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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Mary Wisman

There is data but no indication as to the reasons for the decline. Some may be the politics of the day and social issues…how ever the Episcopal Church seems to have gotten away from who is really in charge…

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Hi Mary. Thanks so much for your comment. What I find most frustrating is that the church seems to have little interest in figuring out a path forward. And there is precious little accountabilitu.

Nicholas

Seeking a church to belong to, I attended a local Episcopal church for a while, then left. It was all about “feeling good”. “Sin” was a dirty word, (a beautiful penitential prayer – the Prayer of Humble Access, had even been eliminated from the liturgy), and “inclusiveness” was stressed to the point of the ridiculous. Communion was open to anyone because it was all about “healing and community”, not about receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in a worthy manner as professed Christians. God was referred to as both Father and “Mother”, or gender references were omitted altogether. The priest and his husband were the trendy flavor of the day. No surprise re: any of this, as the same was found even at the cathedral in nearby Boston. It reconfigured its interior some years ago so that worshippers faced each other, (“We’re all here loving each other and oh yeah, God is here too somewhere.”) and instead of having a cross over the main entrance (it would have “kept some people away” and was “divisive”) the cathedral folks opted instead for a large sculpture of a religion-neutral nautilus shell, which “symbolizes our spiral journey and dance through life…blah blah blah.”

Last edited 11 months ago by Nicholas
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Thanks very much for your comment. My experience is that the church in Massachusetts is particularly bad, in that it simply will not take an independent look at issues involving clergy misconduct.

If your diocese can’t even ensure the integrity of the church’s mission, what good is it?

Sarah H

Your disappointment with the church is far from unusual. I came to the church from a devout Catholic family, and for years was proud that the Episcopal church walked the walk, including welcoming LGBT persons.

My reasons for leaving the church are too many to list, but I will say that the church has lost its way. Nor do I say that as a conservative. Far from it.

For what it is worth, I know Bob Malm. My only comment is that he gives off a creepy vibe.

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Thanks Sarah. Your comments are, in my experience, spot-on. I have a whole circle of progressive friends who have left the church due to unhappiness with its actions and conduct in recent years.

Former Worker

As someone from another denomination with much more freedom, I saw a church that doesn’t preach or teach or live God’s Word. I saw a church preaching social justice, how horrible white people are, climate change, global warming, global cooling, climate catastrophe and other heresy teachings. Head of the church had a wonderful opportunity when he “preached” at Harry’s wedding to preach the Gospel to a worldwide audience. What did he do? More racial inequality drivel and socalist propaganda. When I mentioned it later that day when involved in a local wedding at the church I was working at, the person who fawns over him just gave me a deer in the headlights look. Who they (and we) are failing is the children. I will never forget teaching in my small children’s choir a song that had the word Psalms in it. The children had no idea what the Book of Psalms was including the Rector’s own child (not that his family attended that much anyway.) The Episcopal Church preaches nothing but heresy. If they are dying (local church said they had 5 years), God is separating the wheat from the chaff.