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Episcopal Church continues downward slide; sheds additional members in 2017

Episcopal Church continues downward slide; sheds additional members in 2017
Decline remains unabated

By David Virtue and Mary Ann Mueller
August 24, 2018

Despite shrill revival cries to jump start the Episcopal Church, celebrity-driven Presiding Bishop Michael Curry's denomination failed to show a rise in market share, with latest figures revealing shedding congregations and members along the way.

The Fast Fact domestic stats for 2017 released this week, showed The Episcopal Church continuing its downward trend both in baptized membership and average Sunday attendance.

Between 2016-2017, there were 26 fewer reporting congregations. In 2016, there were 6,476 functioning churches; in 2017, only 6,447, a drop of 29 churches. Ten years ago, in 2008, there were 6,964 parishes and missions; by 2013, the number of churches had dropped to 6,622.

Baptized membership dropped 32,593 from 1,745,156 in 2016 to 1,712,563 in 2017, reflecting a 1.9% one-year drop. Current baptized membership figures show a 10% drop (62,369 souls) in five years (2013-2017) and a 19% drop in 10 years (2008-2017).

The ASA took a deeper dive, falling 2.4% with 13,709 fewer Episcopalians showing up for Sunday service in 2017 (556,744 souls) than they did in 2016 (570,453 souls). The five-year figures (2013-2017) reflects a 13% dip (66,947 souls) and the 10-year (2008-2017) decline was 24% (148,513 souls).

Other Fast Fact figures show that while 1,418 churches (22%) increased their membership by 10 percent or more between 2013-2017, another 2,643 congregations (41%) lost more than 10 percent of their congregants.

Expanding ASA stats shows that between 2016-2017, nearly two thousand churches (31%) increased in ASA, while another 3,352 churches dropped 52% in Average Sunday Attendance. Looking back five years from 2013-2017, only 967 churches (15%) increased their ASA by ten percent or more, while a whopping 3,675 churches (57%) saw their Sunday attendance drop more than ten percent.

The largest Episcopal congregation remains St. Martins in Houston, Texas, with 9,353 on the 2017 church rolls, an increase of 95 souls from 2016. The Houston church also saw an increase in ASA of 18 more people-in-the-pews on Sunday in 2017 (1,889) than showed up for services in 2016 (1,871).

Although St. Martin's is the largest Episcopal church, it is one of only 838 (13%) congregations with more than 500 members. St. Martins is one of 258 Episcopal churches (4%) with an ASA of more than 300.

Another nearly 4,000 congregations (62%) have fewer than 200 members. At the bottom, some 388 churches (a mere six percent) have 20 or fewer members. In 2017, the median baptized church membership was 141, a drop of two from 2016.

Most Episcopalians attend one of the 4,642 congregations with an ASA of fewer than 100. Another 258 churches (5.8%) have an ASA of ten or fewer. In 2017, the median ASA was 55, down from 57, a drop of two from 2016.

Financially, the Episcopal Church is showing an across the board increase in pledged income. In 2017, the average pledge was $2,873, a $97 increase from the 2016 pledge figure of $2,776 and a $471 increase from the 2008 average pledge of $2,302.

However, the 1.7% increase in the 2016-2017 pledge is not keeping up with the 2.1% rate of inflation.

Total income for 2017 was $2,358,477,256 with a total of $2,226,690,846 of listed expenditures. Fast Facts also lists another $4,958,840,939 as congregational investments. It should be pointed out that a lot of wealthier congregations are now digging into endowment to meet payroll and to stay afloat.

Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline

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