Church attendance is dropping amongst Anglicans-Episcopalians

People say regarding churches (especially mainline churches in the United States and Canada) that all they see are a sea of white hair.  This sea is no longer a sea; it’s only a smattering of white hair these days…and many are closing and shutting their doors.   Church attendance is dropping and seems irreversible.

The statistics regarding the Anglican Church in Canada (ACC) does not look good these days.  Canadian membership in the ACC fell:

  • 1.3 million (in 1961) to 658,000 (in 2001)…and that’s just membership.  Actual attendance measures Anglicans who attend church at least twice a month brings this figure down to only 325,000.

Figures for American membership in the Episcopal Church (TEC) are not good either.  Membership fell from:

  • 3.5 million (in 1965) to 2.2 million (in 2007), which is a 55% drop.

Rev. Gary Nicolosi says that when the census is taken in 2011, “I think the numbers are going to be under 600,000.  I think people are going to be shocked.”  Statistics on average worship attendance show how healthy a church is and it does not look good for either church.  Full article… These figures are from Reginald Bibby’s Project Canada, The Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches.

  • In the Church of England, only less than 1 million attend when membership is 28 million (obviously a skewed and bloated figure).  And who knows what actual attendance really is?

Seminaries teach students how to rethink theology.  But I think this is not the right direction to be going in.  We must rethink how we do church, or mainline churches will deteriorate at an increasingly faster pace than even before.  Extinction may occur within my generation.

The only churches that are growing are pentecostal and evangelical churches. It isn’t a secret. So why aren’t mainline churches learning from pentecostals and evangelicals?  Is it theological pride, or fear losing one’s church identity, or both?

18 thoughts on “Church attendance is dropping amongst Anglicans-Episcopalians

  1. Rich, I’m sure transfer growth is part of the story – people abandoning dying churches and going to ones where there is life and they are being fed. But it is only part of the story, at least in the Church of England. Many new people are being brought into its churches through outreaches like the Alpha course. Most who attend Alpha have not been attending any church, although some may be lapsed churchgoers rather than complete outsiders. Back to Church Sunday has also brought in a lot of lapsed churchgoers. If these people are brought into the church, that is not transfer growth but real growth – even if it is sometimes counterbalanced by loss in other areas.

    Anyway a high proportion of the decline is among ageing congregations and so is probably caused by death or chronic sickness. The answer to this is not to try to keep these people (although healing and raising the dead might help!) but to bring in a new generation of young people. This is where Alpha is having a significant impact.


    1. Peter, that is good to hear that there is outreach to the unchurched in England. I know in my last congregation, I taught Adult instruction class (2 hours/week for 21+ weeks), and we averaged 15 adult confirmations (meaning unchurched) every year. Within four years 80% of all in worship were involved in weekly Bible study. For a relatively small congregation that was quite strong. And with those numbers, we were in the top 1% of all congregations in the U.S.

      In Lutheran circles, we have the gray haired phenomenon as well. The challenge is to remain doctrinally sound and to explore avenues of reaching those who wouldn’t darken the doors of the churches; it is not as easy as writing this paragraph.


      1. Rich, I’m impressed and glad you were able to do so well. I have no illusions about this kind of work being easy. The sad thing is when churches don’t even try.


  2. I vaguely remember a study a few years ago that showed that “growth” is a relative term. That is, while certain groups of churches grow, others decline, but the overall trend of attendance at worship is going down. That same study suggested that very little true growth was happening, that people were just moving from one church/affiliation to another (kinda like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic). I wish I could locate that study.



  3. Brian, I would strongly suspect that it is denominationalised and institutionalised Pentecostal churches which are declining in the USA, as they are here in the UK, and as all kinds of denominational churches are in both countries. The growth which I see everywhere is in churches, mainly evangelical and/or charismatic, which are either non-denominational or only nominally affiliated to a denomination while pursuing an independent path. That is of course a generalisation. But it explains why the growth in charismatic congregations is not mirrored in Pentecostal denominations.


  4. I imagine current issues in the Episcopalian church here in the states hasn’t helped with growth issues – it is true that in general the whole concept of church is growing increasingly irrelevant in American life, which is at risk of following much of Europe into a secular society sooner if not later.

    While Pentecostal churches may be growing in some respects it is hard to say where the growth is coming from (probably more transfer growth than with new converts) as on the whole Pentecostalism is actually on the decline in America (as is evangelicalism and church in general – either stagnated or declining).

    So it is true that how we do church does need to be somewhat re-evaluated (probably we need more organic church than institutionalized church – as once a church (the local church or the denomination) becomes too institutionalized, it automatically stops growing. Insitutionalism tends to come as a result of losing focus (which can tend to be a focus on maintaing an organization and its structures over winning the lost and engaging a lost world).


  5. Tony, I’m in favor of some of the church growth as long as the Spirit of God is involved. There’s a lot of wisdom in it. But too often some dismiss it as human works and engineering.


  6. Dear Kevin, I agree that we should teach our students to do church, i.e. to have a biblical ecclesiology and church growth theology (based on Acts primarily) as the Pentecostals and evangelicals have done for many decades now and we can see the fruits in the multiplication of members in these churches.


  7. Yes, Kevin, a lot of the growth in the C of E is in charismatic churches. This has come through the Alpha Course which was influenced by the Toronto Blessing, and through New Wine and Soul Survivor which are majority Anglican charismatic conferences for adults and youth respectively.


  8. @Peter, thanks for the article. For a while, I was hearing of a huge decline in Europe overall. The stability in attendance in the CoE is encouraging. I wonder if any of that might be due to the charismatic renewal in the CoE which brought some young people back?

    @Qohelet, I don’t know about emergents but recently, I haven’t heard much about the emerging church’s growth. I have a feeling it was just a fad. Trends in the younger generation are changing so fast.


  9. Not very good news. I am not an Anglican but I have a lot of respect for the church and its leaders. Evangelical growth may have plateaued but charismatics seem to have some more momentum. How about emergents? They seem hip and fresh, any stats from them?


  10. Actually the attendance figures for the Church of England are quite well known, as they are carefully counted in every congregation every October. See this article with the provisional figures for 2007, probably the latest released. These were summarised as:

    Taken as a whole, these figures show that over the past few years the Church has maintained stable numbers of regular worshippers …

    The averaged figures are in fact very patchy, as the figures per diocese show. From what I understand from other studies I have seen the underlying position is more like this: a large number of mostly quite small traditional churches which are declining gradually, and struggling to remain viable; and a smaller number of strong and growing churches, mostly evangelical and/or charismatic and less traditional in their approach. So I think this confirms your conclusion that

    The only churches that are growing are pentecostal and evangelical churches.


  11. We need to present the Gospel in an appropriate way to each generation and culture, but we must never comprises the truth for the sake of attendance.

    Heard a radio program that quoted these statistics: total attendance of all US sporting events in 2007 was 92 Million, total church attendance in the US on the average Sunday was 102 Million. I will have to research the numbers, but if it is true it means that attendance at sporting events is less than two percent of church attendance. Interesting.


    1. Greg, I bet you mean `compromise.` I totally agree. Our gospel is already watered-down enough as it is.

      It`s interesting how sporting events get so much more hype though.


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