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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. gary

    god is pretend, bible myth .. churches are cults, spreaders of lies. Shut them all and build schools.

    September 21, 2011 at 8:40 am |
  2. RWESTUPID

    TAX THE CHURCHES! Why give these morons a free ride when the nation is in such dire financial straits?

    September 21, 2011 at 8:37 am |
    • Misanthrope3

      Tax the non tax payers! Why give those morons a free ride?

      September 21, 2011 at 8:48 am |
    • William Demuth

      Misanthrope3

      Everyone individual pays taxes.

      Death tax, Soc Sec, sales tax. property tax (* if they own) sin tax.

      Even someone who DOSEN'T pay income tax still pays several percentage points in tax.

      Churches rarely, if ever pay a cent!

      September 21, 2011 at 9:16 am |
    • Misanthrope3

      A large percentage of your "percentage point tax payers" receive many times what they incidentally pay in taxes back in the form of government benefits. So no, churches who pay reduced property tax for their fire and police protection are not as bad as the free loaders that make me sick in this country.

      September 21, 2011 at 9:46 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      "So no, churches who pay reduced property tax for their fire and police protection are not as bad as the free loaders that make me sick in this country."

      You mean those that are poor and do not earn enough to actually met the tax paying qualification? Those 'free loaders'?

      September 21, 2011 at 11:13 am |
  3. Believer

    This decline must be taken in context. Certain denominations have been declining while others have been growing tremendously. And perhaps, could there be any co-relationship between our declining faith and worship, and our worsening economy – humm

    September 21, 2011 at 8:36 am |
    • tljnsd

      Yeah there is a relationship! Because America is no longer an educational leader in the world but producing an abundance of idiots that will believe in a book that was written 2000 years ago but heaven forbid should believe in global warming or that a vaccine might actually be good for them. Here's a thought; churches cause brain damage! Of course just like your false idols I have no scientific proof to back up my claims but hey who needs proof when you've got Michelle Bachman on your side.

      September 21, 2011 at 8:56 am |
  4. Mark Fetz

    There will be revival in the earth. It will will become more inevitable as the nations fight over Israel. "The mountain of the house of the Lord will be established and the nations will flow to it." Fear God and give him glory: go to church!

    September 21, 2011 at 8:36 am |
    • Brian

      Screw you. Nothing in the bible ever said going to a specific building on a specific day of the week and dropping money in a plate to be accepted into heaven.

      Faith is fine, but religion is a business. Sheep.

      September 21, 2011 at 8:40 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      fear god and a love god tend to be contradictory...hard to love something or someone you fear.

      September 21, 2011 at 8:47 am |
    • tljnsd

      Maybe if churches stopped trying to scare everyone and spewing so much hatred........never mind; I still wouldn't go. Your cult of hate has destroyed any ounce of dignity or respect you might have deserved at one time.

      September 21, 2011 at 8:48 am |
  5. Gaston

    Less sheep believing in holy ghosts and other cult-like stories. That's awesome.

    September 21, 2011 at 8:34 am |
  6. Eli

    I don't know what to believe. But regardless, I don't need to go to church to figure that out.

    September 21, 2011 at 8:31 am |
  7. GRW144

    ...and yet every politician and governing body continues to use the "church" as a weapon toward anything they deem "not normal and accepting to God." REALLY???? Let's follow EVERY politician on Sundays to see whose asses are sitting in the pews.

    September 21, 2011 at 8:28 am |
  8. KB

    RE: hmmmm...Very witty comment however clever, may be more on target than many of the long winded opines. Well said.
    KB

    September 21, 2011 at 8:27 am |
  9. free2do

    I think some people are turned off by some of the hypocrisy and political activism

    September 21, 2011 at 8:25 am |
    • Eli

      You are right...at least for me. The biggest issue with the church is the fallacy inside and outside of the whole organization.

      September 21, 2011 at 8:33 am |
  10. tet1953

    Wait..aren't the churches the ones who are supposed to take care of the sick and poor and elderly after the Tea Party guts the budget?

    September 21, 2011 at 8:24 am |
  11. Who cares

    Who cares.... it's falling apart.... Unemployment and High education is important to government.

    September 21, 2011 at 8:20 am |
  12. Dzerres

    I never understood the disconnect with the numbers of professed churchgoers and all the people I always see on the ski slopes, at the Bronco games, and jamming the freeways into the mountains on any Sunday. I guess all those "religious" people not only do not go to church, they've been lying about it the pollsters! Truly the Republican base. Wow.

    September 21, 2011 at 8:17 am |
    • NoGodJustYou

      Anyone who uses an "invisible man" to hide behind can't be trusted. Lying, denying accountability, and belief go hand-in-hand. Duh...

      September 21, 2011 at 8:19 am |
    • William Demuth

      You live in the North I suppose.

      I know a man who was beaten by his parents because he wouldn't go to church, and when that didn't work, they actually had OTHER kids beat him up as well.

      AFter his parents died, he would not give them the Christian burial they expected, he had them cremated.

      He even claims he flushed his fathers ashes down the toilet

      September 21, 2011 at 8:25 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      @William...there was a news story recently about parents in the states who followed a book written by christians called "To Train Up a Child"...the book talks of how causing physical pain is in accordance with the bible. One of the comments one the amazon site selling this book pretty much sums it up "Throughout the book, the Pearls recommend whipping BABIES and TODDLERS with actual whips on their BARE SKIN!! On page 47 they recommend their various whips, including "a belt or larger tree branch"!!! The book has examples of a 4 month old infant, a 7 month old, a 12 month old, a 15 month old being WHIPPED! According to the Pearls, ALL babies should be whipped into complete submission and for "every transgression!"

      fortunately these idiot parents are sitting in jail...anyone who brainwashes their children should be doing the same thing

      September 21, 2011 at 8:53 am |
  13. NoGodJustYou

    It's getting harder and harder selling, "Big daddy, the invisible man, will handle all matters for you."

    September 21, 2011 at 8:17 am |
  14. Jman

    The fall away from the church is foretold in Revelations. 90% of what is written in Revelations has already come to pass. Maybe it is time for TakeaHike to wake up and ask for forgiveness and mercy from God.

    September 21, 2011 at 8:16 am |
    • NoGodJustYou

      Maybe it's time for humans to own our outcome and stop blaming God for our mistakes.

      September 21, 2011 at 8:17 am |
    • William Demuth

      Jman

      90 percent has already come to pass?

      Well, 93 percent of what is foretold by the Power Rangers has ALSO come to pass.

      September 21, 2011 at 8:28 am |
    • Tommy

      "Revelations" isn't even the name of the book.

      September 21, 2011 at 8:38 am |
    • PRISM 1234

      Jman, what you said is true. But just know this, friend, to speak wisdom on these blogs is much like throwing your treasure to wild beasts, and they will tear it to pieces, not discerning the worth of it!

      September 21, 2011 at 8:58 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      "But just know this, friend, to speak wisdom on these blogs is much like throwing your treasure to wild beasts, and they will tear it to pieces, not discerning the worth of it!"

      Or they will just call it out for the nonsense it is.

      September 21, 2011 at 9:18 am |
    • William Demuth

      Tommy

      Different cults have different names for the same basic writing.

      Hal Linsey got the Red Necks into back in the 70's with a book called "The Late Great Planet Earth"

      The ididot sold tons of books saying the world would end in the 1980's.

      Unless I missed something, he was full of S&it.

      September 21, 2011 at 9:21 am |
  15. Uncle Dave

    Awww Atheists are just jealous of Christians having Christmas. But wait! Atheists have a holiday too! It's April 1. Live with it !

    September 21, 2011 at 8:12 am |
    • Rick

      Still begging for forgiveness, Davie?

      September 21, 2011 at 8:15 am |
    • Martin

      Last time I checked, most atheists were getting into the holiday spirit as well. They just don't believe the fairy tales behind it (way behind it, actually...)

      September 21, 2011 at 8:22 am |
    • William Demuth

      Uncle Dave

      We SELL you your holiday.

      We have your toys made in China, we have Jewish people singing your carols, and your fake trees made in Vietnam, and the Palestinians blowing up Jerusalem!

      Keep on praying, I suspect you are gonna need it!

      September 21, 2011 at 8:32 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      we're jealous of a holiday christian stole from the pagans?

      "a whole bunch of pagan gods were born on that day. In fact, pagans celebrated a festival involving a heroic supernatural figure that visits an evergreen tree and leaves gifts on December 25th long before Jesus was ever born. From its early Babylonian roots, the celebration of the birth or "rebirth" of the sun god on December 25th came to be celebrated under various names all over the ancient world. You see, the winter solstice occurs a few days before December 25th each year. The winter solstice is the day of the year when daylight is the shortest. In ancient times, December 25th was the day each year when the day started to become noticeably longer. Thus it was fitting for the early pagans to designate December 25th as the date of the birth or the "rebirth" of the sun."

      it is noted that the apparent birth of jesus was in fact in the fall and not in winter

      it really is amazing what a little research outside of the bible can do to enlighten the mind!

      September 21, 2011 at 8:32 am |
  16. Rick

    Religion. If that's your focus, you're already lost. It's not about the religion, it's about the relationship. All sorts of people are "religious" about a great many things – a lot of it extreme or radical – to the point of making up the rules themselves. What then becomes the truth is subject to your own ability to create and sustain the true "myth". God's infalible word is the only TRUTH there is (take for example: Romans 1:21-32). The good news, for those who think they know more than God, is there's no requirement for you to believe it! Go ahead and claim your reprobate mind. It's just funny that those who don't even know or have a relationship with God, are somehow smarter than His Word is. Facinating!

    September 21, 2011 at 8:11 am |
    • Rick

      Almost a funny as those claiming to know the word of god from edited translated bronzed age hearsay

      September 21, 2011 at 8:19 am |
    • Maffie

      The decline comes from sensible, educated people beginning to THINK for themselves and not being TOLD what to think by RADICALS of "Religion" ..... yes, Radicals...I find it "facinating" that religious "nuts" in the USA have no idea how to think for themselves. A bunch of sheep being led to slaughter! You people are incredible.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:09 am |
    • JohnR

      Lots of people are a LOT smarter than the addled ignoramuses who wrote sections of your holy book.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:13 am |
  17. hmmmm

    Maybe they got it backwards...maybe the recession was due to a decline in religious attendance.

    September 21, 2011 at 8:11 am |
    • NoGodJustYou

      It's getting harder and harder selling, "invisible man."

      September 21, 2011 at 8:16 am |
    • Jman

      So you can't see air, but for some reason you are still breathing it to stay alive. Hmm....Its getting harder to sell the "invisible air" theory. I just do not believe air is really real. I can't see it.....

      September 21, 2011 at 8:20 am |
    • Jake

      Jman you get a prize. That is the least intelligent thing I have ever seen written in the CNN comments. That is hard to do! Congrats.

      September 21, 2011 at 8:29 am |
    • William Demuth

      Jman

      A reasonably educated six year old can demonstrate the presence of air.

      Alas the COLLECTIVE intellect of Christianity can not even prove Christ was anything more than a fairy tale!

      September 21, 2011 at 8:34 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      hard for that to be the case when churches don't pay taxes

      September 21, 2011 at 8:43 am |
  18. Fedup

    You people need to get back to work.

    September 21, 2011 at 8:04 am |
    • NoGodJustYou

      "God" is doing our work for us... NOT. lol

      September 21, 2011 at 8:19 am |
  19. TakeAHike

    HA! Finally people are starting wake up (or at least I hope) and realize that organized religion is detrimental to the progress of humanity. It is interesting though... People seem to turn more towards faith or religion in times of need or (in this case) times of recession. They seem to feel the need to "put their trust in god" so to speak and he will sort out all of the details later on. If you ask me the only thing that is reasonable in a world where certainty seems to reign king is doubt. I'm out!

    September 21, 2011 at 7:55 am |
    • amused123

      What's REALLY going to bake your noodle is knowing when you do decide to return (most everyone does, eventually), Jesus will except you with open arms; as the prodigal son was welcomed by his father; even to the angst of his brothers.

      September 21, 2011 at 8:15 am |
    • NoGodJustYou

      I agree. Once organized religions are dispelled we may see peace on Earth... each owning the outcome without "asking God to intervene"... it's nuts.

      September 21, 2011 at 8:20 am |
    • Rick

      Amused: Except?

      September 21, 2011 at 8:23 am |
    • Tommy

      @NoGodJustYou: Will this non-religious peace be similar to the non-religious peace we saw the USSR bring to the table?

      September 21, 2011 at 8:41 am |
    • Sybaris

      amused123

      Please reread what you wrote.

      I have some oceanfront property in Arizona to sell you

      September 21, 2011 at 8:50 am |
    • Sybaris

      @Tommy

      Ah yes, the pervasive fallacy that atheism goes hand in hand with communism and agression.

      Sorry, communism is a political ideology, agression is a behavioral trait and atheism is the default mode of human religious experience/(lack of) conditioning.

      September 21, 2011 at 8:56 am |
  20. Religious Sects

    "... congregations that were innovative and contemporary showed the highest amount of "high spiritual vitality." -Yeah real spirituality, make it interesting or I won't "believe" anymore.

    September 21, 2011 at 7:54 am |
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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.