most liberal denominations aren’t really even churches. The ones I’ve seen are nearly secular and no real different than the Lions Club or Rotarians.

    When you take sin and salvation out of the question, you’re left with social clubs that do nice things for people and nothing more. Hence the reason people are leaving apostate denominations for real churches.

    • Cody

      You’ve not been to many mainline denominations then. Some of the best Christians I ever met were liberals. I’ve met some really good conservative ones too. However the way the think about LGBT peoples is disturbing.

  • Ben Welliver

    Donnie, I would respectfully disagree with you. You would likely find Christians at a meeting of the Lions or Rotary, and, unlike the Episcopalians, they wouldn’t see Christianity as just a cover for political activism.

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  • Walker

    Do you really think this is a “liberal-conservative” issue? Those of us who stand outside your system would say that irrelevance knows no ideology. Relevance requires courage. Irrelevance feeds on fear. Fearful liberals (and there are alot of them) seek consensus – the weakest of all standards. Fearful conservatives (and there are even MORE of these) seek bonfires and mob rule – the lowest of all standards. Jesus fought them both – and won the day – with love. Churches that grow do so because they love one another and stand for one another.