home
RSS
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. HopefulTeen

    Okay, I'm an atheist, but I'm getting sick of all these atheists that comment on these articles. Stop using insults, you're better than that. Use logic and understanding.

    September 21, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • God Bless the Illuminati

      Well stated.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • Raoul Duke, Jr.

      I would love to take that advice and have actually tried that approach. Unfortunately, because belief and faith are not based on logic, logic does not work. Believers always fall back on the "but it's in the bilble" and "god works in mysterious ways" fallacies. There is no way to reason with someone who really does not want to see reason. Although, I agree, that insulting them and what they believe is ad hominem, that is the ground they have chosen by failing to accept reason. They want me to prove that god does not exist, but they tell me I am ridiculous when I ask them to prove that a green leprechaun, sitting astride a pink unicorn, are not standing next to me. When they decide to use reason, I'll come back to that approach.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • Zeke2112

      As a teen, you probably haven't yet seen what the religious are doing to our government, our planet, the gay community, Muslims, HIV-ridden Africa, and anyone else who doesn't believe their version of fairy tale. When they start keeping their beliefs to themselves, I'll stop questioning their sanity and their motives.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:35 am |
  2. DaleH

    Many will fall away.... Matthew 24

    September 21, 2011 at 10:12 am |
  3. Jagged

    I believe.
    I believe, more these days, than days gone by.
    I pray the Lord my soul to take.
    Though he slay me, I will worship.
    I am his to do with as he sees fit.
    I am never alone.
    I am comforted in these stormy times.
    I am at peace.
    As real as anything I have ever known.
    I do not hate, I merely state, "that ain't right" and I am cursed by my fellow man.
    Still I am at peace.
    A peace of mind that surpasses all understanding.

    September 21, 2011 at 10:10 am |
    • Zeke2112

      I believe...that you will die not having understood what it means to be human, and having missed out on many of the things that make a human life worthwhile – all in the "hope" that you won't be alone when you die.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:37 am |
  4. Raoul Duke, Jr.

    As a Pirate in the Church of Pastafarianism, I can state, unequivocally, that our membership is expanding by oodles of noodles and that the revered Monster of Spaghetti is spreading his holy sauce on linguine the world over. RAMEN!

    September 21, 2011 at 10:08 am |
    • God Bless the Illuminati

      All kneel before the FSM! Well, stated.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:14 am |
    • Zeke2112

      Ramen! Woe be to those who doubt his noodly motives, for they shall roast in marinara for all eternity! Vermicelli 3:16.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      Prego Noster

      September 21, 2011 at 11:26 am |
  5. sisNorth

    Perhaps the widespread abuses that have been perpetrated under the guise of the church have shaken the religious foundation of people who previously had faith in those leaders who ultimately betrayed them. More and more people are discovering that you don't need the church to be a believer and you don't need religion to be spiritual.

    September 21, 2011 at 10:08 am |
    • Bob

      Did God tell you that or do you just think that up yourself?

      September 21, 2011 at 11:28 am |
  6. Jacob

    I don't understand why I can't believe what I want to believe. I'm a fairly intelligent person who likes to think for himself, and I'm still a Christian. I respect other people's faith (or lack thereof) and let them believe what they want, but I don't think I get the same courtesy. I mean, what gives people the right to insult my religion and call it a joke, when I'm perfectly content in letting them believe what they want?

    September 21, 2011 at 10:05 am |
    • God Bless the Illuminati

      Maybe because you religion has been perfectly comfortable killing non-believers for two thousand years. Ya think that might have something to do with it?

      September 21, 2011 at 10:08 am |
    • On my knees for God's pleasure

      Well your religion should be treated no different than political or economic views... People don't like their religion to be "insulted" becasue it is so easily shown to be ridiculous.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:08 am |
    • Ryan

      Jacob, the problem is that many people take it far beyond "Hey I'm content believing in X–let me be". They take it to the level "X is reality, and I'm going to vote for people who also believe that, and I'm going to get upset if society strays from that". The former position is not instrusive. The latter is.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:14 am |
    • Alyssa

      The problem is that you're used to your religion being beyond criticism. Though there's no good reason for that to be so while we are freely able to criticize any number of other things in our lives from movies to people to politics. That "safe zone" for religion is being chipped away at, and it makes you defensive. But you have no right afforded by any authority to be free from religious criticism or the thoughts you hold about it. Atheists have always been criticized (and worse!). It's only fair that theists be exposed to it as well.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      Because people dont keep personal belief personal. They want to have prayer in schools, declare their religion to be the 'correct' religion, want to dictate behaviour and rights based on their religion, thats why.

      September 21, 2011 at 11:28 am |
  7. Fact

    American atheists = Soviets + immorality + ignorance unique to Americans

    September 21, 2011 at 10:05 am |
    • hippypoet

      "ignorance unique to Americans"
      thats a good one...people are dumb wherever dumb people multiply... thats everywhere!

      September 21, 2011 at 10:08 am |
    • God Bless the Illuminati

      You get the award for the most ignorant comment so far today.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:09 am |
  8. Carolyn Poole

    Sounds like a lot of you have been going to the wrong church or have been listening to the people that's going to the wrong church. Everyone should decide based upon the church teachings. There would be no more money churches if people would stop going to them. I can see why our country is listening to the haters call Tea Party Republicans – christians with their own terms and justifications. Looks like the idiots are making the most noise these days! Decline in church attendance will also speak to decline in morality!

    September 21, 2011 at 10:04 am |
    • God Bless the Illuminati

      Since when does going to church equate to morality?

      September 21, 2011 at 10:10 am |
    • Raoul Duke, Jr.

      Do the research. The countries with the highest percentage of non-believers have the lowest levels of violent crime, while those with the highest percentage of believers have the highest crime rates. Further, as a percentage of the population, therre many more believers in US prisons, than non-believers. Actually, atheists have been shown to have higher moral standards than believers. Good morals don't come from religion. Remember, god is responsible for millions of more deaths in the bible than even the alleged satan. Remember, god orders you to kill your childern if they curse you. "All who curse their father or mother must be put to death. "- Leviticus 20:9 Is that moral? Read your bible, people. It's the shortest course to becoming an atheist.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:18 am |
  9. hippypoet

    Mathilda , do you truly believe that people can live to the age of 600+ years old?

    September 21, 2011 at 10:03 am |
    • Mathilda

      Hippy, the planet was a different one before the Flood happened. You lost the sun screen permanently.

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

      Hippy, I've got to go again. Study with authenticity, kid.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:07 am |
    • On my knees for God's pleasure

      Yeah, when I was in a christian school in the 5th grade, my natural history teacher told us that people lived that old because of all the moisture in the atmosphere before the flood provided a different atmosphere than after the flood, which somehow allowed for people to live much longer...

      And now I am an athiest. lol

      September 21, 2011 at 10:14 am |
    • Horvath

      hiippy, do you really believe in the language of 'billions of years' and 'millions of years?!" SAME thing. Yes, yes it is. No, really, it is.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      "Horvath – hiippy, do you really believe in the language of 'billions of years' and 'millions of years?!""

      sure why not? we know such time scales exist so sure. We also know that, from observations of the world around us that the idea of a person living 600 years is nonsense and the idea of a wide world flood even more so.

      September 21, 2011 at 11:31 am |
  10. The Dude

    Christians believe if you reject their BS beliefs you are persecuting them.

    Get over yourselves.

    September 21, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • God Bless the Illuminati

      Well stated and right on point.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:11 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Worse, they believe that if you stop them from persecuting someone that you are then persecuting them. It is the religious right to persecute others.

      September 21, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  11. On my knees for God's pleasure

    Does it seem rather odd that the creator of the ENTIRE UNIVERSE with TRILLIONS of stars and planets cannot even get us pathetic H0mo Sapiens to all agree which religion is actually his?

    only 33% of humanity is Christian (and many of those are in name only).

    this is so obviously man made, that is why the churches are failing. people are actually thinking more as time progresses.

    September 21, 2011 at 10:01 am |
    • Chuckles

      Also don't forget, that according to this board at least, many of those people aren't "true christians" because everyone on this board is an expert and knows that even when a person is baptized, proclaims that jesus is their lord and savior and calls themselves christians, they still aren't allowed to be a "true christian" when they do something that is embarrasing to the faith.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:05 am |
    • William Demuth

      Plus "Christianity" is a house of cults divided amongst itself

      Here is a list of names of Christians killed by other Christians in a SINGLE day in the war between the cults.

      A shame of the Irish, and a black mark on Christianity

      It shall forever be "Sunday Bloody Sunday"

      Patrick ('Paddy') Doherty (31)

      Gerald Donaghy (17)

      John ('Jackie') Duddy (17)

      Hugh Gilmour (17)

      Michael Kelly (17)

      Michael McDaid (20)

      Kevin McElhinney (17)

      Bernard ('Barney') McGuigan (41)

      Gerald McKinney (35)

      William ('Willie') McKinney (26)

      William Nash (19)

      James ('Jim') Wray (22)

      John Young (17)

      John Johnston (59)

      September 21, 2011 at 10:08 am |
    • Follix

      Trillions?

      Way more than that bro, more than 200 billions galaxies some of them have 10 trillions stars alone. We are more talking about septillions here and yes it is pretty arrogant to claime to know the truth.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:08 am |
  12. icedawg

    Here's one for all the self-assured, mocking, derisive, disrespecting atheists.
    Philippians 3:18-19 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.

    September 21, 2011 at 10:01 am |
    • On my knees for God's pleasure

      67% of all the humans on earth are "enemies of the cross" i.e. non-christian.

      Will you throw them into that boat of hell bound souls as well?

      September 21, 2011 at 10:05 am |
    • Intellectual

      I am writing a book of aphorisms and parables, which I will bury in the sand.

      Years from now, when your ancestors find it, they will enslave themselves to the power of my lies.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:10 am |
    • Ben

      Really? Quoting from a book? Get something original to say.

      Also, do you not see the futility in qupting BIBLE verses to ATHEISTS???

      September 21, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • God Bless the Illuminati

      Intellectual – Years from now when when you ancestors find it? Got news for ya – my ancestors (and yours) are dead. Our anceastors were here BEFORE us, not AFTER us.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:16 am |
    • God Bless the Illuminati

      icedawg – You're quoting from a book of folklore as if it were a book of facts. What else have you got?

      September 21, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • Zeke2112

      I've got a good one for you, borrowed from the Duke above (thanks Duke):

      "All who curse their father or mother must be put to death. "- Leviticus 20:9

      Nice god you got there. And that's just the tip of the iceberg!

      September 21, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      Heres one what?

      September 21, 2011 at 11:33 am |
  13. marc

    Talk to people in their 20's and 30's and you will find there are more and more realizing the absurdity of the concept of a "god" and are rejecting their parent's indoctrination of this lunacy. Athiesm is on the rise in the US and the world and it's about time.

    September 21, 2011 at 10:00 am |
    • Alyssa

      And really, with the aging of a huge portion of our population, it won't belong before the percentage of believers takes a huge drop as well. They won't be replaced by younger generations.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:48 am |
  14. Rich

    Religion is delusion.

    September 21, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  15. Mike B

    Why are atheists always so interested in religious stories on CNN? Every time there is a religious story, the comment section is flooded with atheists who actually think that we care what they say.

    The fact is that only 16% of americans are atheists (Gallop 2010-2011) and yet we let this minority get away with disrespecting the overwhelming majority. There is nothing we can do about the the atheists that anonymously troll web sites and blogs like this one. But something needs to be done about the ones that actually have the guts to come out into the open.
    A little scare with the "majority stick" should send them all back into their little minority hole.

    September 21, 2011 at 9:57 am |
    • William Demuth

      Mike B

      I'll bet my 9mm out trumps your majority stick.

      Bring it!

      September 21, 2011 at 9:58 am |
    • MJ

      Religion = Violence.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:00 am |
    • Chuckles

      @Mike B

      Why hate the Atheists? If you really are the majority, do we really pose a threat to you? Do we upset you?

      September 21, 2011 at 10:03 am |
    • Alyssa

      "Why are atheists always so interested in religious stories on CNN?"

      If 75% of your relatives, friends, co-workers, etc. were gripped by ongoing delusions that threatened to influence political outcomes in this country for the worse, would you too not be interested in hearing that the percentage is decreasing?

      September 21, 2011 at 10:03 am |
    • Lacking Evidence since 14 Billion BCE

      Very compassionate. Agree with me or I smack you with my stick.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:04 am |
    • Jer

      If your faith is so strong, why bother posting. I know it's not fun reading that forcing your views and beliefs on others isnt' having the effect you want, and that more people are departing with your belief in magical powers, but seriously. If you're so convicted you wouldn't feel the need to overcompensate for a report on facts.

      I'm sure you could iReport your mystical beliefs with incredible popularity. Maybe start with a story about why so many miracles happened before the time of accurate historical record, and basically ceased at about that time.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:05 am |
    • God Bless the Illuminati

      Mike B – I hope you're not a x-ian. Sounds like you've got a little too much fear and hatred in your heart to be a practicing x-ian.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:22 am |
    • Zeke2112

      Why are Christians always so interested in religious stories on CNN? Every time there is a religious story, the comment section is flooded with Christians who actually think that we care what they say.

      The fact is that only 33% of the world are Christians (Gallop 2010-2011) and yet we let this minority get away with disrespecting the overwhelming majority. There is nothing we can do about the the Christians that anonymously troll web sites and blogs like this one. But something needs to be done about the ones that actually have the guts to come out into the open.

      A little scare with the "majority stick" should send them all back into their little minority hole.

      FTFY.

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

      "A little scare with the "majority stick" should send them all back into their little minority hole."

      Its been tried, they called it the Inquisition.

      September 21, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Hey Mike B,
      How does it feel to be anti-American? You really need to move to another country.

      September 21, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Funny thing, the Mike B's of the world are usually the first to complain that Muslims want to force everyone into their religion. Mike B, you should be Muslim.

      September 21, 2011 at 11:57 am |
  16. sid

    In contrast the Muslim mosques are overflowing so much so that in France the govt has banned prayers being conducted on the streets the overflow of the mosques

    September 21, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  17. MJ

    Good news. I have a dream that one day we will have a country free of religious influence just as our founding fathers intended it.

    Religion has no place in modern society. It's nonsensical.

    September 21, 2011 at 9:56 am |
    • Fred

      The founding fathers did NOT intend for the country to be "free from religious influence".
      You need to quit drinking the liberal Kool-Aid and read a book instead (and not revisionist history, either).

      September 21, 2011 at 10:07 am |
    • JohnR

      @fred They plain and clearly wanted the government to be free of church meddling.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:09 am |
  18. Jude

    so good news of the day, church attendance is declining, hopefully the amount of religious people are also declinging

    September 21, 2011 at 9:56 am |
  19. A very good comment from the previous page

    BibleBeliever

    The problem in the church is that it has replaced the Holy Spirit "to draw men unto Him" with music and high tech entertainment. But this is not the main reason "church" has declined. Jesus said if you "abide in Him and obey His Word He will abide (live) in them..." The church left the Word of God 1,900 years ago. Since THEN it's been in decline!

    When the "church" wakes up to this and returns to obeying His Word from Genesis to Revelation it will then begin to grow no matter what the condition of the economy!!

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

      Actually the Church kept growing for the last 2,000 years super-naturally in every nation in spite of heaviest persecutions, from mere few hundreds to 2.3 billion. The largest religious body, fastest growing by conversion.

      September 21, 2011 at 9:57 am |
    • On my knees for God's pleasure

      the idea of supernatural didn't come until after the age of Newton. Because before that god was apart of the natural world and controlled it. Science has pushed him out of reality.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • BibleBeliever

      Mathilda,

      I understand what you're saying. The church, meaning the people or congregation, has grown. But the "church" as an organization is stagnant because it does not walk in the Truth of God's Word.

      I am a Messianic believer. I keep Torah and the Brit Hadashah. The "church" does not keep Torah as you well know. For this reason it is seeing a decline overall. This is what I'm talking about.

      Shalom....

      September 21, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  20. Mathilda

    Atheism destroyed 2 billion human lives. Americans are stupid to support atheism.

    September 21, 2011 at 9:53 am |
    • Lacking Evidence since 14 Billion BCE

      Hmm.... that's a new one. Evidence?

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

      Do tell...

      More people have died throughout history for their faith.

      September 21, 2011 at 9:58 am |
    • Mathilda

      The atheists-occupied nations all suffer/ed the heaviest tyranny and massacres; they killed about 1 billion including unborns and those who live with 1 billion atheists suffer daily heavily.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:00 am |
    • torrentula

      If it's a question of body count, I think religion has nonbelievers beat.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:00 am |
    • The Dude

      He is lumping Atheism along with Communism,

      Atheism was a tool used to eliminate the power the Churches held over the people in those countries.

      No one has ever killed in the Name of Atheism...ever.

      Stalin was in Seminary School to become a priest once.

      Pol Pot was a Buddhist Monk in his youth

      The Catholic Church gave Hitler a green light to kill indiscriminately (Silence is support)

      September 21, 2011 at 10:00 am |
    • Mathilda

      MJ, no, religion(Christianity) gave hope and meaning and civility. Atheism is the worst killer without anything positive.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:01 am |
    • Mathilda

      Dude is lying. Communists butchered anyone who confessed God and for that reason alone.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • The Dude

      It was a power struggle, not an ideological one.

      In Communism the state is your God.

      Try reading something other than a bible for a change.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:04 am |
    • torrentula

      Mathilda, these are some blanket statements that you have yet to prove. You assert, yet it stands on a sandy foundation of ignorance.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:04 am |
    • Logic

      Ok, first what is atheism, do they speak about what they believe. Do they have rituals. If all these apply than guess what they are a religion. Atheism does not mean dont believe in a god, it actually means that they dont believe in the man god, but more of an essence.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:07 am |
    • SamIam

      Atheists love to blame the worlds evils on religion. This is what allows them to live their selfish unrepentant lives without concern for consequences. You don't need faith to plainly see that if you have no concept of God or the reward and or punishment/ judgment that awaits you, a person will likely act selfishly, wickedly and corrupted, and that is what causes the worlds problems.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:07 am |
    • torrentula

      Samlam, in order to support that claim, you now have to prove that societies that have more atheistic populations are less happy, less orderly, and less prosperous. Many polls have been done with this idea, and they make enlightening reading.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:10 am |
    • Chuckles

      @Samlam

      You're absolutely right, how dare me and others who live without fear or burning forever in eternal fire because we didn't give some guy in the sky a second to say "I believe in you" or clap our hands like we would to make fairies come alive again. I mean, it's true, prisons are mainly comprised of atheists right? I mean they go in there, don't apologize for their actions and love evil, because we're selfish and unrepentent. Never you mind that Bill Gates, an atheist, has almost single-handedly eradicated malaria in an entire country, never mind the most corrupt people out there are men like Pat Robertson who use religion as a tool to fleece people out of their money.

      Go on, little samlamb, baaaaaaaaaah like the good sheep that you are.

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

      Atheism definitely has a higher body count than Christianity.
      I love how people always bring up the Crusades or the Inquisition to bolster their argument.
      Hello! That was hundreds of years ago. Atheism in the 20th century did tons worse.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • torrentula

      @Fred,

      Crusaders killed people *because* they were infidels. Communists killed people, but not because they were atheists, since there is no atheistic dogma that says you should kill non-atheists or that they are inferior, but because their leaders ordered it and you were not allowed to question their edicts. The same goes for the Nazis, many of which were believers in Catholicism, some of which had "Gott mit uns" on their belt buckles, and whose leader was a believer and compared himself their struggle to christ in speeches.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:21 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28
Advertisement
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.