The State of the Episcopal Church in 2022
Have they rebounded from COVID? Or are the downward trends continuing?
For whatever reason, people want to read about the demise of the Episcopal Church. I know this for a fact because every time I would pull together the latest stats about TEC for Religion in Public, it would give tons more clicks than anything else I wrote.
For those interested, here’s a post from November of 2020: The Data is Clear - Episcopalians Are in Trouble.
This from July 2021: The Death of the Episcopal Church is Near.
And another from July of 2022: COVID-19 Only Accelerated the Decline of the Episcopal Church.
Well, I guess this a regular series for me now because the Episcopalians just released a bunch of data about their denomination from 2022 and I need to update some graphs. A ton of graphs incoming and maybe a bit of a bright spot for TEC, which is not something that I was really expecting.
Let’s start with church membership. I’ve written about denominational decline a bunch for Graphs about Religion. Two that stand out are a deep dive into the PCUSA:
And this one that is a broad look at nine different denominations:
But TEC is also reporting a similar story of lower membership rolls. What I find fascinating about the Episcopal church is that things didn’t always move in a negative direction. In fact, the church was growing really rapidly in the 1950s. They added 1.4 million members in the nine years preceding 1959. But it’s all bad news from that point forward.
By the mid 1990s, overall membership had dipped to about 2.5 million. By the year 2000, it was clear that the Episcopal church had lost a million members from its peak four decades earlier. From there it’s just slow and steady downward march. By 2010, membership was below 2 million. Every year in the last decade is more of the same - losing a couple hundred thousand members. The church reported 1.68M in 2021 - that dropped to 1.58M in 2022.
That lost is actually pretty devastating when comparing that to the last decade or so of year over year percentage declines. There were were many years when the average dip would be fairly modest - maybe 1 or 1.5%. But that trend has accelerated in recent years.
In 2020, the church reported a 3.1% decline, in 2021 that increased slightly to 3.3%. The drop between 2021 and 2022 was the largest on record - 5.6%. The data is clear on this point - the losses are piling up now and only accelerating. 150,000 fewer Episcopalians in 2022 compared to 2020 - nearly a ten percent loss in just twenty four months. Membership numbers are bleak.
But what about Sunday church attendance in those churches? In 2009, the TEC has 725,000 folks on an average weekend across the United States. Numbers held relatively steady from 2011, really. Down to about 700K. But from that point forward, weekly attendance began dropping at a faster rate - typically a decline of about 3% per year.
Then, COVID happened. It’s clear as day in the data that it had a deleterious impact on the weekly attendance patterns of Episcopalians. Attendance dropped 11% from 2019 to 2020. Then in 2021, weekly attendance was down 40%. I am guessing that’s because many churches chose to not meet in person during the pandemic. But, the number has recovered some in 2022. The Church reports a weekly attendance figure of about 373,000 souls - an increase of 27% from the prior low of 2021.
The question is: if COVID didn’t happen, what would weekly attendance have been? Here’s a really rough approximation. The average drop in prior years was about 3%. Let’s use that to project forward from 2019.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Graphs about Religion to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.