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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. Anthony

    Does anyone know where the picture at the top of this story was taken? Beautiful.

    September 21, 2011 at 9:35 am |
    • The Dude

      National Cathedral in Washington DC.

      Headquarters of Liars and Molesters International

      September 21, 2011 at 9:38 am |
    • justme

      subject matter is pure trash, but not bad comp.

      September 21, 2011 at 9:49 am |
  2. mike

    obviously this is in decline. This garbage isnt real, its baffling that in the year 2011 people still believe in a god that nobody can see and nobody can even prove. And if you use the bible as proof you are an idiot. I will neatly file religion in the same category as superman comics and tabloids... fiction.

    September 21, 2011 at 9:34 am |
    • Peter

      Other side of the coin...prove there is no God.

      September 21, 2011 at 9:51 am |
    • JohnR

      O

      September 21, 2011 at 9:54 am |
    • JohnR

      Ok, Peter. Prove than Pan doesn't exist.

      September 21, 2011 at 9:55 am |
    • Zeke2112

      Why stop at Peter Pan? If claiming that something exists automatically makes it so, Peter should also be able to prove that the sky is actually red, that the Tooth Fairy is still breaking into homes, and that the Vatican is broadcasting evil meatloaf recipes on a hidden AM band.

      If you're going to claim something outrageous, the burden of proof is on YOU.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:06 am |
    • fellowtraveler

      And our esteemed scientists, physicista actually, have discovered that some 85-95% of our universe is made up of some unknown substance that can not be seen, heard, touched, measured or detected in any way. They know it exists because of its effects on visible physical matter. They call this all encompassing substance dark matter and dark energy. Now i'm sure you don't doubt what scientists tell you, do you?

      September 21, 2011 at 10:42 am |
  3. Ruderalis

    We're waking up, that's why.

    September 21, 2011 at 9:33 am |
    • justme

      waking up at 9:33 ? a little lazy aren't we?

      September 21, 2011 at 9:47 am |
  4. rick perrytwit ... slack jawed bible thumper

    Teabaggers believe that the earth is only 6,000 years old. They believe that early man parked their dinosaurs in the Roman Coliseum while they attended church.

    September 21, 2011 at 9:32 am |
  5. 2bsquare

    helives you are correct. So why do I see people tell me that if Im pro-choice Im not Christian. I don beleive abortion is right, but every person has to live with their decisions, good or bad. What is good for one is bad for another.

    As I see it, I have become much more religious since my 9/11 experience, however I have become much less inclined to attend worship services. I dont like political retoric spewing from the pew.

    September 21, 2011 at 9:30 am |
  6. Brian

    I always wonder if the people that post here are actually real people. You get your houlier then though spiritualist who thinks they're better then you and the same exact thing for the renegade athiests. You people really need to start going back to the real world.

    September 21, 2011 at 9:30 am |
    • William Demuth

      Many of us ARE in the real world, making decisions, and conducting buisness.

      I have always believed this is just a vent for some.

      Some probably have this up on a third or fourth monitor.

      Plus LOTS of companies are blocking facebook nowadays!

      September 21, 2011 at 9:33 am |
    • Brian

      Believable. Most of the "aggressive athiests" are aboust as logical and rational as the others, except thier views are based off extreme hatred.

      September 21, 2011 at 9:43 am |
  7. Susan

    After child molesting priests what do you expect.

    September 21, 2011 at 9:28 am |
    • Peter

      As usual, grouping the few into a majority. You are referring to only the Catholic Church and to only a few priests. Other churches allow there priests/rectors etc. to be married. Because there's hundred's of thousands, maybe millions of people in prison, does that make every person in the country a criminal...NO!

      September 21, 2011 at 9:32 am |
    • William Demuth

      Peter

      Go to Blackcollarcrimes.com

      Hundreds of preachers harming kids, Jewish Christians Catholics

      Try not to be so blind, kids are being harmed EVERY DAY.

      September 21, 2011 at 9:35 am |
    • The Dude

      I have seen molestation in every denomination.

      I have seen it covered up in every denomination.

      I have seen Pastors take money from their followers and vanish in the night for place with the promise of more gold.

      No one is qualified to give advice on religion / spirituality. It is all opinion, organized opinion, nothing more. These are questions that must be answered from within ones self to have any meaning at all.

      September 21, 2011 at 9:37 am |
    • Peter

      Ah, my friend William...hundreds/thousands of kids are harmed every day by non-clergy, especially immediate family members. I am in no way standing up for the creatures who pretend to be people of God and destroy a child's life. They should be in prison to say the least. However, you can't put one bad egg in a dozen and say they are all rotten. If a church memer/Christian, whatever you want to call them does such acts, then they are not a Christian.

      September 21, 2011 at 9:39 am |
    • Peter

      The Dude...non-belief is opinion too. Child molestation goes on outside the church too. There is no winning the argument. Whatever stone you wish to throw at religion can be hurled straight back. The real issue is people. When people are involved in anything, it will go south sometimes. Depends on a persons motivation.

      September 21, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • The Dude

      When an Atheist does it, they don't have an organization worth billions to back them and hide their crime.

      September 21, 2011 at 9:50 am |
  8. Befuddled

    Religion, in my opinion, has become the word of man. I'll just stick to whats in my heart.....the word of God.

    September 21, 2011 at 9:28 am |
  9. cross

    Maybe it is time to discover new ways to be church outside of the church.
    Religion is the most unsuspected way to be far from God!
    You know what, Jesus had problems with only one kind of people: the religious people.

    September 21, 2011 at 9:27 am |
  10. On my knees for God's pleasure

    ...And they have enjoyed their privileged tax exempt status for too long. They are not a charity.

    September 21, 2011 at 9:27 am |
    • Befuddled

      For what it's worth, many religious groups provide to charity. A lot more than most.

      September 21, 2011 at 9:29 am |
    • Peter

      A true Church is in fact a charity. Ours houses the homeless in the winter, feeds the homeless all year long, ministers in prison, travels to help folks after disasters and sponsors other local charities.

      September 21, 2011 at 9:30 am |
    • On my knees for God's pleasure

      Charities are under a different tax code and different regulations. Churches are not and do not have to be engaged in them to receive their tax exempt status.

      A separate charity set up by the church with people giving to that charity is reasonable, but giving your 10% to a church itself is different.

      September 21, 2011 at 9:37 am |
    • William Demuth

      Peter

      So you are in a cult!

      We knew it all along from your postings!

      Ministering in prison? HAH! I guess you crave a captive audience? Always exploit those who are trapped or beaten down. Standard MO of cults.

      I bet your preachers minister to runaways? Provides them "shelter"?

      You yahoos never change

      September 21, 2011 at 9:38 am |
    • Zeke2112

      Peter: you could do all that without the church as a middleman. Donate to a food bank, shelter, or the Red Cross. Volunteer at the VA hospital, a soup kitchen, or any of a number of real charities that don't take a slice off your donation to house priests and lobby for anti-gay therapy.

      September 21, 2011 at 9:40 am |
    • Peter

      Well William...looks like they won't post my original response to your dribble. How high and mighty do you think you are judging me and what I do. You know nothing of me. I have not been to minister in prison, but church members have. I don't make it to church every week. I don't believe a church is needed to worship. You are an antagonist with a small mind, who seems to think himself a lot smarter than he is and no doubt funny too. I hope you spend as much time ragging on your pathetic government as much as you do Christians.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:00 am |
  11. On my knees for God's pleasure

    This is the best news we have received in a long time.

    September 21, 2011 at 9:26 am |
  12. Ashton

    It is the fool that says in his heart "there is no God."

    September 21, 2011 at 9:23 am |
    • hippypoet

      who is the more foolish, the fool, or the fool that follows him?

      and there is no god. 🙂 get over it, deal with it, and move on!

      September 21, 2011 at 9:25 am |
    • On my knees for God's pleasure

      But a wise man thinks with his mind.

      September 21, 2011 at 9:29 am |
    • Befuddled

      On your knees (snicker), and just what if your mind is not programmed too well?

      September 21, 2011 at 9:31 am |
    • On my knees for God's pleasure

      Then you would still be better off than someone who thinks with their heart.

      September 21, 2011 at 9:35 am |
    • Befuddled

      As long as you recongnize that as your "opinion". 🙂

      September 21, 2011 at 9:40 am |
    • 3vix6

      Great Obi-Wan quote!

      September 21, 2011 at 9:48 am |
    • Alyssa

      I say nothing from my heart. It is a piece of meat whose sole purpose is to pump blood through my body. All of my thoughts and words come from my brain.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:27 am |
  13. hippypoet

    how about we just burn the churches down seeing how noone is going... in its place we can build one of two things.. 1) a place to work out being as are the fattest nation on the planet!
    2) a library, i know some of you may be confused as to what a "Library " is but bare with me here on this... its a place where "books" thats a pile of bound to together paper, tangible text messages from years ago are freely given out with hopes of returning them in the orginal condition. its an ancient practice, lets give it one more try. or we can keep on down the path of being the fattest, dumbest nation on the face of the earth!

    September 21, 2011 at 9:22 am |
    • Befuddled

      You should worry more about yourself instead of everyone else.

      September 21, 2011 at 9:24 am |
    • hippypoet

      @Befuddled , and why should i worry about myself... this is quite befuddling... i am very befuddled! i have been befuddled!!! ah the befuddling is over!

      i love the name!

      September 21, 2011 at 9:27 am |
    • MarkinFL

      "Befuddled" .... has a nice woody sound to it. I like it!

      September 21, 2011 at 9:31 am |
    • Peter

      How about we burn your house down and build a church in it's place or a hospital or a homeless shelter?

      September 21, 2011 at 9:36 am |
    • cubbybounds

      life just not going quite right for you, is it.
      maybe you should try another belief system

      September 21, 2011 at 9:36 am |
  14. helives

    jesus warned of a falling away. and religion is a false path to paradise. christianity is a relationship with God.

    September 21, 2011 at 9:21 am |
    • Befuddled

      Then what is spirituality?

      September 21, 2011 at 9:25 am |
    • The Dude

      Christianity is a priests/pastors s3xual relationship with your children and a relationship with your bank account.

      September 21, 2011 at 9:25 am |
    • The Dude

      Spirituality is the recognition that we go not know everything and the realization we are all connected.

      September 21, 2011 at 9:27 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Sounds like a cross between ignorance and an org.y

      September 21, 2011 at 9:33 am |
    • Raptor JC

      If it is a relationship with God, then why do you always talk about Jesus? You're just as polytheistic as Zeus and his crew.

      September 21, 2011 at 9:35 am |
  15. Brian

    The article doesn't mention that when comparing the 2000 and 2010 census data, the number of self-identifying Atheists in the US had grown from 8% to 14%. Churches are hurting because the ranks of the informed are growing rapidly. My 2 cents.

    September 21, 2011 at 9:21 am |
    • Jesse Anderson

      Absolutely, Brian...economic conditions hurt across the board, and are not specific to churches. The reality of it is, as you noted, the informed are beginning to gain attention and enthusiasm. Agnostic and atheist thought is not a congregation, but a research in reality.

      September 21, 2011 at 9:29 am |
  16. OldSchool

    You people simply make me stronger in my faith to God. And while you all live in total denial of what the real problems are in this world and especially this country that used to be called America; I live in total bliss and comfort because of God. I am not financially rich, I am not the most healthy person, but God comforts me in ALL aspects while you all do exactly what he said you all would do, and that is to destroy his creation that was never intended to go the direction you all have turned it in. Good luck with whatever you call this place. You will need it. Oh yea, Im sure Hollywood will come bail you out and save you when total Hell is unleashed on you. Good luck with that as well. Idiots.

    September 21, 2011 at 9:20 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      oh where to begin.

      First off you live in total 'bliss' and then feel the need to call people idiots and revel in sarcasm?
      Secondly, why do you think atheists are in denial about the real problems of the world? and isnt it a bit rich for someone to claim other people live in denial about the real problems of the world then claim to live in 'total bliss and comfort' yourself?
      Thirdly, why do you think that being an atheist means they are 'destroying his creation'? What does that even mean, polluting the planet? what?

      September 21, 2011 at 9:26 am |
    • HockeyMinny

      I too am proud to be a christian. I have made many, many mistakes in my life but I know that God has a purpose for everything and everyone. It's up to us; figure it out now or plan on spending eternity with the devil.

      September 21, 2011 at 9:33 am |
    • Zeke2112

      Let me get this straight: you believe that a supreme bring who loves you created you with sin and dropped you down on this Earth to fend for yourself. You get to face murder and horror from his other perfect creations, and he never once comes down from on high to comfort you. Yet you must believe in him and worship him, or else he'll love you so much that he sends you to burn for all eternity! You must also consume his body and drink his blood, and give your money to flawed mortal men. Or he'll love you so much that you'll burn forever!

      Am I getting this right?

      September 21, 2011 at 9:47 am |
    • Richard S Kaiser

      @ OldSchool,,,,,

      Forgive them the vultures and eagles and worms of literacy's discontentment. They know only condemnation and are damned up with bitterness toward anyone with religious perspective.

      Many of Christendom's aggregations know well that this world is not the Kingdom of GOD. Let those who declare disbelief in GOD wallow away in their caustic trepidation. Christ Jesus and His armies comes swiftly at one's death to carry away the treasures of our bodies/buildings/temples.

      1Cr 3:16 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and [that] the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?
      1Cr 3:9 “For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, [ye are] God's building.”

      September 21, 2011 at 10:12 am |
    • Alyssa

      " the real problems are in this world and especially this country that used to be called America"

      Wait, we changed our name? How come I didn't get a vote for that?

      September 21, 2011 at 10:31 am |
  17. Buckmeat

    Who wouldn't leave the religious fanatics after all the scandal of pedophilia going on. Very sad indeed.

    September 21, 2011 at 9:20 am |
  18. Dave

    I ike how the liberal media who has taken an active approach in the social persecution of Christians is now doing a story on how rough it's been for Christians and churches. No sh**, Sherlock! You push the anti-Christian agenda, stand back and watch as the populace accepts and encourages it, and then you report on the fall-out. It's simply unbelievable when one thinks of the gall of liberals.

    September 21, 2011 at 9:19 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      Yeah because christians have such a hard time in the US, lol.
      You try being a politician and state you are an atheist and see just how far that will get you in the US.

      September 21, 2011 at 9:29 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Churches are their own worst enemies.

      September 21, 2011 at 9:37 am |
  19. Richard S Kaiser

    I Love GOD because “I am“.
    I am living because of GOD
    I am learning because of GOD
    I am seeing my faults because of GOD
    I am repentant because of GOD.
    GOD’s Love allows me to be what "I am".

    You ought Love GOD because “You are”.
    You are living because of GOD.
    You are learning because of GOD.
    You are seeing many faults because of GOD.
    You are repentant because of GOD.
    GOD’s Love allows you to be what “You are”.

    We need to Love GOD because “We are”.
    We are living because of GOD.
    We are learning because of GOD.
    We are seeing our faults because of GOD.
    We are repentant because of GOD.
    GOD’s Love allows us to be as “We are”.

    September 21, 2011 at 9:17 am |
    • The Dude

      You love God because your were indoctrinated at a young age to do so...you poor deluded fool.

      September 21, 2011 at 9:22 am |
    • Thompson

      lol, it's people like you that I'm never allowing my child near a church or any of it's memebers–you all are crazy

      September 21, 2011 at 9:28 am |
    • edog355

      Richard – That doesn't make any sense whatsoever. We "outght to to love god because 'you are'"? Huh? That's just dumb.

      September 21, 2011 at 9:32 am |
    • Richard S Kaiser

      The Dude wrote me stating, "You love God because your were indoctrinated at a young age to do so...you poor deluded fool."

      I was given freedoms in my childhood and youth by my parents and never did attend church functions. Now in my 50's I have found contemplations upon believing in a power greater than myself and I choose to call this greater power, "GOD". I am a recovering alcoholic and drug abuser. I have not touched alcohol in a little over 2 years and illegal drugs since April of 2011. I did lay my addictions upon the GOD that inhabits my body/building/temple.

      1Cr 3:9 “For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, [ye are] God's building.”
      1Cr 3:16 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and [that] the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

      My poetry is but my revealing to others the nature of GOD and our spirited confrontations with emotionalisms and how we are intertwined. I am sorry that you call me a "deluded fool". May the GOD who is eternal ever lead you onward.

      September 21, 2011 at 9:49 am |
    • Richard S Kaiser

      edog355 wrote me stating, "Richard – That doesn't make any sense whatsoever. We "outght to to love god because 'you are'"? Huh? That's just dumb."

      Poetry edog355, must not be your strength,,,,,,,,,,, 😦

      September 21, 2011 at 9:51 am |
    • The Dude

      Your God is fear. You are contemplating your soon to arrive death and you are fearful.

      Do not fear.

      When you die, you will enter a dream state (as long as your brain remains intact) that will have no concept of time. Your brain will release DMT and you will experience a dream state that will seem to last forever to you. You will not see a God then. No one will be there to judge you

      I would suggest instead of prayer, practice on mastering the Lucid Dream. It will make your death more enjoyable.

      September 21, 2011 at 9:55 am |
    • Richard S Kaiser

      @ The Dude

      Luk 17:21 "Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is inside/within you."

      You Dude know nothing about the Kingdom of GOD that is insdie you! You know nothing about Fractal Cosmology and its' Truths.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:19 am |
    • The Dude

      Sorry, but I do not speak gibberish.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:45 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      "Poetry edog355, must not be your strength"

      Boy do you have an ego on you, lol.

      September 21, 2011 at 11:21 am |
  20. Badguy

    You want religion? Crack a bible or form a discussion group at your local coffee shop. DON'T rely on people who are PAID to inform you of the meaning of life.

    September 21, 2011 at 9:12 am |
    • Brian

      That's all well and good, but doesn't really make the bar when you're looking for the sacraments.

      September 21, 2011 at 9:22 am |
    • mattmchugh

      Yes, amateur's misconceptions about the Bible always make for amusing discussions.

      - mm

      September 21, 2011 at 9:22 am |
    • cero

      Oh Matt.... would you rather go back to the ways of the Catholic Church, pre-Reformation?

      September 21, 2011 at 9:44 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.