By Dr. Brian Burge, used with permission. Original at https://www.getreligion.org/getreligion/2022/7/27/and-this-just-in-the-episcopal-church-gets-more-sobering-news-from-the-book-of-numbers
My very first experience with The Episcopal Church (TEC) was on a youth group mission trip to Huntsville, Ala. We were with a group called World Changers, which was an evangelical organization that helped organize free labor from young people for individuals who did not have the ability to pay for home repairs. Some groups were tasked with painting, others were focused on cleaning up yard debris, while my group put a new roof on a house in the Alabama heat.
For reasons I can’t fully recall, our youth group was going to be in Alabama on a Sunday morning and the organizers at World Changers had decided that the teenagers from First Baptist of Salem, Ill., would visit the local Episcopal congregation.
I have to admit — I had absolutely no idea what was going on. I was raised in a very low-church fashion in a Southern Baptist Church. No vestments, no stoles, no creeds, and no communion each Sunday. I remember sitting in the pews and thinking how different it was, and coming to the realization that I didn’t know about any faith tradition outside my own.
I have a lot of affinity for Episcopalians. In fact, my American Baptist Church has latched on to many aspects of the liturgy followed in TEC. We say the creed each Sunday, we read the lectionary, we recite the Lord’s Prayer and we sing the Doxology and the Gloria Patria. I like the rituals that can be found in TEC.
What I also enjoy is that the Episcopalians are really good at data collection.
There’s no denomination that compares to how meticulous they are in collecting annual statistics and making them publicly available. That makes it very easy for me to write a post about what’s going on with Episcopalians. I wrote one such post last year entitled, “The Death of the Episcopal Church is Near.” It has easily become the most popular article on this website over the past 12 months.
I now have data from 2020 and my conclusion hasn’t changed. The Episcopal Church is in serious trouble.
Some of it may be pandemic related, but some of it is clearly not. The end is coming fairly rapidly for the TEC as it exists today. Let me explain.
In 2009, about 725,000 Episcopalians were classified as weekly attenders. That has declined every single year since then, usually by two or three percentage points. By 2016, the number of regular attending Episcopalians had dropped to about 600,000.
Before the pandemic hit, regular attendance had leveled off around 550,000. But, then COVID-19 shut down churches all across the United States. It hit TEC hard. Average attendance dropped by about 60,000 between 2019 and 2020 — a dip of nearly 12% in a single year. Or said another way, church attendance in The Episcopal Church dropped by a third between 2009 and 2020.
Alongside a decline in attendance, there was also a noticeable reduction in “plate and pledge” totals between 2019 and 2020. It’s important to note that it’s fairly modest at about $60 million (or 4.4%). The amount of money in the plate and pledge totals was essentially the same in 2014 as it was in 2020. But that $1.3 billion in 2014, adjusted for inflation, would be about $1.42 billion today. Thus, donations are not keeping pace and are noticeably slowing down.
However, when the total plate and pledge is divided by the number of actual weekly members reported by The Episcopal Church, a different trend is revealed. In 2014, the average giving per weekly attender was just over $2000. In 2020, that had risen significantly to $2,676.
It’s hard to parse why this is the case because it could be due to several factors. One could be that while attendance dipped because of the COVID-19 lockdowns, many faithful members still gave their tithes and offerings online. Another is that those who are left in the pews are the ones most committed to the cause and thus the most likely to make the biggest donations. Regardless of the reason, overall the financial picture of TEC is relatively healthy.
However, when I drilled down on some other key metrics related to the activities of a typical denomination, there were plenty of warning signs. TEC collects data on baptisms, burials, confirmations and marriages that occur in their parishes throughout the United States. I tracked those changes from 2013 through 2020 and the overall trend is clearly alarming.
In 2013, Episcopalian dioceses conducted nearly 33,000 baptisms. In 2020, that had dropped below 9,000.
Now, it’s logical to assume that a good deal of that drop could be tied to the fact that many Episcopal churches were not meeting regularly during 2020. However, there were already clear warning signs before the coronavirus was discovered.
In 2019, there were only 17,713 baptisms. That means that baptisms had declined by nearly 50% before COVID-19 shut down American society. Just for reference, in 1990, TEC did nearly 57,000 baptisms. That’s 8,000 more than occurred in 2018, 2019 and 2020 combined.
In 2013, there were just over 22,000 confirmations. In 2020, that number was a paltry 3,710. Again, COVID-19 probably made it difficult, if not impossible, to hold the necessary confirmation classes, but that doesn’t explain the fact that in 2019 there were 15,594 confirmations. Confirmation numbers had already dropped 30% prior to COVID-19.
In terms of weddings, there were over 10,0000 nationwide annually in TEC through 2014.
CONTINUE READING: “COVID-19 Only Accelerated the Decline of The Episcopal Church” by Ryan Burge at Religion in Public.