Episcopal Church 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.

  • DJR

    “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.

  • 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.

    • doctorjohn


      • Bob

        Excellent point Larry.

        • doctorjohn


    • Bill Webber

      You are a right-wing control freak who is in the company of ignorant American pharisees.

      • Ed

        Classy – calling people names while insisting that it is THEY who are the Pharisees

  • Meg Watkins Ishikawa

    And we would be surprised why?

  • davend

    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

      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

        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

          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

          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

            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

            Thanks for clarifying.

  • John S.

    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

      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.

  • Hossi Blumengaarten

    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