Decline and decline

Two news items this week point to the difficulties facing Episcopal congregations in the twenty-first century. Kirk Hadaway reported to a meeting of the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church on the continuing decline in membership and Sunday attendance at Episcopal Churches. Overall membership declined from 2,285,143 in 2007 to 2,225,682 in 2008. Average Sunday attendance declined from 768,476 to 747,376.  Often that decline is attributed to the conflict over sexuality, but there are other issues involved.

Hadaway suggested that “if we’re going to turn this around — or at least turn around the decline — more attention needs to be paid to the things that result in growth, rather than to the broader cultural factors that are affecting our current patterns.” Those cultural factors include such things as an aging population with declining birthrates and an increase in the number of Americans who claim no religious affiliation.

“The base problem is the fact that so many of our churches don’t know why they’re there,” he said. “It’s a caretaker sort of ministry, which is good and helpful, but it’s a prescription for continuing decline.”

The full article is here, including links to more information.

One underlying reason for the decline in membership in the Episcopal Church, and indeed in all churches, is the declining involvement of young adults in organized religion. The Pew Report released its study of young adult spirituality which shows that of people aged 18-29, fully one in four are unaffiliated with any particular faith. Results of the survey are here.

Within the sobering statistics lie several interesting tidbits. In fact, although institutional affiliation is down, young adults continue to believe in God in high numbers and at least claim that they pray regularly. There is a long trend in American religion moving toward greater individualism and this survey probably captures another stage in that process.

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