(Photo: Suzanne Gill)
The Episcopal Church continues to decline both in baptized members and average weekly worship attendance, according to recently released statistics for 2012.
Parochial Reports gathered by The General Convention of TEC show that according to the 2012 report, among its nine provinces, TEC has 2,066,710 baptized members, with 1,894,181 in the United States dioceses and 172,529 in dioceses abroad.
This contrasts with 2011, where TEC had 2,096,389 total baptized members.
Average Sunday attendance during the same time period dropped from approximately 690,000 in 2011 to below 680,000 last year.
Parochial Reports is a system established by TEC via their church law and revamped in the late '90s to its present format.
"All dioceses now use the same reporting process, and all have immediate access to the Parochial Reports submitted by their congregations," reads an entry on the TEC General Convention website. "In addition, all congregations have access to their own previously filed forms electronically, going back to 1998 and by using the same website that is used to file new Reports."
The Trend of Decline
As with many religious groups in the United States in recent years, the Episcopal Church has suffered a considerable decline in its numbers.
In 2010, TEC membership in the United States dipped below the 2-million mark, which is far removed from its peak membership of approximately 3.6 million in 1966.
From 2008 to 2012, the number of TEC parishes and missions in America went from 6,964 to 6,667. The Church has lost nearly 200,000 members since 2008.
Jeff Walton, Anglican program director at the Institute on Religion & Democracy, told The Christian Post that these losses may even be larger than what is recorded.
According to Walton, TEC's numbers are not factoring in the losses it technically sustained when the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina voted to leave the denomination last year.
"The reported nearly 29,000 member drop does not include an estimated 22,000 that departed with the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina in November of 2012. So the real decline is about 51,000 persons," said Walton. "The Episcopal Church is continuing a gradual, predictable decline in both members and attendance."
Possible Causes for Decline
Not oblivious to this numerical trend, the Episcopal Church leadership has sought ways to counteract their reduction in membership.
Recently TEC's Bishops passed a resolution creating the "Task Force for Re-imagining The Episcopal Church," an entity meant to help look into the issues facing the Church from within.
Among its goals, the Task Force has the mission of getting the Church to more effectively "Proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom" and "Teach, baptize and nurture new believers."
As to why the Church was declining, Walton of the IRD told CP that he believed demographic trends and the hierarchy's wholesale acceptance of liberal theology were to blame.
"By effectively running off church planters, evangelists and many young families who hold closely to the Gospel, the Episcopal Church has eaten the seed corn of its future," said Walton. "This is the natural consequence of a church that has lost its ability to critique wider culture. If all the Episcopal Church does is affirm every choice and echo the society around it, why would potential parishioners seek to hear the same message there that they can get anywhere else?"