Episcopal Church, Dying Church

By | October 10, 2020

The results of the 2019 annual parochial reports are in. While there are some positive signs, overall the numbers indicate a church in a state of precipitous decline. Indeed, many key metrics show that the rate of decline accelerated in 2019.

Overall, the denomination shed 30 churches, while active membership dropped by 38,404 persons, accounting for a 2.29 percent decrease, versus 2.10 percent in 2018. The ten-year decrease reflects an 17.4 percent decline.

On a more positive note, average Sunday attendance (ASA) declined by 2.55 percent, versus 4.5 percent the prior year. Similarly, 32 percent of churches reported an increase in attendance, compared with 24 percent in 2018. But these gains were offset by a 12.07 percent five-year decline in the size of the average Episcopal church, which went from an ASA of 58 in 2015 to 51  in 2019. Similarly, 413 churches reported 10 or fewer ASA, versus 383 the year before. Average Sunday attendance across the board dropped from 53 to 51, possibly reflecting the aging demographics of the church.

Total pledge and plate income increased from $1.328 billion to $1.353 billion, but failed to keep pace with inflation. Meanwhile, congregational investments continued to increase, reaching more than $4.91 billion.

Total baptisms declined by 6.7 percent, while confirmations of children dropped 8.54 percent. Adult confirmations declined slightly, by .46 percent. Marriages, which held relatively steady in American society as a whole, decreased by an alarming 11.24 percent. Total baptisms and receptions declined by 2.6 percent during the year, while accounting for 2.26 percent of total membership.

In short, while the Episcopal Church continues to put lipstick on the pig, the reality is the data points overwhelmingly to a church in a state of profound decline. Unless things change drastically, the denomination will all but cease to exist in the next 20 years.

Raw data can be accessed on the website of the General Convention, while interactive data on individual churches can be found here.

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