Episcopalians continue to die “a death of a thousand cuts” as the vast majority of church dioceses report continued declines in both membership, attendance, baptisms and weddings for the year 2019.
Statistics recently released by the Office of the General Convention show membership in an uninterrupted drop of 38,404 persons to 1,637,945 (-2.29%) in 2019, while average Sunday attendance declined 13,547 persons to 518,411 (-2.25%).
Across the denomination, three-quarters of Episcopal parishes now have an average attendance of fewer than 100 persons. Median attendance across the church has dropped from 53 to 51 in the past reporting year. During the past five years, 61% of congregations have seen attendance declines of 10% or more, up from 59% the prior year.
The statistics cover the year 2019 and are unaffected by expected attendance drops due to COVID-19 restrictions in 2020.
Steep declines continue in the Northeastern United States, the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes regions, while losses are more gradual in the South and parts of the West.
Among the largest percentage declines in attendance are in the liberal dioceses of New Hampshire down 617 persons (15.6%), Western Massachusetts down 348 persons (9%), and Newark down 566 persons (7.9%). Formerly orthodox dioceses that more recently embraced revisionist theology also posted dramatic declines: Eau Claire down 101 persons (14.6%), neighboring Fond Du Lac down 102 (6.3%) and Northern Indiana down 164 (9.3%). Both Fond Du Lac and Eau Claire also posted by far the worst membership declines in the denomination, shedding 18.4% and 27%, respectively, in a single year. Each of these dioceses also posted sharp drops in the preceding year of 2018.
A handful of dioceses posted small attendance gains, including the U.S. Virgin Islands up 42 persons (3.4%), Pittsburgh up 50 (2.2%), South Carolina up 34 (1.2%), South Dakota up 21 (1.2%), West Missouri up 66 (2.4%), San Joaquin up 14 (1.9%), Spokane up 20 (1.3%) and Alaska up 58 (5%).
The smallest domestic U.S. dioceses continue to be Northern Michigan at 385 attendees (down 9 persons or 2.3%) and Navajo Missions at 167 attendees (down 14 persons or 7.7%).
In the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, where Bishop Mariann Budde has assumed a higher public profile in the past year with pointed criticism of the U.S. President, membership dropped 1,657 (4.4%) while attendance dropped 441 (3.5%). Budde, who was recently asked to give a benediction at the Democratic National Convention, has been more candid in discussing ongoing decline than many of her peers in the House of Bishops.
All 2019 membership and attendance numbers by diocese can be found here.
Roots of Decline
Mainline Protestant Christians, including Episcopalians, are less likely to have teenagers who share their parents’ faith than Roman Catholics or Evangelicals, according to a recent study released last month by the Pew Research Center. That study found 55 percent of teens identify with the Mainline Protestant faith of their parents, while 80 and 81 percent of Evangelical and Roman Catholic teens, respectively, do. Of the three groups, Mainline Protestant parents had the highest percentage of teens to identify as unaffiliated (24 percent). Mainline Protestant parents are twice as likely (12 percent) to have a teenager who identifies as Evangelical than Evangelical parents have a teen who identifies as Mainline Protestant (6 percent).
Release of the statistics comes the same week as a church Hearing Panel found Episcopal Diocese of Albany Bishop William H. Love guilty of failing to abide by the Discipline and Worship of The Episcopal Church in violation of his ordination vows. Love, one of the last Episcopal Church diocesan bishops to retain a traditional view of marriage, had refused to permit clergy in his diocese to utilize same-sex rites enacted provisionally in 2015 and made mandatory by the church’s 2018 General Convention.
In a letter to his diocese, Love wrote that a separate hearing will be scheduled within the month to discuss the terms of discipline to be carried out.
2019 statistics by province and diocese can be accessed here: https://extranet.generalconvention.org/staff/files/download/28631
The church’s official 2019 table of statistics includes information on baptisms, confirmations, receptions, weddings and burials. Unlike membership, attendance and giving (three objective metrics that illustrate how the church is doing at present) weddings and baptisms provide an idea of how the church will fare in future years.
From 2018–2019, weddings across the denomination dropped from 7,305 to 6,484, down 11.2%. Children’s baptisms dropped from 21,084 to 19,716, down 6.5%. Adult baptisms dropped from 4,144 to 3,866, down 6.7%.
A report on 2018 numbers can be viewed here.
UPDATE [10/9/2020]: The Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs has a press release posted with comments from the church’s research specialist. It is worth noting that the Episcopal Church Executive Committee will consider an amended form of the parochial report for the year 2020 at their autumn gathering next week.