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Episcopalians See Partial Attendance Rebound as Membership Melts Down

Episcopalians See Partial Attendance Rebound as Membership Melts Down

By Jeffrey Walton
September 18, 2023

As the sixth largest cathedral in the world, the Episcopal Church's landmark Washington National Cathedral seats about 4,000 worshippers. Across the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia, Restoration Anglican Church, a congregation planted in 2009 as part of the Anglican Church in North America, has a building completed in 2014 that seats about 360.

Yet Restoration reported an Average Sunday Attendance (ASA) of 495 persons in 2022, while the National Cathedral reported 423 the same year. The Anglican parish also reported congregational giving (known as plate-and-pledge) of nearly three times the number ($2,613,723) of the Episcopal Cathedral ($967,872), despite larger membership rolls of 1,517 and a significant endowment at the latter, compared to membership of 1,074 and no endowment at Restoration.

Neither Restoration nor the National Cathedral are broadly reflective of their respective denominations on a nationwide scale, with each listing larger-than-average congregations. But, as a local microcosm of churchgoers in a major metropolitan area, the two churches less than five miles apart may serve to illustrate a sea change in how each emerged following a period of COVID restrictions and a corresponding attendance drop.

Statistical Release

More than 55 percent of Episcopal parishes now find themselves in a state of long-term decline, dropping 10 percent or more across the past five reporting years, while only 12 percent are growing an equivalent amount across the same period, according to Episcopal Church statistics released today.

Information compiled from 2022 parochial reports by the Episcopal Church Office of the General Convention reveals a partial attendance rebound following the conclusion of COVID restrictions as well as a much steeper-than-usual decline in denominational membership.

Episcopal membership rolls dropped 88,306 persons from 1,520,388 in 2021 to 1,432,082 in 2022, down six percent, the largest single year loss reported in memory. The denomination has now lost 23 percent of members in the past 10 years, a rate that is accelerating.

Attendance increased by 56,306 persons across the same year, up 19 percent. However, this reflects only a third of the number lost in the prior year when attendance dropped by 165,328 persons due to COVID. The denomination shuttered a net 45 parishes in 2022, down from 6,294 to 6,249.

Numbers were far from even across dioceses. Among the hardest hit for membership were Southwest Virginia (-11.7%), Maryland (-13.3%), Bethlehem, PA (-12.1%), Newark, NJ (-11.3%), Puerto Rico (-22.6%), Northern Indiana (-11.6%), Iowa (-12.9%), Montana (-17.1%), Nebraska (-14.2%), Kansas (-11.5%), California (-15.8%), Idaho, (-13.0%), Nevada (-15.7%), and Olympia, WA (-12.5%).

South Dakota, South Carolina, East Carolina, and the newly readmitted Diocese of Cuba each posted modest membership growth.


Revenue is customarily a bright spot in the annual reports of the Episcopal Church, which draws an affluent membership relative to the overall U.S. population. In 2022, the annually tracked giving metric rose from $1,335,654,413 to $1,336,349,803 (up $695,390 or .05%). However, an Average Inflation Rate of 8 percent in 2022 more than erases that amount in a real loss of inflation-adjusted dollars. Plate-and-Pledge accounts for 55 percent of Episcopal Church income.

While there are fewer Episcopalians, those that remain continue to contribute a larger share of finances. The average pledge has actually increased over the past decade. This may be due to older congregants (49.5 percent of Episcopalians are age 65 or older) in a late career or early retirement stage of life, when incomes customarily peak.

According to the Episcopal Church's analysis of the 2022 parochial report data, in 2013 the average pledge was $2,553 while in 2022 the average pledge was $3,658. This is an overall increase even when accounting for inflation during this time period.

The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on religious life across the country. Nearly half (47.5 percent) of Episcopal congregations indicated that the pandemic had a somewhat significant or very significant negative impact on them.


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