WASHINGTON -- Once a flagship denomination of American mainline Protestantism, the U.S.-based Episcopal Church has for the first time in decades reported membership below two million.
Self-reported statistics provided by the denomination this month show that the church has dropped from 2,006,343 members in 2009 to 1,951,907 in 2010, the most recent reporting year. The loss of 54,436 members increases the annual rate of decline from 2 percent to 3 percent, outpacing the most recently reported declines in most other mainline churches. The church's 10-year change in active members has dropped 16 percent.
A branch of the otherwise fast-growing 80 million member worldwide Anglican Communion, the third largest family of Christian churches globally, the Episcopal Church had also seen a steady decrease in the number of parishes, losing or closing over 100 in 2010, as well as a drop in attendance from 682,963 in 2009 to 657,831 in 2010, a 4 percent drop. Fifty-four percent of all U.S. Episcopal Churches suffered attendance loss over the prior year. Over the last decade, attendance was down 23 percent.
The denomination, which once claimed over 3.5 million members as recently as the mid-1960s, has lost over 40 percent of membership even while the U.S. population grew by over 50 percent.
A statistical summary provided by the Episcopal Church can be viewed here.
Jeff Walton, spokesman for IRD’s Anglican Action Program, commented:
"The drop below 2 million members is noteworthy, but the precipitous drop in attendance is even more dramatic, boding poorly for the Episcopal Church’s future. Almost one-quarter of Episcopalians who were in the pews in 2000 have vanished.
"Departures to other churches have fueled Episcopal decline, as have decreasing baptisms and its graying population.
"These statistics contrast sharply with more theologically conservative Anglican churches in the global south, many of which are witnessing skyrocketing numbers.
"Despite all its liberal cheer leading about inclusiveness, the Episcopal Church is a dwindling, nearly all white, increasingly gray-headed denomination with a grim future, absent divine intervention."