# US Protestant Episcopal Church in decline

#### lpetrich

##### Contributor
That venerable mainline Protestant church is in decline. It's been happening over some decades, but it's a sizable decline.
Episcopal Church Fadeout - Daylight Atheism by John Haught
noting
The Death of the Episcopal Church is Near – Religion in Public by Ryan Burge

John Haught:
When I was young in the 1950s, Episcopalians - the American wing of the Anglican faith founded by Henry VIII - were the pinnacle of the high-steeple elite. Bankers, business presidents, top lawyers, society doctors, Rotarians and other country-clubbers filled the pews and vestries of ornate churches. They sent their sons to Ivy League schools and their daughters to the Junior League. Episcopalians ranked high in intelligence and success.

In the 1960s, when the U.S. population was just over half what it is today, the Episcopal Church had 3.4 million members. Then it began falling like the rest of mainline Protestantism. Now it's down to 1.8 million.
A linear extrapolation means no more Episcopal Church by 2080.

Ryan Burge: "I don't think it's an exaggeration at all to believe that the Episcopalians will no longer exist by 2040."
He pointed out that the average Episcopalian today is 69 years old, with death coming. He said average Sunday attendance fell from 725,000 in 2009 to 547,000 in 2019 - a one-fourth drop in a decade. And the denomination had 38,913 weddings in 1980, but the number slipped to 6,148 by 2019, And child baptisms fell from 56,000 in 1980 to 17,713 in 2019. Down, down, down.

The Episcopal Church has oodles of money: $1.3 billion in yearly pledges,$400 million in trust, $11 billion in a pension fund, and$4.5 billion in local assets.
Linear extrapolations mean no more weddings by 2026 and no more baptisms by 2037.

What might be the future of this church? I suspect merger with some other mainline Protestant denominations. Some United Protestant Church?

#### ideologyhunter

##### Veteran Member
This trend is hitting all the Protestant "majors". I didn't know the specifics on the E's. Interesting. My little town has several churches with very small, aging congregations. I drive past on a Sunday and I may see two dozen cars parked by the church, maybe less. Some of these are "endowment churches", according to a Lutheran minister I know -- their funding is pretty stable because of bequests made years ago that have stretched out over the (tax-free) years. She said this is the main reason a church can survive with a small group of dedicated attendees.
I read recently that the Mormons are also on a downslide, and for years that was a church that was depicted as picking up large numbers of converts, year by year. Lots of "nones" in the generations coming up.
Look how out of step our pious Supreme Court is, with the general public. Barrett and her psalm-singing brethren are set to impose ultra-Christian thinking on us. It really sucks.

WAB

#### Politesse

##### Lux Aeterna
That venerable mainline Protestant church is in decline. It's been happening over some decades, but it's a sizable decline.
Episcopal Church Fadeout - Daylight Atheism by John Haught
noting
The Death of the Episcopal Church is Near – Religion in Public by Ryan Burge

John Haught:
When I was young in the 1950s, Episcopalians - the American wing of the Anglican faith founded by Henry VIII - were the pinnacle of the high-steeple elite. Bankers, business presidents, top lawyers, society doctors, Rotarians and other country-clubbers filled the pews and vestries of ornate churches. They sent their sons to Ivy League schools and their daughters to the Junior League. Episcopalians ranked high in intelligence and success.

In the 1960s, when the U.S. population was just over half what it is today, the Episcopal Church had 3.4 million members. Then it began falling like the rest of mainline Protestantism. Now it's down to 1.8 million.
A linear extrapolation means no more Episcopal Church by 2080.

Ryan Burge: "I don't think it's an exaggeration at all to believe that the Episcopalians will no longer exist by 2040."
He pointed out that the average Episcopalian today is 69 years old, with death coming. He said average Sunday attendance fell from 725,000 in 2009 to 547,000 in 2019 - a one-fourth drop in a decade. And the denomination had 38,913 weddings in 1980, but the number slipped to 6,148 by 2019, And child baptisms fell from 56,000 in 1980 to 17,713 in 2019. Down, down, down.

The Episcopal Church has oodles of money: $1.3 billion in yearly pledges,$400 million in trust, $11 billion in a pension fund, and$4.5 billion in local assets.
Linear extrapolations mean no more weddings by 2026 and no more baptisms by 2037.

What might be the future of this church? I suspect merger with some other mainline Protestant denominations. Some United Protestant Church?

If they are to merge, it might be with the Evangelical Lutheran church, with whom they are on good terms and share much history. I was raised ELCA Lutheran and now attend an Episcopal congregation, and this is is not unusual. Last month, the Lutheran church ordained its first trans bishop, and (rightfully worried about the size of the crowd this might attract relative to the size of most Lutheran churches in the city) elected to hold the ordination ceremony at Grace Cathedral in SF, an Episcopal property. I could easily imagine something akin to the formation of the Evangelische Kirke in Germany, which united the Lutheran majority to several of the other Protestant organizations remaining in the country. The United Church of Christ is likewise on very good terms and in frequent political alliance with the other two, though their congregations skew more independent and might break away rather than accept a Episcopal style bishopric over their heads.

My current church, incidentally, is in no threat of closing its doors, small though its congregation is they are affluent and very committed to maintaining the place. I'm not sure "linear extrapolations" are necessarily trustworthy guides to social phenomena, which are seldom linear in character. However, I do think ongoing problems of declining participation, such as closed parishes and a paucity of new ministers, will likely continue for several decades much as they are now. The church is not disappearing, but it is most certainly shrinking.

If not, well... I think if atheists truly realized the extent to which the liberal church has been reigning in the social and political power of the fundamentalist crazies over the past two centuries, they would not be so quick to crow about the death of more rational-minded Christian congregations. I don't think most atheists realize just how much conservative money and influence is currently spent on trying to convert, silence, or destroy liberal Christianity, capital that may have nowhere left to go but in the direction of threats external if they succeed in their efforts. You imagine they are gunning for you now... Atheists are going to have to deal with the loons more directly and more much frequently if their closest religious allies are gone.

WAB

#### lpetrich

##### Contributor
The Death of the Episcopal Church is Near – Religion in Public

Sunday church attendance has declined from 725,000 in 2009 to 547,000 in 2019, and a linear extrapolation means zero in 2050.

The Data is Clear – Episcopalians Are in Trouble – Religion in Public
I think it’s useful to compare two religious traditions that are essentially the same share of the population in 2018 – the Episcopal Church and the Church of Latter-day Saints. In 2018, they were both 1.4% of the population. However, their trajectories are totally different. The average Mormon is 43. The average Episcopalian is 58. 39% of Mormons have kids in the household under the age of 18, but it’s 14% of Episcopalians. 85% of Episcopalians who have children, have two or less. It’s only 60% of Mormons.

If we check back in ten years it’s fair to assume that there might be twice as many Latter-day Saints in the United States as Episcopalians. In fact, I think the data makes a strong case that the ECUSA will be half its size by 2040 – down to just .7% of the population. How small is that? That’s the same size that Buddhists, Muslims, or Hindus are currently.
The distributions are interesting. They have two humps, one near age 30 and one near age 60, though most of the denominations have only one of the humps, with the other one being flat.

Some of them were bimodal, with both humps. Reform Jews have a larger older hump, and Catholics do also, with a weak younger hump. Mormons have a larger younger hump, and Nothing in Particular people do also, with a weak older hump.

Most Xian denominations have the older hump as their largest or only hump. Evangelicals have peaks at roughly 53 - 62 years, and mainline Protestants at roughly 62 - 68 years. Catholics are at 63 years.

Looking at those with the younger hump as their largest or only hump, one finds them to be a mixed bag. Atheists, agnostics, nothing in particular, Mormons, "Other Pentecostals", (evangelical or conservative mainline?), "Orthodox" (Xian? Jew?), Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims.

Hindus and Muslims are from immigration, and Buddhism is unclear: a religious affiliation or a spiritual practice that coexists with other affiliations?

#### lpetrich

##### Contributor
This trend is hitting all the Protestant "majors". I didn't know the specifics on the E's. Interesting. My little town has several churches with very small, aging congregations. I drive past on a Sunday and I may see two dozen cars parked by the church, maybe less. Some of these are "endowment churches", according to a Lutheran minister I know -- their funding is pretty stable because of bequests made years ago that have stretched out over the (tax-free) years. She said this is the main reason a church can survive with a small group of dedicated attendees.
So that church is like a trust-fund baby?
I read recently that the Mormons are also on a downslide, and for years that was a church that was depicted as picking up large numbers of converts, year by year. Lots of "nones" in the generations coming up.
A big problem with claims of great growth is that such claims often ignore the dropouts, people who move to other churches or who drop out of organized religion entirely. That would explain the discrepancy in the claims for Mormonism - how many Mormons leave that church?

#### southernhybrid

##### Contributor
Responding to Politesse
I seriously doubt that many atheists are crowing about the demise of liberal Christianity. I am certainly not happy to see the liberals die out while the nuttiest are growing. Hopefully, they are only growing in certain places and not all over. We have one tiny Episcopal church in my city. Yes, it's mostly very affluent people who are members, but at least in the past they built a nice apartment building for lower income older adults as well as a very nice assisted living, although I think the ALF has been bought by a private group. I've had friends who were Episcopal, and they were not that much different from atheists, as far as being rigid in their beliefs. Sure, there are some atheists who hate all religion, but don't judge all atheists based on the few on this forum who hate all religion. Most of the atheists I've known in person aren't like that.

I thought you had told us you were attending a UU fellowship. What happened? I'd join one of those, if there was one near me, but alas, most of the churches in my area are Evangelical, Baptist and/or Methodist. The Methodist are more moderate and they do a huge amount of charity work for the community. We have about 80 churches in my county of about 70K. They come in all sizes, from a handful to over 1000 members. The Episcopal church looks as if it wouldn't fit more than 100 people. The mega churches look like they could fit over 1000. So, count me in as one who isn't happy to see the liberals dying out.

I'm not an anti religion atheist, although I do despise conservative religious dogma. I don't understand how anyone can believe in the supernatural elements of religion, but I realize that religion serves many purposes, primarily community and opportunities for charity work. And, I've met Christian atheists. I'm sure there must be a lot of them. I'd just like to see all of us be more respectful of each other instead of being hung up on beliefs. From what I've experienced, it's often the moderate and conservative Christians who are intolerant and hateful, compared to most of the atheists I know. I don't believe religion is ever going to die out. My hope has always been that it becomes more progressive, but I don't see that happening, at least not yet. That is why I could easily embrace the UUs. They don't dictate any dogma and one can be an atheist and be a part of that religion.

WAB

#### funinspace

##### Don't Panic
It isn't just the liberal Protestants in decline. There are signs that white evangelicals have been hit the hardest in the last decade or so...

A good article diving into some of the details:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/07/08/rapid-decline-white-evangelical-america/
ut new data suggests that whatever pull evangelicals have in American politics, it’s declining pretty significantly.

The Public Religion Research Institute released a detailed study Thursday on Americans’ religious affiliations. Perhaps the most striking finding is on White evangelical Christians.

While this group made up 23 percent of the population in 2006 — shortly after “values voters” were analyzed to have delivered George W. Bush his reelection — that number is now down to 14.5 percent, according to the data.

#### lpetrich

##### Contributor
Episcopal leaders ponder church's declining attendance | Terry Mattingly
As a rule, the crisis is worse in the Northeast and the Midwest, while losses have been slower in the Sun Belt and some parts of the West. In terms of worst-case scenarios, the Diocese of Northern Michigan remains open for business, but reported an average attendance of 385 in 2019. That's the whole diocese.
Thus doing worse in the areas with less overall religious affiliation.
As a rule, the crisis is worse in the Northeast and the Midwest, while losses have been slower in the Sun Belt and some parts of the West. In terms of worst-case scenarios, the Diocese of Northern Michigan remains open for business, but reported an average attendance of 385 in 2019. That's the whole diocese.

"We are old and white in a missional context that is less old and less white."
Ryan Burge:
"Generational replacement is the key factor that buoys the size of churches. ... If life expectancy stays around 78 years old, that means that the average Episcopal church would lose half its current membership through death by 2040. Are there enough children to make up for those losses? Again, the data says that is unlikely."

#### ideologyhunter

##### Veteran Member
Let's turn those empty churches into art studios, bistros, taverns, and whorehouses.

#### lpetrich

##### Contributor
The Episcopal Church in 2050 – Covenant

The numbers:
• Marriages: {{1980,38913},{1990,31815},{2000,22441},{2010,11613},{2019,6148}}
• Baptisms: {{1980, 56167}, {1990, 56862}, {2000, 46603}, {2010, 28990}, {2019,17713}}
• Attendance: {{2000,856579},{2010,657831},{2019,518411}}
I find a linear trend for marriages since 1980, one for baptisms since 1990, and for attendance since 2000.

They hit zero at 2025, 2032, and 2048 respectively. Linear extrapolation is not very well justified for attendance, because of its relatively small change, but it is well-justified for baptisms and marriages.

This means less involvement with that church even for those whose involvement is only with births, marriages, and deaths, with hatching, matching, and dispatching.

#### Politesse

##### Lux Aeterna
Responding to Politesse
I seriously doubt that many atheists are crowing about the demise of liberal Christianity. I am certainly not happy to see the liberals die out while the nuttiest are growing. Hopefully, they are only growing in certain places and not all over. We have one tiny Episcopal church in my city. Yes, it's mostly very affluent people who are members, but at least in the past they built a nice apartment building for lower income older adults as well as a very nice assisted living, although I think the ALF has been bought by a private group. I've had friends who were Episcopal, and they were not that much different from atheists, as far as being rigid in their beliefs. Sure, there are some atheists who hate all religion, but don't judge all atheists based on the few on this forum who hate all religion. Most of the atheists I've known in person aren't like that.

I thought you had told us you were attending a UU fellowship. What happened? I'd join one of those, if there was one near me, but alas, most of the churches in my area are Evangelical, Baptist and/or Methodist. The Methodist are more moderate and they do a huge amount of charity work for the community. We have about 80 churches in my county of about 70K. They come in all sizes, from a handful to over 1000 members. The Episcopal church looks as if it wouldn't fit more than 100 people. The mega churches look like they could fit over 1000. So, count me in as one who isn't happy to see the liberals dying out.

I'm not an anti religion atheist, although I do despise conservative religious dogma. I don't understand how anyone can believe in the supernatural elements of religion, but I realize that religion serves many purposes, primarily community and opportunities for charity work. And, I've met Christian atheists. I'm sure there must be a lot of them. I'd just like to see all of us be more respectful of each other instead of being hung up on beliefs. From what I've experienced, it's often the moderate and conservative Christians who are intolerant and hateful, compared to most of the atheists I know. I don't believe religion is ever going to die out. My hope has always been that it becomes more progressive, but I don't see that happening, at least not yet. That is why I could easily embrace the UUs. They don't dictate any dogma and one can be an atheist and be a part of that religion.
I know you are not, Sohy; generalizations are just, and only, generalizations.

I was indeed attending a UU fellowship when we first moved back to the SF Bay Area, but that was before we disovered St Anne's, which was a block and a half closer and has a more traditional liturgy. I'm a sucker for old music, and the rector and I happen to know each other from my seminary days, so we have mostly moved over there. I keep tabs on the UU group though, and we often attend their special events and lectures. Very good people. And indeed, mostly atheist as far as I can tell, though seldom non- or anti-religious.

#### southernhybrid

##### Contributor
Let's turn those empty churches into art studios, bistros, taverns, and whorehouses.

In case you don't know it, the Atlanta Freethought Society bought an old church building that was owned by the Primitive Baptists. The church was dying out but the members were very happy that the AFS bought the building. In return the AFS put a nice plaque outside to explain that the building was once occupied by the members of the former church. So, maybe we can take over some of the other churches as they die out.

#### Politesse

##### Lux Aeterna
Let's turn those empty churches into art studios, bistros, taverns, and whorehouses.

This is largely what happened to the mission system that used to span the California coastline; most of the mission properties were converted to private estates, gambling halls, racetracks, and other such delights under a wave of legal secularization that followed the Mexican Revolution. Many have since been reclaimed as either reconsecrated churches, museums, or both. It can be interesting to visit and see the legacies of both periods of time uncomfortably juxtaposed. The inertia of ecclesiastical propaganda can be hard to break; despite all the changes the missions are often revered as cultural treasures, and few Californians know or are willing to acknowledge the legacy of the enslavement and constant warfare that maintained those properties in their heyday

#### lpetrich

##### Contributor
There are oodles of churches that have been converted to other uses, and I've found online lots of pictures of such buildings.

I returned to modeling the decline in Episcopal Church numbers, and for attendance, I find that exponential decline is a better fit than linear decline, with a rms error of 100 for exponential, 10,000 for linear. Unfortunately, I have only 3 data points to work with. My fit has an e-folding time of 38 years or a half-life time of 26 years.

Though a linear fit is good for baptisms and marriages, the decline has slowed down a little bit in recent years, though not enough to fit an exponential decline.