Episcopal Church worship attendance down by nearly 25% since 2009: report

Washington National Cathedral of Washington, DC. A congregation of The Episcopal Church, it is one of the largest church buildings in the world. | Courtesy Washington National Cathedral

The Episcopal Church has seen its worship attendance drop by nearly a quarter since 2009, according to new statistics that show a continuation of the denomination’s yearslong decline.   

The latest Episcopal Church parochial reports were announced last week, with the deadlines for reporting numbers being extended due to complications from the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns.

According to the latest numbers, active baptized members in 2019 was approximately 1.63 million and average Sunday worship attendance was around 518,000.

This represents a drop from 2018, when the number of active baptized members was 1.67 million and average Sunday worship attendance was about 531,000.

The 2019 numbers were much lower than in 2015, when the Episcopal Church had about 1.77 million active baptized members and around 579,000 in average Sunday worship attendance.

One of the denomination's reports, an examination of average Sunday attendance from 2009 to 2019, shows a steep decline in weekly worship attendance.

In 2009, the Episcopal Church reported about 724,000 regular worship attendees, which makes the 2019 numbers 24.5% lower than a decade earlier. 

While members and attendance were down compared to past years, the denomination did report an increase in financial resources in 2019 compared to the previous year.

The average pledge in 2019 was $3,087, or over $300 more than in 2015. Also, the total income for the denomination increased from about $2.35 billion in 2018 to around $2.44 billion in 2019.

However, while income increased, so did expenses, with the denomination reporting an expenses figure of approximately $2.291 billion in 2019, versus $2.267 billion in 2018.

The Rev. Dr. Molly James, deputy executive officer of the Episcopal Church’s General Convention, was optimistic about the parochial reports.

“Our 2019 data tells an important part of the story of who we are as Episcopalians, and going forward Parochial Report data will also help us tell the story of the remarkable ways the Church has adapted to the difficult circumstances in which we find ourselves,” she stated last week.

Jeffrey Walton, Anglican program director with the theologically conservative Institute on Religion & Democracy, said the latest numbers showed that the Episcopal Church was continuing “to die ‘a death of a thousand cuts.’”

“The statistics cover the year 2019 and are unaffected by expected attendance drops due to COVID-19 restrictions in 2020,” Walton noted in a piece on the IRD a blog.

“Steep declines continue in the Northeastern United States, the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes regions, while losses are more gradual in the South and parts of the West.”

According to Walton’s analysis of the numbers, many of the major losses can be found in dioceses that are theologically liberal or recently gained progressive leadership.

“Among the largest percentage declines in attendance are in the liberal dioceses of New Hampshire down 617 persons (15.6%), Western Massachusetts down 348 persons (9%), and Newark down 566 persons (7.9%),” he continued.

“Formerly orthodox dioceses that more recently embraced revisionist theology also posted dramatic declines: Eau Claire down 101 persons (14.6%), neighboring Fond Du Lac down 102 (6.3%) and Northern Indiana down 164 (9.3%).” 

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