Preliminary Report shows positive trends for the Episcopal Church
Information based on preliminary data from the 2011 Parochial Reports show an increase in Episcopal Church revenue and a moderation of recent declines among Episcopal congregations.
“Some churches are growing, fewer churches are seeing large declines in membership and attendance, and many dioceses are seeing gains rather than losses in gifts from their congregations and returns on investments,” noted C. Kirk Hadaway, Ph.D., Officer for Congregational Research and author of the report.
Among the key elements of the report indicate:
- An expected 95% of domestic congregations will have filed the 2011 Parochial Report.
- Average Sunday attendance (ASA) will show an improvement in 2011.
- While 2011 will witness a decline in membership, it is the lowest since 2002.
- Plate and Pledge giving is expected to rise by around $12 million, or +0.9% in 2011.
- Gifts and assessments to dioceses by congregations suggest an increase of .04% in 2011.
"The last three years should not be considered the “new normal,” Hadaway states. “This is not to minimize the declines in membership and attendance since 2002, nor the loss of income in the last several years…Still, there are signs of improvement in terms of membership, attendance and finances.”
Hadaway’s report in full follows.
2011 Parochial Report Estimate with Commentary
Each year in the weeks following the May 1 Canonical deadline for completing a Parochial Report the research office of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society computes a projection of certain key statistics based on responses to date. As congregations and dioceses have filed earlier and more completely over the past six years, the accuracy and reliability of these projections has also increased.
As of early June, 2012, 89% of domestic Parochial Reports were submitted and entered by congregations and by dioceses on behalf of congregations. All domestic dioceses now have completion rates in excess of 50%, with only 3 dioceses having rates of completion less than 70%. Well over half of dioceses have completion rates over 90%. Given recent trends and the completion rate thus far, it is expected that when the 2011 Parochial Report is closed out, 95% of domestic congregations will have completed and filed a Parochial Report.
With such a high rate of response at present, it is possible to estimate the 2011 Parochial Report totals with a high degree of accuracy. The key items for this projection are average Sunday attendance, active baptized members, plate and pledge giving, and gifts and assessments to dioceses by congregations.
In order to make the projection, 2011 Parochial Report data were downloaded and merged with prior report year data. Information submitted by responding congregations was examined, and unlikely and obviously inaccurate responses checked and corrected. For non-responding congregations, data were carried over from 2010 with a percentage increase or decrease added to the overall total (based on the responding congregations’ rate of change) for the additional 6% of congregations that are expected to file this year.
The results are quite different from recent years. Average Sunday attendance (ASA) will show an actual increase in 2011 of less than 1,000 persons. However, since Christmas Eve fell on a Saturday in 2011, this essentially adds an extra Sunday to the count. The same thing happened in 2005, when the decline abated, but did not result in an increase. Adjusting for the “Christmas Eve Effect” results in an adjusted loss of slightly less than 12,000 persons or -1.8%. This is less than half the net and percentage loss experienced in 2010 and the smallest percentage loss in average Sunday attendance since 2002 (adjusting for the Christmas Eve effect in 2005).
In terms of active baptized members, the results are similar to ASA, but there is no Christmas Eve Effect to worry about. In 2011 we expect membership to decline by around 27,000 members, or -1.4%. Again, this decline is the lowest in percentage terms since 2002 and about half the loss the Episcopal Church experienced in 2010 when domestic dioceses declined by 54,436 members (-2.7%).
The financial picture is less positive than hoped, but also shows improvement over 2010.
In terms of Plate and Pledge giving, this key element of congregational income is expected to rise by around $12 million, or +0.9% in 2011. This is not much of a rise, but it is considerably better than the 1.2% Plate and Pledge decline in 2010 and the 2.8% decline in 2009.
Gifts and assessments to dioceses by congregations suggest a tiny increase of .04% in 2011. This is in contrast to a drop in gifts to dioceses of -2.1% in 2010. So although this major component of diocesan income is no longer declining, there is no reason to expect overall diocesan income will show much of an increase in 2011. Financial reports from dioceses are not complete enough to make any projections for overall diocesan income, but with around one quarter of overall income accounted for, the picture is one of little, if any, change overall in 2011. Some dioceses are reporting gains and others losses, but they are averaging at zero change.
Declines in membership, participation, and finances were particularly serious in 2008 to 2010. Not coincidentally, this was the period when the serious losses in the Dioceses of San Joaquin, Pittsburgh and Fort Worth were dealt with (statistically) in successive years and when the worst of the economic recession was felt. In 2010 alone, overall attendance dropped by over 5,000 due solely to the situation in Fort Worth (in which all non-cooperating parishes were reclassified as non-filing with zero attendance) and the loss of a very large parish in the Diocese of South Carolina.
The last three years should not be considered the “new normal.” This is not to minimize the declines in membership and attendance since 2002, nor the loss of income in the last several years. Problems remain with our skewed demographics and difficulty in attracting new members; and for many parts of the Episcopal Church the recession is not over. Still, there are signs of improvement in terms of membership, attendance and finances. Some churches are growing, fewer churches are seeing large declines in membership and attendance, and many dioceses are seeing gains rather than losses in gifts from their congregations and returns on investments.
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