Church membership shows some regional growth, overall decline

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Nov 4, 2011

[Episcopal News Service] While membership in 16 of the Episcopal Church’s domestic dioceses and eight of its non-domestic ones grew in 2010, recently released data shows that overall membership has declined.

The decrease is part of a trend that has seen membership decline by just more than 16 percent since 2000.

Membership in the Episcopal Church in 2010 was 2,125,012, with 1,951,907 in its domestic dioceses and 173,105 in the non-domestic dioceses, according to a report here. Membership in the church’s domestic dioceses in 2009 was 2,006,343, showing a decrease of 54,436 in 2010.

The 16 U.S. dioceses that grew in the past year were Alabama, Arkansas, Atlanta, Central Gulf Coast, East Carolina, Iowa, Kentucky, Montana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Navajoland, North Dakota, Northwest Texas, Oklahoma, Pittsburgh and Wyoming. The eight non-U.S. dioceses that grew in membership were the Convocation of Churches in Europe, Dominican Republic, Ecuador-Central, Haiti, Honduras, Micronesia, Puerto Rico and Taiwan.

St Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston had the largest number of active congregants with 8,406.

The average pledge was $2,346 in 2010, compared with $2,314 in 2009 and $1,948 five years ago. Overall plate and pledge income declined 1.2 percent in 2010, going to $1,273,709,000 from $1,289,458,871 in 2009.

The research shows that the average Sunday attendance across the church in 2010 was 657,831 in the United States. That compares to 856,579 in 2000. Average Sunday attendance in the non-U.S. dioceses grew in 2010 to 40,049, compared to 35,572 in 2003 (the first year the report lists non-domestic ASA). The 2010 non-domestic ASA is down 4.4 percent from 2009’s total of 41,882.

Sixty-eight percent of Episcopal Church congregations have an average Sunday attendance of 100 or less and 286 of the church’s 6,794 parishes and missions have an ASA of 10 or less. The median ASA is 65.

“These statistics reveal something very important about the challenges we face as a church,” Bishop Stacy Sauls, the church’s chief operating officer, said in a press release about the research reports from the Office of Public Affairs. “One of those is that we cannot allow statistics like this to make us anxious about our survival. Earthly survival is not much a value of the Gospel. Striving for the kingdom and righteous of God is. Concentrating on the latter is likely to yield more abundant life than the former (Mt. 6:31-33).”

Sauls said that the statistics also show that “we cannot continue to pretend we are the church of the establishment entitled to the power, prestige and privilege that comes with that.”

“Right now, I think the cross calls us to die to those trappings of our old establishment life, and that means turning our attention single-mindedly to God’s mission and our participation in it, which means that we are going to have to restructure and reform ourselves accordingly,” he said. “Churches that turn inward will die. Churches that turn outward will not only live, but thrive. The numbers call us to strengthen our commitment to turn outward.”

The decrease in Episcopal Church membership reflects a trend across most other Protestant denominations. In 2008, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey reported (that its research and that of other scholars shows “the proportion of the population that is Protestant has declined markedly in recent decades while the proportion of the population that is not affiliated with any particular religion has increased significantly.”

Just more than 16 percent of American adults are not affiliated with any particular religious group, the survey found.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America reports that its 2010 membership of 4,272,688 is a decrease of 270,349 from 2009. ELCA membership has declined every year since 1988 when there were 5,288,048 members. The 2010 decline of 5.95 percent is largest in those 22 years. There were 11,133 congregations in 1988 and 10,008 in 2010.

The Presbyterian Church USA reports that at the end of 2010 it had experienced a net loss of 61,047 members from 2009 (-2.9 percent) and a net loss of 97 congregations. There were 10,560 congregations and 2,016,091 members at the end of 2010. Total contributions for 2010 were $2,027,479,202, a loss of $74,516,440 (3.5 percent) over 2009. The average contribution per member in reporting congregations was $1,122.29.

The current membership reflects a net loss of 509,239 members, or about 20.2 percent, over the last 10 years, according to the PCUSA website. There were 11,178 congregations in 2000, 618 more than in 2010. Fifty-two percent of Presbyterian congregations have 100 or fewer members.

The United Methodist Church said earlier this year that its U.S. membership had declined while the number of Methodists in Africa, Europe and Asia grew from 3.5 million to 4.4 million in the five years ending in 2009. U.S. professing membership in 2009 was down 1.22 percent from 2008, to a 7.8 million members, according to data from the United Methodist Council on Finance and Administration. Overall UMC membership stood at 12 million in 2009, making it the third largest denomination in the United States behind the Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention.

— The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.