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A rough decade for American congregations
A new survey shows a decline in worship service attendance in the United States.
September 20th, 2011
04:43 PM ET

A rough decade for American congregations

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

(CNN) – A new decade-long survey of American congregations shows religious health and vitality are weaker than they were 10 years ago.  While the survey showed that many congregations are adopting new technologies and innovative worship, there were steep drops in financial health and attendance at weekly worship services.

The Hartford Institute for Religion Research released the study's findings Saturday in a report titled "A Decade of Change in American Congregations, 2000 – 2010" authored by David A. Roozen.

In the measured decade, churches, temples and synagogues told surveyors that congregations that were innovative and contemporary showed the highest amount of "high spiritual vitality."

Forty-seven percent of congregations that said their worship experience was "innovative and contemporary" reported high spiritual vitality, versus 17% that said their congregations were "neither innovative nor contemporary."

The vast majority of congregations implemented electronic communications in the past decade.  Recently, many have turned to social networking as well, with 41% using Facebook to communicate with congregants.

Congregations are also having hard times financially, the survey found.  In 2000, 31% of survey participants reported excellent financial health.  In 2010, that number plummeted to just 14%.

The recession, Roozen writes in the report, "affected nearly every kind of congregation equally – large and small; north, south, east and west; financially healthy or struggling before the recession. One bit of good news was that one in 10 congregations reported that by the time of the survey, they had already begun to recover."

Roozen writes that a variety of factors led to the decline, but overall, there are fewer Americans in the pews, and "... more than 1 in 4 American congregations had fewer than 50 in worship in 2010, and just under half had fewer than 100. Overall, median weekend worship attendance of your typical congregation dropped from 130 to 108 during the decade, according to the FACT surveys."

FACT refers to Faith Communities Today, a multifaith coalition that researches congregational life.

While megachurches - congregations with more than 2,000 members - continued to grow in popularity, they still represent only a fraction of American congregations, at one-half of 1%.  "And while it appears to be true they are attracting an ever bigger slice of the religious attender pie, it is a bigger slice of a shrinking pie," Roozen wrote.

The decline hit across religious and denominational lines, sparing no one, Roozen wrote. He said that "no single category or kind of congregation ... was exempt from the decadal downsizing of worship attendance."

The data came from Faith Communities Today surveys and represents 11,077 congregations and 120 denominations of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim traditions, the institute said.  Most often, the surveys were completed by the congregation's leader, and the institute estimates the margin of error to be plus or minus 4 percentage points.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Church

soundoff (2,018 Responses)
  1. Jimmy

    A rough decade for American congregations? This is about the USA, not America. America is more than one country.

    January 15, 2014 at 2:09 am |
  2. el pasado judicial

    hola acabo de enterarme de tu blog y la verdad es que me parece super bueno no sabia de mas personas interesadas en estos temas, aqui tienes un nuevo lector que seguira visitandote mensualmente.

    May 11, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
  3. RitaSiminu

    :)

    December 25, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
  4. acheter evista

    achat Evista – If should have the cause vitamin your effect. Men antibiotics that and improving are to whole. Found breast of for activity her if annoying to treated only will pounds fuller during the.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:40 am |
    • Huh?

      Did you put your shumag on backwards or something?

      November 10, 2011 at 5:04 am |
  5. seriously

    Look at me, I love wasting time!
    I love writing in talkbacks on religious blogs!
    I love pretending I can actually convince some one that god does (or does not) by a talk back post.

    (I swear there is not one reasonable person who contributes to these blogs – regardless of their beliefs or disbeliefs)

    September 25, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
  6. Muneef

    Quote;

    For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid [Ishmael], the other by a freewoman [Isaac]. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh [Ishmael]

    Bible = Genesis 17:18,19 “And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee! And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shall call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him”.

    Koran = 19:54 “Also mention in the Book [the story of] Ishmael: He was [strictly] true to what he promised, and he was a messenger [and] a prophet”.

    Bible = Genesis 16:12 “And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him”.

    The Bible called Ishmael a wild man; the Koran called him messenger and a prophet.

    Sarah also received the blessing and the promise along with her husband; as it is written, “And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her [Isaac]: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her” (Genesis 17:16).

    Because Sarah was old and had no children,

    “Abraham said to God, Shall a child be born unto him that is a hundred years old? And shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear? And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael [the son of the slave Hagar] might live before thee! And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shall call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him” (Genesis 17:18,19)

    Sarah also received the blessing and the promise along with her husband; as it is written, “And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her [Isaac]: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her” (Genesis 17:16).

    http://www.bible-koran.com/English/Articles/Isaac_or_Ishmael/isaac_or_ishmael.html

    Unquote:

    These quoted lines were to prove that Ishmael was older than Isaac and therefore it was he who was to be sacrificed and was he who helped Abraham in rebuilding the worship house at Mecca...

    It as well proves why so much hatred is carried by those who considers us to be of a race and a religion of Slaves who's their father Ishmael was a result of Flesh taken place between the Prophet of GOD and a Slave woman and not by GOD inspiration...!? Insisting that Ishmael came by Flesh, they have made of him as Criminally Wild man...!?
    ---

    While the facts are clear that because Sarah was not able to give him a Child or Children...She Sarah has proposed to him to merry one of her maids to have his child...after that happened she has asked him to dispose of them where he had taken them to Mecca area and left them back there but all that was done as per inspirations of GOD to him...   

    Any way now it is obvious what would some of those Jews, Christians or Zionists think of us as Slaves and that they are the chosen people by GOD...!! Your religions and beliefs of the Bibles are based on Slavery and not as in Quran being Antislavery and Human Equality....!!? Tell me am Wrong....!      

    September 24, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
  7. Bhargava

    But most important – you are condemning free speech. You are promoting censorship. I am not the one talking about killing billions – kowtowing to a being that promises to kill billions. That's pure evil – one must speak out against that.
    As long as one does not promote hate, let people speak. let all voices be heard. You were so against what i wrote, mostly based on how i am against peacefullness, you never cared to read what i wrote.
    Terrorism stalks the land – we need to talk about it, we need to lay out some unpleasant truths. I may be wrong, i could be right, but let everyone speak.
    Right now, it's the bigots who are speaking – it's the bigots who run around telling people they are going to hell. It's time they get called out.

    September 24, 2011 at 12:13 am |
  8. Bhargava

    These are King religions – God made in the image of a medieval king. Subjects get down on their knees, shaking with fear, begging for his mercy. If pleased he will let you stay in his castle(heaven) or else it's the dungeon for u(hell). This is no democracy, if the King says the sky is Green, u say, yes sir, the sky is Green
    When the king says kill, the follower must obey!
    This explains the Terrorism that is stalking the land. When u get brain-washed young people told to obey the King, others are bad people fit to be killed, God order u to kill them, these people will act it out
    Same thing with the pedophile problem in church – u think none of the parents knew? Even now we may have some parents patiently waiting outside for the preacher to "finish" with their child! How horrible! Churchgoers knew, fellow priests knew, higherups knew, the nuns knew, the pope knows – everyone kept quiet!
    Same mentality – do not speak out against the king, shut up & obey!
    Sad mentality in the 21st century

    September 23, 2011 at 11:23 pm |
    • Jp

      You don't really understand the concept of God. God is a loving God who gives you many chances. He's not like a dictator. He will forgive you if you ask for it. If you don't repent, then, you deserve hell.

      September 25, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
  9. Hoovervilles

    @Richard S Kaiser

    Richard S Kaiser, stated
    @ HHR,,,, "Go back to the SOURCE of the faith. I did, and I am happier because I did."

    Is it not written, Mat 6:33 "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."

    Where can one surmize such a kingdom of God to be? Mankind's religious churches? Nope!

    Jhn 18:36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence."

    Where then HHR is the TRUE Kingdom of God at and located? Care to make a guess?

    Considering "Where then HHR is the TRUE Kingdom of God at and located?"

    The Mormons believe it is near a place in the universe called Kolob.

    Book of Mormon
    Abraham 3:3 "And the Lord said unto me: These are the governing ones; and the name of the great one is Kolob, because it is near unto me, for I am the Lord thy God: I have set this one to govern all those which belong to the same order as that upon which thou standest."

    Abraham 3:9 "And thus there shall be the reckoning of the time of one planet above another, until thou come nigh unto Kolob, which Kolob is after the reckoning of the Lord's time; which Kolob is set nigh unto the throne of God, to govern all those planets which belong to the same order as that upon which thou standest.

    In fact Kolob is mentioned in Abraham, chapter 3, 18 times.

    So Kolob must be where the "TRUE Kingdom of God" is at.

    September 23, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
    • Jp

      No living mortal can really know where it is, but it is forever and not really in time.

      September 25, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
  10. PRISM 1234

    "Free people don't need to be "saved" from anything"

    What do YOU say, what does it mean to be free?

    September 23, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
    • Muneef

      PRISM 1234
      How are dear friend and hope all fine with you...
      Commenting about the being free....
      Some consider being free is when their spirits and souls leave the body since it acts as a locker for both of them until it is demised...! Actually I think humans have more freedoms when are asleep more than when being awake for responsibilities awaiting them to open their eyes...!

      September 23, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
  11. charlene cooke

    Peace be unto you Pastor, In my understanding the article is saying that they have gathered information from leaders of the church, have they asked you to take such survey. I believe a survey like an opinion, they come a dime a dozen. Good or bad, positive or negative. But for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord. through the the good times and bad, I have seen both ends. God has not given up on me. Things may look bleak but God is still in control.

    September 23, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • Hoovervilles

      Help me understand.

      When you say "God is in control", what does that mean, exactly?

      I think you are saying this;

      That an all knowing, ever present, all powerful, all compassionate, and perfect God is executing a plan under God's control?

      I think that is what you are stating. Is that correct? Did I correctly capture your meaning of "God is in control"?

      If not please explain what you do mean by that statement.

      Thanks for your help.

      September 23, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
  12. JJ

    Perhaps the overall strength of faith and vitality of congregations is inversely related to their level of infatuation with political fads.

    September 23, 2011 at 5:34 am |
  13. Joe

    Well, I'd say God is dead except he never existed in the first place

    September 23, 2011 at 4:43 am |
    • SilverTrail

      Those nations that say God is "dead" or deny His existence annihilated millions of people under Nazis and in the Communist nations.

      September 23, 2011 at 8:09 am |
    • Jp

      Y'all who think that God isn't real are wrong. The universe is too perfect to be randomly created by some big explosion, so there must be (a) god(s)

      September 25, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Jp, your lack of intellectual curiosity is not proof of god. It's simply proof of your lack of intellectual curiosity.

      September 25, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
  14. To American Christians

    But America still has vitality with a possibility of bouncing back. The last nation of hope in the entire West. It's Europe that is humanly-speaking permanently and hopelessly dying off. Asia, Africa, and the Islamic land have unprecedented growth of Christian faith in spite of grueling persecutions. The Holy Spirit is moving everywhere powerfully in the last days. American Christians, take heart. God owns the universe. God is in control and He is saving His people everywhere even today. Just continue your own battles for righteousness courageously in your land. There was never an easy era or easy place for any true Christian. We all have our own assignments where we are planted. Jesus our King will come back at the nick of time. We just should never give up or dwell in sins but keep looking up to Jesus till the very end. Revelation 22:7-21 is only true.

    September 23, 2011 at 2:35 am |
    • Rick

      Apparently, you see god as some punative being. Free people don't need to be "saved" from anything. Those beholding to bronze age mythology seem to believe they do. Oh well, go in peace, I guess

      September 23, 2011 at 5:32 am |
    • Hoovervilles

      I have the same question for you as I have for Charlene Cooke

      That is,

      Help me understand.

      When you say "God is in control", what does that mean, exactly?

      I think you are saying this;

      That an all knowing, ever present, all powerful, all compassionate, and perfect God is executing a plan under God's control?

      I think that is what you are stating. Is that correct? Did I correctly capture your meaning of "God is in control"?

      If not please explain what you do mean by that statement.

      Thanks for your help.

      September 23, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
  15. SilverTrail

    America needs repentance. Otherwise, she will repeat the evils of Soviets or Germany. De-christianized white nation always does evil.

    September 23, 2011 at 2:33 am |
    • Rick

      How can an abstract thing such as a nation repent?

      September 23, 2011 at 5:34 am |
    • SilverTrail

      Rick, the majority of the people. The atmosphere tells. Blasphemy is too common in today's USA. Too much evil is legally allowed. Freedom is a trash to immoral people. Freedom works only with the educated people with Judeo-Christian values.

      September 23, 2011 at 8:12 am |
    • PRISM 1234

      "Freedom is a trash to immoral people"
      yes, indeed... for they do not recognize the difference between trash and treasure, and can not discern anything as being sacred!

      September 23, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
    • leasez fair

      "De-christianized white nation always does evil."

      Calling Canada evil are you?

      September 23, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
    • tallulah13

      I knew Adelina/SilverTrail was the tool of satan. No decent human being could call Canada evil!

      September 25, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.