Episcopal Church Decline Continues With Loss of Over 37,000 Members in 2015

Congregants of Christ Episcopal Church stand inside the sanctuary during a service in this undated photo.
Congregants of Christ Episcopal Church stand inside the sanctuary during a service in this undated photo. | (Photo: Christ Episcopal Church)

The Episcopal Church continued its long trend of decline in 2015, with recently released statistics showing the Mainline denomination losing more than 37,000 members last year.

In statistics released earlier this week by the Episcopal Church Office of Research, in 2015 the Church had approximately 1.77 million members in its domestic dioceses, down from about 1.81 million members in 2014.

2015's membership numbers contrast strongly with the Episcopal Church's membership count 10 years earlier, which stood around 2.2 million members. This represents a decline of nearly 20 percent over the past decade.

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Credit : Screenshot of an Episcopal News Service video of Bishop Michael Curry's election
Screenshot of an Episcopal News Service video of Bishop Michael Curry's election

A strong decline is also found in the Average Sunday Attendance numbers.

In 2015, the entire Episcopal Church, including both domestic and non-domestic dioceses, had an ASA of about 614,000. This was about 20,000 fewer than 2014 and approximately 212,000 fewer than 2005.

As the statistical analysis by the Church noted, over the past decade worship attendance has dropped by 25.7 percent.

Jeffrey Walton, Anglican expert with the theologically conservative Institute on Religion & Democracy, noted in a recent blog entry that the trend of decline is continuing despite a lack of congregations leaving the denomination in protest.

"Episcopal Church officials, including former Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori — who completed a nine-year term in office in late 2015 — have predicted that decline would level off after years of internal dispute and the departure of dioceses, congregations and individual members," wrote Walton.

"While there were no major congregational departures in 2015, the denomination still exceeded its baseline rate of decline of approximately 28,000 members a year by a substantial margin."

Like many Mainline Protestant denominations, the Episcopal Church has been experiencing a trend of decline in membership and congregations for the past several years.

One factor in this decline was the liberal theological direction of the Church, including its growing acceptance of homosexuality and gay marriage.

In 2003, when the Church appointed its first openly gay bishop, the Rev. Gene Robinson, scores of congregations left the denomination.

News of the statistics showing more decline come as the Church's House of Bishops concluded their official meeting in Detroit, Michigan.

Among the proceedings was the issuing of a declaration titled "A Word to the Church for the World," which centered on calling the Church to act upon various matters of social justice.

"We lament the stark joylessness that marks our present time. We decry angry political rhetoric which rages while fissures widen within society along racial, economic, educational, religious, cultural and generational lines. We refuse to look away as poverty, cruelty and war force families to become migrants enduring statelessness and demonization," read the declaration in part.

"Yet, in all this, 'we do not despair' (2 Corinthians 4:8.). We remember that God in Christ entered our earthly neighborhood during a time of political volatility and economic inequality. To this current crisis we bring our faith in Jesus. By God's grace, we choose to see in this moment an urgent opportunity to follow Jesus into our fractured neighborhoods, the nation and the world."

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