Episcopal Membership

September 22, 2016

Episcopal Church Continues Uninterrupted Decline

Declines in Episcopal Church membership continue a downward spiral that began in the early 2000s. Updated statistics made available this week by the Episcopal Church Office of Research show a denomination continuing a gradual, uninterrupted decline in 2015. The U.S.-based denomination shed 37,669 members in 2015, a decline of -2.1 percent, while attendance declined -20,631, down -3.4 percent. A net 43 parishes closed, bringing the denominational total to 6,510 congregations.

The pattern is consistent with past years, in which dioceses in New England, the Rust Belt and predominantly rural areas post sharp declines, while dioceses in the South either retain their numbers or decline at a more gradual rate.

Episcopal Church officials, including former Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori — who completed a nine-year term in office in late 2015 — have predicted that decline would level off after years of internal dispute and the departure of dioceses, congregations and individual members. While there were no major congregational departures in 2015, the denomination still exceeded its baseline rate of decline of approximately 28,000 members a year by a substantial margin. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has struck an optimistic tone, encouraging the church to embrace its role in “the Jesus Movement” even as he seeks to address a workplace culture marked by “fear, mistrust and resentment” at the church’s national headquarters.

Curry’s own Diocese of North Carolina, which had mostly escaped membership decline in the past 15 years, aided by a booming state population, experienced a -0.9 percent drop in membership and a -4.8 percent drop in attendance in 2015. The diocese has seen its average attendance drop -14.7 percent since 2005.

Dioceses posting large membership declines include New York (-9.6%), Central New York (-5.1%), Newark (-6.1%), Maryland (-7.1%), Iowa (-7.6%), Eastern Michigan (-5.6%), Michigan (-6.4%), Missouri (-6.8%), South Dakota (-7.1%), Western Kansas (-6.7%) and Navajo Missions (-11.9%). Several overseas jurisdictions also posted large membership losses, including Ecuador-Central (-35.6%), Taiwan (-7.6%), and the Convocation of American Churches in Europe (-21.4%). More than half of the membership decline in the Episcopal Diocese of New York (-5,682 members) appears to have originated from St. Bartholomew’s Church in Manhattan, where the parish purged nearly 3,500 inactive members from its rolls.

episcopal-membership-2011-2015A handful of dioceses posted gains, including Central Florida (+0.7%), Easton (+0.4%), Lexington (+1.7%), Upper South Carolina (+1.0%), Eau Claire (+1.6%), North Dakota (+1.1%), Montana (+0.4%), Oklahoma (+0.6%), Eastern Oregon (+1.1%), Hawaii (+1.1%) and Nevada (+2.8%). The church’s “renewing” dioceses, which are rebuilding after a majority of their members departed the Episcopal Church, continue to be a mixed bag: Fort Worth posted a gain of 57 members (+1.2%) and the Episcopal Church in South Carolina grew 319 members (+5%) while Pittsburgh dropped 28 members (-0.3%) and San Joaquin posted a decline of 147 members (-6.9%) (the tiny remaining Episcopal Diocese of Quincy, Illinois was absorbed into the Diocese of Chicago).

In attendance, dioceses posting large declines include Connecticut (-7.6%), Albany (-7.5%), Central New York (-6.5%), Churches in Europe (-9.6%), New York (-6.3%), Virgin Islands (-6.6%), Western New York (-10.6%), Maryland (-6.9%), Central Gulf Coast (-6.3%), Fond Du Lac (-9.7%) and Ohio (-6%). The church’s smallest domestic normal diocese by attendance continues to be Northern Michigan, which declined -6.7% to 475 attendees on an average Sunday. Most internal provinces (regional groupings of dioceses) did not have a single diocese report any attendance growth, with only dioceses in Province III and Province XIII reporting any gains with U.S. dioceses. Those dioceses reporting attendance growth include Central Florida (+0.2%), Lexington (+3.1%), the Episcopal Church in South Carolina (+3.5%), Alaska (+2.3%), Arizona (+0.4%), Hawaii (+2.1%), Nevada (+3.4%) and Utah (+3.4%).episcopal-attendance-2011-2015

The denomination continues to see church size shrink, with the average Episcopal parish attracting 58 worshipers on a Sunday, down from an average of 65 in 2011. Similarly, 71 percent of the denomination’s churches have an attendance of fewer than 100 persons, while less than 4 percent attract 300 or more. The trend lines do not bode well for the future, with 55 percent of congregations experiencing decline of 10% or greater in the past five years. In contrast, only 18 percent of congregations grew their attendance by 10 percent in the same time span. As a whole, the denomination has experienced a 26 percent drop in attendance since 2005.

33 Responses to Episcopal Church Continues Uninterrupted Decline

  1. DJR says:

    “The U.S.-based denomination shed 37,669 members in 2015, a decline of -2.1 percent, while attendance declined -20,631, down -3.4 percent.”

    The declines are positive, not negative. The minus signs should be eliminated.

    To speak of a negative decline would mean that something is growing.

    Attendance is not down -3.4 percent; it is down 3.4 percent. Ditto for the other minus signs when speaking of decline.

    • diaphone64 says:

      Thanks Grammar Nazi. Now all the Episcopal churches’ problems are solved.

    • Snowbrush says:

      Yes, you’re right, and I appreciate you for pointing it out. I was mortified that it led one person to equate you with the brutal murderers of millions. People who lack all sense of perspective tend to label anyone who displeases them as Nazis and sometimes rapists. With this thought in mind, maybe your critic should have labeled you a Nazi rapist, and maybe thrown in pedophile for good measure.

  2. Larry Farlow says:

    Good. When a church has strayed as far from the word of God as far as they have the last thing you want is for them to be growing.

  3. Meg Watkins Ishikawa says:

    And we would be surprised why?

  4. davend says:

    And of the 14% decline in average Sunday attendance in a single year(!) within the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod….nothing? Because it doesn’t fit the basic premise of the website—that only liberal churches are in decline.

    • Libby K says:

      No one has ever said that “only liberal churches are in decline.”
      However, ALL liberal churches are in decline, while SOME conservative churches are growing. The mossbound and Pharisaic LCMS is its own unique (i.e., weird) entity. Their motto ought to be “Dead Right.”

      • davend says:

        But of all the churches that are in decline, this website continually focuses only on the liberal ones; some very conservative churches are declining even more rapidly and thus (one would think) would be bigger news stories if the aim is to talk about denominational decline.

        And then of course there’s the Catholic Church. And the Southern Baptists. Anyway, it’s a skewed perspective.

        • Libby K says:

          If you don’t like this blog, don’t read it.
          There’s plenty of blogs where people spew their hate at evangelicals and Catholics. Sounds like you are more comfortable having your own biases confirmed. No shortage of hate blogs for your sort.

        • Xerxesfire says:

          Your news is indeed enlightening, sir! I believe you to be mistaken as well! The liberal mainline churches are indeed the ones with the biggest declines as per statistics. Yes, some conservative churches have lost a very small percentage, such as SBC, but plenty of others are certainly growing! For example, the Assembly of God denomination has been actively church planting and growing pretty well. Other groups are holding their own. Zero mainline denominations are growing. Zero! So, I would be curious as to where you receive your information and which conservative groups you think are declining faster than mainlines. Please back up your stats with references for all to read.

          • davend says:

            From the LCMS website (since they were the example I cited): “Starting with what may be the most accurate count for 2014, total
            baptized membership reported for that year is down by 66,440 (or 3.1
            percent) from the number reported for 2013 — for a total of 2,097,258 at
            the end of 2014. Total confirmed membership decreased by 43,918 for
            2014, to 1,641,679. And average weekly congregational worship attendance
            in 2014 declined by 14 percent from 2013 — from 154 to 132.”

          • Xerxesfire says:

            Thanks for clarifying.

  5. John S. says:

    We look at the numbers in terms of a decline of the Episcopal church yet it might be interesting to have a view/comparison on where they are going. Death, out of the church totally, transfer to another denomination or transfer to a more conservative/alternate diocese or congregation.

    • Jeff Walton says:

      More detailed statistics will probably be made available in November, but of the approximately 37,000 that were lost in 2015, about 18,000 were due to death (there were more that actually died, but 18,000 is the number of deaths subtracting the number of baptisms). The remaining 20,000 would have departed. Unfortunately, most denominations don’t keep “exit” data, although there usually is some data on transfers out.

  6. Hossi Blumengaarten says:

    they accept gay marriage and other insane things and the people are leaving that disgusting church in numbers. I am not a practicing christians but it is insane for someone to say they are christians and then they cherry-pick what things to follow or literally go against the church teaching(gay people). Since I come into conflict with the church I do not practice

  7. H M says:

    Look for future ECUSA growth by dioceses as dioceses are absorbed into other dioceses. Evangelism, Repentance, Renewal are needed and have become non-existent in this “Jesus Movement” denomination. No matter who is in charge (Griswold, Schori, Curry) of the denomination,
    Jesus needs to be in charge of their lives.

  8. Ken Mahn says:

    some might need it to be pointed out, that while all “mainline” denominations practice infant baptism, not all conservative ones do. so when someone says, the SBC has a slight decline, you cant compare that to the episcopal or presb church. if the SBC counted all unbaptized children as members (like the episcoapl church does) they would actually have gained members, because baptists dont report non baptized children as members. also, if a church leaves the SBC to go to another baptist entity, or be totally independent, they dont cease to be baptist. so one baptist entity can appear as a decline while another appears as a gain, and yet the total number of conservative baptist overall has grown. just thought id point out some misunderstandings.

  9. Bob says:

    Church membership is declining because people are becoming more educated and informed. They realize that evolution is real and the world is millions of years old, contradicting the Bible. The old fear of going to a fictitious hell if you don’t believe is waning.

    • mike geibel says:

      There is not a conflict between faith and science. Science and religion will ultimately come to the same conclusion—they just speak different languages. Science may ultimately explain how the universe works but has not answered “why?” –unless you accept happenstance as an acceptable and plausible answer. Atheistic religion is not science.

  10. Larny says:

    The Episcopal Church is in decline because it has solidly embraced identity politics which includes feminism, environmentalism etc. It had made a conscious choice to exclude all others. They fly rainbow flags in front, declare themselves “green”. Have become social clubs for liberals who feel a need to “play church” and reject the traditional and orthodox. It is just the Unitarian Church dressed in the outward drag of some old line liturgies and architecture. The main scripture of the churches is “No more styrofoam or plastic at social events. The female priest is lesbian and her wife is on the vestry.” Where the focus on Jesus and His Word is? The 64000 question.

  11. Selena Smith says:

    Interesting that Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has hired for his National Staff the Bishop of Eastern Michigan The Rt Rev. Todd Ousley for development and care of bishops. And yet it is Bishop Ousley’s diocese who had one of the larger declines of -5.6% as mentioned above. He must understand bishops whose dioceses decline into nothingness or merge as he has left a declining diocese under his leadership. Pray for his successor and for the diocese.

  12. Mary Goddard says:

    Are the fundamentalist evangelicals really true Christians or self-righteous hypocrites?

    • senecagriggs says:

      They appear to be deeply hated by people like yourself.

      • mike geibel says:

        Members looking for relief from the barrage of ugly and vitriolic “hate” news spewed by politicians and the media will not find it by reading the ugly comments in chat-rooms where Christians vent their holier-than-thou venom at anyone who dares disagree.

        Members are leaving the Church, or abandoning the practice of religion altogether, not because they believe the Church is wrong on all social justice issues, but because the Church’s activism is a pervasive, all-consuming obsession that has become an echo chamber of political slogans for such secular themes as same-sex bathrooms and punishing some baker in “Podunk, Nowhere” who refuses to bake a cake. It is a church consumed with efforts to re-write the Bible and BCP in order to make pronoun choices fit with its politics. This activism has failed to attract more new members than it offends existing members.

  13. Kurt says:

    If you dig deeper into the data, you find that the period of members exiting the Episcopal Church has ended (though the decline during that period may be worse than thought). The current and more modest decline is due to the fact that much of remnant that stayed are elderly (not having any more children), those of childbearing years have very low fertility rates and the Episcopal Church does not directly benefit much from immigration. This is resulting in this decline even though they are now winning as many converts as those who leave, in fact maybe a bit on the plus side but no where near what is needed to make up for the other factors.

    • Jeffrey Walton says:

      This is worth exploring further, Kurt. I have spoken with former Episcopal Church staff who speak of the “demographic time bomb” that they believe is coming. The expectation is for a significant decline due to deaths in about 20 years. At the current ratio of deaths/departures to baptisms/receptions, I’d hazard an educated guess of about 18,000 Episcopal Church members disappearing each year, but for the past several years the reported number has exceeded that projection significantly.

  14. David Knapp says:

    Wife and I are cradle to grave at 81 years
    Our church in New Albany is growing to 600
    We are charter members going back 20 years
    We welcome gays and Roman Catholics
    Come study us

    I am sorry we are on probation with Anglican Church

  15. Duane Miller says:

    A diocese with an ASA below 500? That is just foolishness.

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