A recent study done by the Anglican organization Virtue Online claims that more than one-third of Episcopal churches in the U.S. have only 40 or less members and that attendance numbers are still dropping.
“What this foreshadows is that within the next 3 to 5 years more than 2,000 churches across the country will be forced to close, merge or be sold regardless of cash reserves or endowment because there will simply not be enough people in them to keep the doors open,” read the Aug. 23 survey.
Not only will hundreds of Episcopal clergy will be “forced into early retirement,” said the organization, but many will have to take secondary employment “in an attempt to keep the doors open to a handful of aging congregants.”
Virtue Online examined 6,825 parishes and their accounts of average Sunday attendance from the Episcopal Church's 2009 records.
Researchers argue that the Episcopal Church has given an inaccurate depiction of the amount of followers by repeatedly claiming that 2.3 million U.S. Episcopalians regularly attend services.
“More than two-thirds of this figure have either died, left the church, or attend twice a year, along with tens of thousands still on church rolls who have never been – and should be – removed.”
The survey showed future prospects of sharp decline in attendance for the Episcopal Church in the U.S., with 2,219 churches having congregations of aging parishioners in their mid-60s or older.
“There are virtually no young people coming forward to fill the gap,” they said.
C. Kirk Hadaway, a church analyst who documents denominational growth and decline, commented in the study that the age structure of the Episcopal Church suggests an average of 40,000 deaths and 21,000 births per year.
This, Hadaway explained, translates to a natural decline of 19,000 members per year, a population larger than most dioceses.
“The advanced – and still advancing – age of our membership combined with our low birth rate means that we lose the equivalent of one diocese per year,” he said.
Numbers from the study show that over 2,300 churches with average Sunday attendance between 41- 100 are also not sustainable in the long term as their congregations are aging faster than the country’s demographics.
Even the over 1,400 parishes with 100 or more attendees can only be sustained if younger members begin attending.
Virtue Online also noted that parishes with congregations between 201 and 500 “must generate and pull in a new generation of Episcopalians if they are to be sustainable for the long haul.”
However, “many of these will face stiff competition from a new generation of Evangelical converts and those leaving the Episcopal Church.”