Episcopal Membership

September 21, 2017

Episcopal Church Still Skidding Downhill

Episcopalians have yet to hit bottom in their downward membership spiral that began in the early 2000s.

Updated statistics made available today by the Episcopal Church General Convention Office show a denomination continuing a sustained decline in 2016 to 1,745,156 domestic members. The U.S.-based denomination shed 34,179 members, a decline of 1.9 percent, while attendance losses were relatively limited compared to previous years, declining 9,327, down 1.6 percent. A net 37 parishes closed, bringing the denominational total to 6,473 congregations.

Among dioceses facing the largest declines is Eastern Michigan, which dropped 14.7 percent from 5,888 down to 5,022 members (-866). The diocese also saw a 3.5 percent drop in Average Sunday Attendance (ASA), down to 1,922 attendees.

The diocese’s past bishop, Todd Ousley, recently joined the staff of Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry to serve as bishop for pastoral development after 16 years serving in Michigan. In a letter to the diocese, the local standing committee wrote about its decision to pursue a provisional bishop rather than seek a new diocesan bishop to replace Ousley.

The committee cited among manifold reasons, “budget realities, decreasing and emerging populations, and cultural trends away from church-attendance and religious life.”

The nearby Diocese of Western Michigan also took a sizeable hit, dropping 10.4 percent from 9,675 down to 8,668 members (-1,007). The diocese also saw a 4 percent drop in ASA, down to 3,491 attendees.

Domestic dioceses posting large membership declines include Virgin Islands (-10%), Georgia (-7.5%), New Hampshire (-6%), Vermont (-6.4%), Albany (-5.1%), New Jersey (-6.1%), Western New York (-10.6%), Central Pennsylvania (-5.6%), Milwaukee (-6.9%), Fond Du Lac (-5.3%), Iowa (-8.5%), Northwest Texas (-8.6%) and Spokane (-8.1%).

Episcopal Church officials have been aware of the negative trend lines for some time. In March, Bishop Maryann Budde of the Diocese of Washington gave a sermon at the spring House of Bishops meeting in which she broached the subject of ongoing decline.

“I live in a perpetual state of holy urgency about the spiritual health and ministry capacity of the congregations I serve and those I hope to establish on my watch,” Budde shared with her Episcopal colleagues. “Looking deeply at the trends and internal realities of each [congregation], only 12 of them, at most, are on a path of sustainability and growth; another 12-15, at the other extreme, are in precipitous decline—most of them in our most vulnerable or rapidly transitioning neighborhoods or communities. The rest, despite working as hard as they can, will most likely be, without some intervention or significant change, almost exactly where they are now 10 years from now in terms of size and capacity for ministry–this in a part of the country that is experiencing significant population growth and where other expressions of the Christian faith are thriving. I can’t bring myself to count the number of congregations I cannot, in good conscience, recommend to those who are seeking a vibrant expression of Christian community.”

In a reference to Presiding Bishop Curry’s embrace of the language of “the Jesus Movement,” Budde provocatively offered, “There’s no doubt in my mind that the Jesus Movement is alive and well in the Diocese of Washington. I cannot say the same about the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement in all of its expressions.”

While the Diocese of Washington lost more than 1,000 members in 2016, its relatively large size meant it only shed 2.6 percent of members, and nudged up attendance of 1.8 percent.

Among those congregations facing precipitous decline in Budde’s diocese is the congregation of retired Bishop Gene Robinson, who famously contributed to the Episcopal Church schism with his consecration as an openly partnered gay man to be Bishop of New Hampshire. Robinson has served several years now as “Bishop-in-residence” at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C., where he relocated as a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. Robinson’s parish will, as part of a property redevelopment, feature an eponymous chapel that he has proposed be a pilgrimage site for youth who identify as LGBT.

St. Thomas has declined precipitously in the past five years, shrinking from 350 to 140 members (-60%) and from a weekly attendance of 150 down to 75 (-50%). The congregation’s priest-in-charge, Alex Dyer, cited the ongoing construction of a new church sanctuary and a major purge of the parish membership rolls as contributing factors to the congregation’s diminished size. Asked about the decline in attendance, Dyer commented via Twitter “ASA is one measure. @StThomasDC is one of the most best parishes I have served. Check back in 5 years and the story will be different.”

The population of the District of Columbia has grown 16 percent from 2006-2016.

Among those dioceses posting growth in 2016 were the Episcopal Church in South Carolina (5.2%), Delaware (2.2%), Western Kansas (2.1%), San Joaquin (8.5%). Attendance rose in Northwestern Pennsylvania (4.9%), Pittsburgh (3%), Nebraska (3.5%), Fort Worth (2.3%) and Northwest Texas (7%).

Attendance dropped precipitously in Connecticut (-4.9%), Albany (-6.1%), Newark (-4.7%), Virgin Islands (-10.7%), Bethlehem (-6.5%), Easton (-4.3%), West Virginia (-6%), Kentucky (-4.9%), Lexington (-4.3%), Milwaukee (-4.2%), Northern Indiana (-7.4%), Iowa (-5.9%), Kansas (-4.9%), Alaska (18.8%), Arizona (-5.5%), and Utah (-4%).

The denomination continues to see church size shrink, with the average Episcopal parish attracting 57 worshipers on a Sunday, down from an average of 64 in 2012. 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 58 percent of congregations experiencing decline of 10% or greater in the past five years. In contrast, only 16 percent of congregations grew their attendance by 10 percent in the same time span.

Unlike previous years, the 2016 table of statistics does not offer new data on marriages, baptisms or funerals. This report will be updated if and when that data is made available.

25 Responses to Episcopal Church Still Skidding Downhill

  1. Susie says:

    I can understand this. I’m a cradle Episcopalian attending a conservative parish in Louisiana. The national church has veered so far left that it embarrasses me- and many others who live in fly-over conservative states. Roughly half of the country are conservative in our political leanings. The national church HAS FORGOTTEN ABOUT US!

  2. John Smith says:

    Northwest Texas is growing and declining? I think there is an error here.

    • Jeffrey Walton says:

      The diocese of Northwest Texas reported a membership loss and an attendance gain in 2016. They are different measurements. That being said, it is somewhat unusual to see such a big difference in direction between the two.

  3. Emily Duensing says:

    Would love to know the demographic profile of these churches because if they are the older parishinors, they are going to continue to decline just because of death. If there are younger people coming in to these churches, I would guess there is a ray of light.

    • Jeffrey Walton says:

      That’s a great point, Emily. We do have demographic information for the denomination as a whole, but the Episcopal Church hasn’t publicly made parish-by-parish information readily available. Nationally, the median Episcopal Church member has grown older each year for the past decade, at least.

  4. Dr George Mims says:

    The word apostate is mentioned no where here because from top down such a word is unknown whether you as a Presiding Bishop says our salvation isn’t Jesus, it’s diversity, or you as a priest for years have deliberately seen to it that any number of Holy Scriptures in our official Lectionary are not to be used In any Liturgy. Think about those who refuse to accept the Apostles Creed or/the Nicene Creed yet lead it in a service. Remember the intimate conversations with those pledging when joining Holy Orders to uphold the prayer Book. Now explain a Church on “sinking sand.” I remain a communicant in deep faith this will turn around but know at my age I’ll not be present to see the brilliant takeover turn even more brilliantly over to become the church that can and will turn around!

  5. The rev Rebecca spanos says:

    Bishop Robinson is now a v p at Chautauqua institution in western N.Y., where we have been coming for over 50 years. I had a pleasant meeting with him suggesting more biblical preachers and speakers. We can only pray for divine providence

  6. Jeffrey, As our former professional actuary deacon is fond of pointing out, years in which Christmas Eve or Day falls upon a weekend therefore include “Incarnation attendance inflation” as compared to other years which do not. 2016 was such a year. The truly sobering fact of these figures lies in the knowledge that, even with our denomination’s inevitable holiday attendance addition, we are nonetheless still listing a percentage drop in annual attendance from the previous year! I would hazard a guess that those dioceses listing modest percentage attendance gains are smaller dioceses whose Christmas attendance make a more significant percentage difference. It’s too bad deacons don’t generally do “priest math!”

    • Jeffrey Walton says:

      Good point! I had not considered 2016 a “Christmas year” in calculating attendance inflation, because Christmas Eve was on a Saturday, not a Sunday. But yes, some parishes might include Saturday night services in their attendance count. In 2017, Christmas Eve will be on a Sunday, and we’ll certainly see a larger attendance reported.

  7. Hugh J Hansen, Ph.D. says:

    Totally agree with Susie! I stay for what it was, not IS! If Methodists had a
    Eucharistic form of worship, I would be there tomorrow. The national church ministry has been a stray for a number of decades now. It affects my attendance, my giving, and my spiritual life.

  8. Chris Worrill says:

    I baptized four children into the Episcopal Church and I myself wanted to be a deacon. The national Church went so far off the deep end, however, blending left wing politics with theology that we couldn’t in good conscience stay. Today, my wife, four children and I are all part of the Catholic Church. They didn’t just lose me, they lost the future when they lost my children.

  9. Mark says:

    Forty years ago, I had a discussion with my Bishop about whether I should go into the priesthood or government. Bishop Sherman said to me, “Mark, we have plenty of Christians in the priesthood, you should go into politics.” I wonder if he would say the same thing today.

  10. Jo says:

    I left a dying, small Episcopal church that had almost nothing but elderly members to join a vibrant ACNA church, when I could take the policies of TEC no longer. What a welcome sight it is to see my new church bursting at the seams with babies, young kids and teens! Gray heads are there as well. I am awed to see some truly elderly people who left the Episcopal churches they’d attended for decades as third and fourth generation members, in order to take a stand with the ACNA.

  11. Vee White says:

    I came very close to leaving The Episcopal Church when Gene Robinson became a bishop. Our parish was in chaos and nearly bankrupt. Fortunately for us a wise and knowledgeable priest was assigned as priest-in-charge. He has helped us to learn the story of scripture and the church and the importance of Christian community. He has gently taught us spiritual disciplines. We now are a healthy parish, learning to be apprentices of Jesus and challenged to bring Jesus to those outside the church. Had my priest not listened to my anguish and encouraged me continue growing in Christ, I would no longer be an Episcopalian – something that had been so important in my life prior to the chaos. I thank God I was able to stay the course!

  12. Earl H. Foote says:

    I am a communicant in the Diocese of Washington and a parishioner at All Saints, Chevy Chase. I am fortunate to have found a parish that is Christ-centered, Spirit-driven, and Gospel-based. If I weren’t at All Saints, I’d probably seriously consider leaving TEC. Sadly, while Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde says some of the right things about church growth and renewal, the actions of the diocese have spoken a different language. Because the cathedral hosted a vehemently anti-Israel presentation and put up signs urging a boycott of Israel (in addition to bringing forward a resolution that fortunately was defeated at the national convention), I no longer will attend any event (barring something extraordinary) at the cathedral. If TEC leadership wants to understand why Episcopalians are leaving, all it has to do is look at its own actions.

  13. dan quinn says:

    All the people that I knew who grew up in TEC have left. it was a great church to grow up in during the 1960’s. But the politics took over and it was only one way or the highway. if you did not go along you were a bigot. But many of these people did not grow up in TEC, they were not in our Boy Scout troop , their ancestors did not build the church but we were taken over and isolated in our own church where we went for comfort and Christian charity and love for all no longer existed. There was no discussion or collegiality left.

  14. mike geibel says:

    Episcopal Bishops and many pastors are mired in the third stage of denial:
    1) denial that there is a problem;
    2) denial that there is a big problem; and
    3) denial that the problem has anything to do with them.
    Mixing politics with religion and then adding in the actuarial tables, is a lethal mix for the Episcopal Church. People hungry for guidance on how they should live their lives will not give up even an hour on Sunday to listen to clergy infected with a political agenda. When the Church only adopts and advocates leftists causes followed by the chant, “we are the Jesus Movement,” then the chant becomes nothing more than a partisan political slogan.

  15. Robert P Worst, Sr says:

    I wonder, do your statistic include churches that have been commandeered by TEC, and sold off church properties for other purposes?

  16. Beau Snowden says:

    I recently left TEC and became Catholic after a lifetime in the Episcopal Church. I was baptised in the same church I was married and my children were baptized. It broke my heart to leave but I woke-up one day and didn’t recognize the church. I thought I was going to be buried there but it was no longer a church. They removed all the religious art from everywhere but the sanctuary and replaced it with modern art. And there was no difference from what I was hearing on Sunday and what I was reading on Huff Post on Monday. If there’s no discernable difference between what the church says and relativism in secular society, then what’s the point? If it’s just about outreach, I’ll mail a check to United Way and sleep in on Sunday.

  17. Scott says:

    I left the Episcopal Church because the church has surrendered to political correctness. Sermons have almost become a politically correct pep rally.
    The Church in increasingly moving away from using the term God the Father choosing more politically correct terms.
    It seems like heterosexual males have a decreasing voice in the Church especially in leadership.
    I also notice a move away from Scripture which is being replaced by current socially acceptable teachings.
    I would have remained in the Episcopal Church if only they would have stuck to their theological roots.

  18. Craig says:

    I found that my now teenage kids became less and less connected with Episcopal services as they became teens. We now attend a non-Episcopal church that doesn’t have a choir, church organ, or sing hymns. There is a rock band and a 30-something minister whose “priestly garments” are an untucked shirt without a tie. My three kids relate to this. Other Episcopalians tell me that they have noted other parishioners with teenagers either leave the Episcopal church, or leave their kids behind at home while they continue to attend Episcopal church services.

  19. Deplorable Basketdweller says:

    I just happened to catch Episcopal priest Alex Dyer on Tucker Carlson and I did some quick research on Dyer and the Episcopalians! WOW, even a cursory and rapid fact gathering search proves Dyer and the Episcopal church the most Leftwing and Anti-Christian group of folks to claim Christianity that I have ever encountered! On Tucker, Dyer actually questioned Eves gender and had the sack to claim that God is not identified with gender?! The Word was, is and always will be God and the Bible, the word, indicates that God is a He! From the very first word until the very last word, God refers to Himself as He! The Episcopal church provides nothing for the sinner in need of salvation through Jesus Christ and caters to the world! Exegesis such as that of Alex Dyer and the Episcopal church is heretical! Dyer, like all Leftists, creates his own reality based on what HE Thinks and Feels rather than the Truth, Facts and clinical reality! Dyer creates his own scripture as he goes along and he denies God’s complete Sovereignty of Rule over His creation?! Dyer seems to “declare” his own scripture based on what he thinks should or shouldn’t be and dismisses God Almighty with a wave of his hand?!? Dimwit! The unsaved will see much of Scripture as “foolishness” but much of the Holy Bible is brutally obvious to anyone with rudimentary 5th grade reading and comprehension skills and Dyer comes off as an arrogant fool to anyone at that level or above! Dyer seems to think that because he has fooled a few poor saps that the rest of us will “bow” to him because of his “lofty” title of reverend? Another typical Leftist flaw is to consider everyone as an idiot because a few fools blindly follow the garbage they spew! Of course his “eminence” Alex Dyer and the Episcopalians can believe what ever they wish but when virtually everything they profess is antithetical of the Truth of Scripture, they should maybe chose to claim something other than Christianity as the basis of their system of belief! The Episcopal supports and lifts up the things that Scripture call vile and filthy
    Matt 7:15-20 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. {16} Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? {17} Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. {18} A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. {19} Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. {20} Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
    Matt 7:21-23 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. {22} Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? {23} And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
    Beware Alex Dyer and his Episcopalian Comrades as the above Scripture warns us of them! The New Episcopal Church of Satan is quite Apra Poe!

  20. Richard Basta says:

    Alex Dyer made a fool of himself on national tv. His intentional lying about Scripture and his provable lies about his church being non political are beyond belief. Left wing heretics like he will have divine judgement barring repentance. Scripture tells us God will deal with such false teachers harshly. I pray daily for Alex’s sake and his flock’s souls that repentance comes sooner than later.

  21. Richard Basta says:

    I saw the Alex Dyer interview. I don’t think he represented the Episcopal church well at all. A bunch of deflection, denial, deception and distraction.

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