The Episcopals, like many other old guard protesting religions, are in trouble. Jay Akasie tells us that at this year’s annual conclave, the Episcopalian leadership had their most serious discussions about “whether to develop funeral rites for dogs and cats, and whether to ratify resolutions condemning genetically modified foods.” Also “the approval of transgender ordination.” All were approved, naturally.
They also issued a sort of “apology to Native Americans for exposing them to Christianity”, and began a chat about how, using “blunt modern language and with politically correct intent” to re-write the “church’s historic” (but now embarrassing) Book of Common Prayer. And, oh yes, they approved a rite to bless so-called same-sex unions. The only thing missing was a statement condemning global warming.
But that’s because, as Russ Douthat reminds us, they did that already in 2006, when the group said they “valued ‘the stewardship of the earth’ too highly to reproduce themselves.”
The good news is that Episcopalians who sleep in on Sunday are in no danger of missing the weekly sermon. All they need do is switch on NBC, ABC, CBS, MSNBC, CNN, or PBS or subscribe to the DNC newsletter and there it will be.
Evidently, this is what most Episcopalians, Methodists, Lutherans, and other WASPy religion members have done, because fewer and fewer of them are showing up in the pews. The following picture illustrates this; this is the per 1000 citizen church members (i.e. normalized by the USA population):
And here the same, unnormalized by population:
I only put up those religions with the most folks. All data is from the Association of Religion Data Archives; they’re about five years behind, and it’s not clear how accurate are the counts. In particular, if there’s one thing Protestants like to do it is protest; they’re forever splitting and splintering and creating new branches. There are five American branches of Anglicanism, for instance (with the most conservative actually growing). This fracturing is why the data for Methodists and Presbyterians is choppy. There are twenty active and eighteen inactive Presbyterian groups, with Methodists about the same. The US Census provided the population data.
All the mainline denominations are plummeting, but the Catholics are holding their own, the Assembly of God and other similar pentecostal denominations are increasing, and while the Baptists have begun declining, the rate is not as alarming as it is for the others (see Southern Baptist Baptisms at Lowest in Decades). Catholics have even been increasing of late; much of this comes from immigration from countries which have historically adopted a conquering white nation’s language which is not English, and in congregations which are traditionalist. Mormons (not shown) are also on the rise; there are about six million of them at present. And the Amish and Mennonites (also not shown) aren’t doing poorly.
In other words, those denominations which are roughly “conservative” are strengthening, while those which are roughly “liberal” or “progressive” are weakening. And it doesn’t take a keen eye to see when the trouble started. With your finger, draw a vertical line at 1960 or so on each of these plots, and then allow yourself a slight “Ah.”
To see how things might go in the future, examine these two pictures:
This is the number of churches: all are in decline, except the Assembly of God, which also saw the highest growth rate in members, and except the Southern Baptists, which now has buildings with fewer people in them. The Catholic and Episcopal rate of decrease may be termed strategic, but the Presbyterians and Methodists are in full retreat. Hold these figures in your mind while looking at this:
This is the number of clergy. The increase in Assembly of God makes sense: more churches and more members need more preachers. The Southern Baptists are filling more churches with more preachers, but those churches are just holding steady. That becomes the ten-year prediction for both these denominations: Assembly of God increasing apace, and the Baptists treading water.
The increase in clergy for Methodists and Presbyterians makes no sense—who is paying these people?—but at least these denominations are saving funds by closing buildings. But the increase makes least sense for the Episcopalians, who are losing members while trying to hold on to real estate and while hiring new clergy. Expensive business, that (plus see the original link: the church is spending money suing its own membership for splitting). The predictions are a gentle, gentlemanly decline for the Methodists and Presbyterians, who in ten years will still be with us, but whose suicides will be pleasant, sedate affairs. Look for more of their churches to be converted into lofts for hipsters.
The prediction for Episcopalians is more grim. A decade from now, there will be a million or fewer of them; and there is even a reasonable probability there will be none of them, at least in an official sense. The church could very well break down into separate churches, its various members being absorbed elsewhere.
The outlook for Catholics is sparkling. That bump you saw in clergy is no artifact (perhaps the exact number is; no warranty on the data, but evidence elsewhere suggests the priesthood is reviving). The increase in members will continue with immigration and because while some Catholics rebel when it comes to birth control, few do so when it comes to killing off inconvenient fetuses. Plus with the gradual return to more traditional services, and given what we have seen, membership will likely increase.
Check back with me ten years from now to see how well I did.