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The Episcopal Church’s Collapse

More sunny news for your Sunday morning: numbers from the Episcopal Church show a stunning collapse in church attendance between 2000 and 2010.  It’s down 23 percent overall, with some dioceses in far steeper decline than that. Pittsburgh, for example, has lost 73 percent of its churchgoing Episcopalians over that time period. That’s nearly three out of four Episcopalians in Pittsburgh, gone within a decade. San Joaquin saw four out of five of its people stop coming to church in the same period.

No diocese is growing, but a handful of them — Tennessee and South Carolina, for example — kept losses down to single digits. Maybe some of you readers who are Episcopalians can explain why. It can’t be simply a Southern thing; other Southern dioceses experienced losses on par with TEC in other regions.

According to TEC’s figures, only about 700,000 Episcopalians are in church on Sunday morning. There are megachurches in suburban Dallas that have more worshipers on Sunday than most Episcopal dioceses. That’s not hyperbole.

I found this out via the blog of Sherry Weddell, the Catholic lay evangelist, who writes:

To compare, CARA estimates that on a given Sunday, there are about 22 million Catholics in the pews in the US vs. approximately 657,000 Episcopalians.  In other words, there are roughly 33 times as many practicing Catholics as practicing Episcopalians.

This is not a time to gloat but to thoughtfully ponder.   A group I spoke to recently about evangelization wanted to look to the experience of mainline Protestants to see what they were doing.  Seriously?

If we are serious about evangelization, we would far, far better look to the experience of our evangelical brothers and sisters.  49% of American evangelicals weren’t raised as evangelicals while Catholics have the second lowest number of converts of any American religious faith.

Indeed, Putnam & Campbell, sifting the data, found that if not for the large influx of Hispanic immigrants, Catholicism in the US would be declining at a rate comparable to that of mainline Protestantism.

But no Christian church should gloat, and not just out of politeness, either. Putnam & Campbell documented that all Christian churches are seeing declining numbers. We are living through a great shift in religion and society now.

UPDATE: The Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops voted today to make it against church law not to consider transgenders for ministry. If the House of Deputies goes along with it, as it is expected to, this becomes Episcopal Church law.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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