Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Rod Dreher on Declining Attendance in American Churches

Rod Dreher provides this report on the pitiful state of The Episcopal Church (the mainline denomination):

numbers from the Episcopal Church show a stunning collapse in church attendance between 2000 and 2010. It’s down 23 percent overall, with some dioceses in far steeper decline than that. Pittsburgh, for example, has lost 73 percent of its churchgoing Episcopalians over that time period. That’s nearly three out of four Episcopalians in Pittsburgh, gone within a decade. San Joaquin saw four out of five of its people stop coming to church in the same period.

No diocese is growing, but a handful of them — Tennessee and South Carolina, for example — kept losses down to single digits. Maybe some of you readers who are Episcopalians can explain why. It can’t be simply a Southern thing; other Southern dioceses experienced losses on par with TEC in other regions.

At the end of the article, he provides this update:

UPDATE: The Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops voted today to make it against church law not to consider transgenders for ministry. If the House of Deputies goes along with it, as it is expected to, this becomes Episcopal Church law.

Yes, things are bad.

Interestingly, here is one comparison that Dreher makes:

Putnam & Campbell, sifting the data, found that if not for the large influx of Hispanic immigrants, Catholicism in the US would be declining at a rate comparable to that of mainline Protestantism.

Putnam & Campbell are the authors of a 2010 work called American Grace, a study on “the ever-changing religious and political landscape in America”. Here is what they say about that:

• The religious traditions that are losing the most adherents are mainline Protestants (including Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Episcopalians, and Congregationalists) and Catholics.

• Roughly 60 percent of Americans raised as Catholics are no longer practicing Catholics – approximately one third have left the church entirely, while another third are only nominally Catholic. No denomination in America has gone through more rapid or wrenching change.

• However, the overall share of the population that is Catholic (just under 25 percent) has held steady. For while "Anglo" Catholics (mainly the grandchildren of European immigrants) have been rushing out of one door, Latino Catholics have been entering through another.

• For Catholics aged 18-34, 59 percent are Latino. Catholicism in America is well on its way to becoming a majority-Latino religion. This transition is not taking place without tension, as some congregations experience strains between older English-speaking parishioners and younger Spanish-speaking ones.

This study, especially the item saying that “roughly 60% of Americans raised as Catholics are no longer practicing Catholics” provides independent confirmation for a Pew Research survey that we had cited recently.

He concludes:

But no Christian church should gloat, and not just out of politeness, either. Putnam & Campbell documented that all Christian churches are seeing declining numbers. We are living through a great shift in religion and society now.


  1. John,

    interesting statistics about them. I know personally this is true for some in the Episcopal faith here where I live. One reason cited leaving was the liberal stance on ordinations of women, marriage and lifestyle. Sadly, if I am not mistaken, my friend started attending one of several parishes in the Catholic diocese in my area opting to not come and fellowship with us.

    1. I know of several individuals (both public and private individuals) who, seeking to get out of the corruption of The Episcopal Church, went to the RCC.

      One of my purposes for posting things from the "Old Jamestown Church" blog and "The Anglican Continuum" is to try to highlight some of those movements as an alternative.

  2. Most people leave Mainline Protestantism for "None of the Above"; if asked, they probably agree with women clergy and gay marriage doesn't particularly bother them (especially those under 35). They just can't see the point of getting up, going to church, singing the songs and paying for something for which they see little or no value or return to themselves.
    They're not leaving in disgust; they're yawning on the way out the door.