Church predicts its own demise - "We won't exist"

The official news service for The Episcopal Church (the Anglican Communions branch in the US) is carrying  news of impending doom for the denomination. They won’t exist in 2050.

“The release of the 2019 data makes the picture clearer than ever: Even before COVID-19, The Episcopal Church’s days were numbered,” the Episcopal News Service (ENS) report says.

Or as their headline says, “2019 parochial [local church] reports show continued decline and a ‘dire’ future for The Episcopal Church”.

At this rate, there will be no one in worship by around 2050 in the entire denomination

This is a “man bites dog” story. There have been many “dog bites man” stories that the progressive Episcopal Church has been in trouble written by its detractors, many pointing out a pattern of decline since 2003 when the church elected its first openly gay bishop. But this report is of the church itself reporting its  disappearance.

“At this rate, there will be no one in worship by around 2050 in the entire denomination,” Dwight Zscheile, an Episcopal priest and an expert in denominational decline and renewal from Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota told ENS.

ENS summarises the trends: “The Episcopal Church has seen declining membership, to varying degrees, since the 1960s, when it counted 3.4 million members. As of 2019, it had about 1.8 million, Membership is down 17.4% over the last 10 years.”

Year on year the decline in active members was essentially unchanged at 2.29%, ENS reports, reflecting the fact that this sort of decline has been happening every year.

Some places are particularly bad for The Episcopal Church. “Declines continue to be strongest in the Northeast and Upper Midwest. Province I, which covers New England, saw the worst year-over-year attendance decline at 4.4%; in the Diocese of New Hampshire, it fell 15.6%, the worst of any diocese. The worst declines in active baptised members came from Wisconsin, where the small dioceses of Eau Claire and Fond du Lac lost 27% and 18.4% of their members, respectively.”

The church has dioceses (regions) outside the US, and some of these see increases. The Latin American nation of Columbia for example reported the strongest growth in attendance (36.1%) and membership (14.4%).

The Episcopal Church stats can be accessed here.

Blogger Tom Ferguson, who is a Episcopal Church insider having filled significant roles in the church HQ and seminaries, considers there is more than one reason for the downward trends. “I think in the Northeast, it’s largely secularisation, whereas I think in the Upper Midwest, it’s part of that population flight,” he told ENS. “It’s really hard. The Upper Midwest is having a rough time demographically.”

There will be no members, attenders or givers in the Anglican Church of Canada by approximately 2040

In reporting that its church may not have a future, the ENS story joins one from the Religion News Service (RNS) last year about the Canadian Anglicans. “Projections from our data indicate that there will be no members, attenders or givers in the Anglican Church of Canada by approximately 2040,” RNS quoted Neil Elliot, an Anglican priest in Trail, British Columbia, who authored a statistical analysis for the Church. Elliot said membership in the Anglican Church fell from a high of 1.3 million in 1961 in membership to 357,123 in 2017.

Both The Episcopal Church (TEC) and the Canadian Anglicans have a new conservative rival, the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA), which roughly corresponds to groups like the Sydney Anglicans which many of our Eternity readers will be more familiar with.

“Were ACNA’s growth and TEC’s decline to continue at the same rate, it would take several decades for them to draw level,” David Goodhew who has published  extensively on the demography of Anglican churches says.  “But the gap is closing significantly. On any given week in 2013, one could expect to find one member of ACNA at worship, compared to 11 members of TEC, but in 2017 one member of ACNA would be balanced by eight members in TEC.”