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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. SamIam

    The same thing you do, selfishness.

    September 21, 2011 at 10:36 am |
  2. Buddha2112

    Tax ALL the Churches!

    September 21, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • TampaMan

      Tax all churches? Surely you jest! According to the Internal Revenue Code, "all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign..." Additionally the Department of Homeland Security has issued several memos and policies that direct its agents to "supervise" church activity especially with regard to education and public activity.

      The ONLY THING that keeps churches from becoming REALLY REALLY active politically is the fear of government taxation and repression. If you removed that motivation or suppression as it were...all Hell would break loose – religiously speaking.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • J.W

      TampaMan I never really thought of it like that. So really non-religious people should hope that churches never get taxed.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:54 am |
  3. Greg

    Modern day religion is headed the way of Zeus and other religions of yesteryear.

    September 21, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • The Jackdaw

      GOOD

      September 21, 2011 at 10:38 am |
  4. J.W

    Atheists are slashing peoples tires every sunday morning so they cannot go to church. By the time you catch the bus it is too late.

    September 21, 2011 at 10:33 am |
    • Chuckles

      Awwww JW, you're just trying to make it into a "your take" article

      Keep up the good fight! you will be noticed one of these days

      September 21, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • On my knees for God's pleasure

      ohhhhhhh, that must be why the churches are declining lately!

      It is atheists slashing tires to prevent the truth being spread from a podium.
      praise baby Jesus we figured that one out, because I was worried it was from people actually starting to think for themselves.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      that's gotta be it!! lmao....we may not appreciate the belief but we're not all criminals. btw: if you want to accuse us of doing stupid criminal acts, please look in your own yard first...the catholic church is the biggest crime ring going!

      September 21, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • The Dude

      I think you are confusing Atheists on Sunday with Republicans on Voting day...

      September 21, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • J.W

      I am not catholic. And Dude I think that the atheists and the republicans are teaming up to destroy us all.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:44 am |
    • J.W

      I will totally make a your take article too. I do not know what CNN wants from me but I will figure it out so that they will have to put me in.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:45 am |
    • Chuckles

      Do what I did, change up your handle so they don't gloss over your posts. I'm convinced that CNN is ignoring a lot of the consistant posters and goes only for one timers.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • J.W

      Yeah I guess I did kind of notice that too. The regular people do not usually get put in there. I may have to change it eventually. I just have to think of a cool nickname.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:52 am |
  5. On my knees for God's pleasure

    All of this bickering over how to worship a particular deity since humans have been around and we all probably end up in the same place after death, no where.

    it is kind of cool to think of actually. Just like the time before you were born, no problems at all.

    September 21, 2011 at 10:28 am |
  6. Melissa

    Good. Its time to get rid of the closed minded hateful mythology.

    September 21, 2011 at 10:27 am |
  7. Dave

    The term "innovative and contemporary" is code for churches that do far more entertaining with a side show of pop-psychology rather than actual teaching.

    September 21, 2011 at 10:26 am |
    • Alyssa

      "Actual teaching?" Is that what they were doing before??

      September 21, 2011 at 10:54 am |
  8. Richard S Kaiser

    GOD was before and with and ever after thee.
    His 1st born son was and is and ever shall be.
    The answers to our questions shall ever set everyone free.
    Sometimes harsh yet most times simply.
    Forever are we upon Life’s Cosmology Tree.

    People are patently GOD’s Steeples and Buildings galore.
    Children are reared up sometimes against but mostly are for.
    Christ the redeemer, His life is found within one’s core.
    Atheists or Christians, GOD does love and adore.
    Sentenced in Life, we live out to do but one chore.

    September 21, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • hippypoet

      Children are reared up sometimes against but mostly are for.
      Christ the redeemer, His life is found within one’s core..

      good, so you think its ok to rear kids? lol your sick!

      September 21, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • Richard S Kaiser

      @ hippypoet

      "Child rearing" is an old times saying meaning bringing up a child, You are a gutter child hippypoet in that your senses are born in uncleaness and all you see is the filth of the days.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      "Child rearing" is an old times saying meaning bringing up a child, You are a gutter child hippypoet in that your senses are born in uncleaness and all you see is the filth of the days."

      lol, ok not only an ego but pretentious as well. love it.

      September 21, 2011 at 11:39 am |
  9. hippypoet

    RELIGION

    Sweet perfume ferried on heaven's voice
    the Saint lives life never questioning the corrupt rejoice.
    As you climb the steps looking for your indulgence
    you indulge only pathetic minds lacking of true experience.
    Reach the top and realize you must go back to hence you came.
    So cold in winter, the indulgence you now put to flame.
    Now caught between an endless tug of war
    before you leave this world you will cry forevermore.
    Either way, for rich or for poor
    there is no escaping of this buttered wh0re

    by: Hippy Poet

    September 21, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  10. Jason

    100% of crappy highschool garage bands use face book but only 41% of churches?!

    September 21, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  11. hippypoet

    DEATH

    Patiently silent by Saint Peter's gate
    achingly nervous there you wait.
    Terror made in minds eye mans creation's lie
    for the one who's cloaked and carries the die
    He has your number and with him you say goodbye.
    Two coins for the man with the oar.
    Trafficking souls, he is the pimp, you are the wh0re.

    by: Hippy poet

    September 21, 2011 at 10:23 am |
  12. Pastor Evans

    I'm going to help some people on this post today to understand what has and still is going on with all this. Most people have a "religious" experience, background, concept, or idea of God, or nothing at all. Unfortunately many people I have come in contact with throughout my years since meeting and encountering God on a personal level, is they never have! I don't care what religious affiliation or belief system you claim or do not claim, the only way a person can know the only true and living God is through a personal encounter or experience with Him by His Holy Spirit. God wants everyone to come into this kind of personal intimate relationship with Him! EVERYONE, no matter who you are or where you come from!!!

    September 21, 2011 at 10:23 am |
    • JohnR

      Another huckster on the prowl for fools.

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

      they may feel something that they think is a deity, but considering that hindus, muslims, jains, jews ancient mayans, celts felt the same sort of warm and fuzzies shows the power of the h0mo sapiens brain to trick us.

      Our brains are pretty interesting.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • Ceci

      I agree. There are those who think that God is a religion. That's like saying my mom is a daycare (it makes no sense). God is someone with which you have a relationship. When you're in a relationship (even a romantic one) there are expectations and things you do for one another. One of those things Christians to is go to church. This is where people start to look at it as a religion. So yes, lets get rid of RELIGION, God will remain.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • Polis

      You didn't attend a true theology school did you? You know, one that requires a B.S. or B.A. to even join, one where you have to know how to write well and formulate a logical argument. I'm sick of pastors/priests/etc... that have no education in their own religion. Theological schools that churn out pastors of the extreme evangelical churches are frightening.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • TruthPrevails

      can't push your delusions in your church, so you push them here...not working...try getting a real job and stop living off the avails of actual tax paying citizens

      September 21, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  13. 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 10:20 am |
    • Parkstrailer

      So if someone is an Atheist, they automatically are not concerned with consequences? Why must someone act in fear of God to be a good person? I'm an Atheist, and also a good person. Not because I'm concerned with eternal damnation, but because I'm concerned simply with being a good person. I LIKE being a good person.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:23 am |
    • torrentula

      To back up this statement, you must prove that societies with more atheistic populations are less happy, orderly, and law-abiding. You must also show that societies with greater theistic populations are more happy, orderly, and law-abiding. There are many studies on this, if you choose to read them.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • Cody

      So the only reason you are nice to other people (assuming that you are actually nice) is because you fear eternal hellfire and damnation by your "loving" God? That's still selfishness on your part. We don't need to be bribed in order to be nice to one another, but thanks for implying that all non-believers are selfish, rude, uncaring people.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • Sybaris

      Funny how the "religious" feign accountability.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • Pastor Dan

      While my comment may not be "politically correct" it is still VERY true . . . There are a lot of "good people" in Hell.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • Casey

      Do you know what you call someone who only does good or doesn't do evil because of the reward/punishment? A psychopath. If you really are good then you will be good for goodness' sake.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • SamIam

      If you don't believe in God, then you are in a video game and nothing you do matters, there is no meaning to your life without God. Most atheists are not atheists at all they just claim it to continue to live their lives the way they want to.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • Rick

      What do you have to be repentant over?

      September 21, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • torrentula

      @Samlam

      That's a tricky little trap you've caught yourself in. You think meaning can only come about through God, therefore anyone who does not believe in God must lead meaningless lives. I call it a trap because you cannot think your way out of it, and actually being inside it keeps you from wanting to. But outside the trap is actually quite nice, even though I know the trap won't let you take seriously any words I might say.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • SamIam

      @ torrentua NOOOooo, What I am saying is that if you are right, then there is no meaning. The fact that you do exist, that your life does have meaning is the proof of God.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Samlam, you cannot see the trap while you are inside it. Apparently YOUR life would be meaningless without your belief in a god. However, the rest of us have plenty of meaning in our own lives without wasting our time on superst.ition.
      You cannot imagine a meaningful life, so you imagine there is a god that cares how you act and will reward or punish you accordingly. That is very sad.

      September 21, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      "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."

      Except your logic fails simply because as an average atheist knows there is no afterlife they make sure this one doesnt suck. I dont fancy spending this one existance being hated, shunned, jailed, whatever, thanks.

      And as for life has no meaning.....no, there is meaning or purpose to life, huge difference.

      September 21, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  14. Parkstrailer

    Thank goodness! The more religious a society, the more nutty a society. Seeing Americans getting away from church is a sign of hope and prosperity for this nation. Religious fanaticism was destroying our nation.

    September 21, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • PJB1775

      Right, because our economy is booming, crime is down, and people are buying more houses than we can build!!!

      September 21, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • Ben

      Right, Because the fact that america used to be far more religious, and far more prosperous means nothing. America was founded by religious people. Odd that the deficit continues to spike as we get less and less religious. Im sure theres no connection tho.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • JohnR

      Crime is indeed down. Housing market is down, but people buying more houses than can be built is at least inflationary, and possibly the sort of mindless boom that proceeds busts. We're looking for something a bit more steady.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • Rick

      Ben: It was also founded by slaveowners. If you advocate a return to our roots, there is a sweet coffee colored 17 year old girl in my neighborhood I would like to own

      September 21, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      "Ben – Right, Because the fact that america used to be far more religious, and far more prosperous means nothing. America was founded by religious people. Odd that the deficit continues to spike as we get less and less religious. Im sure theres no connection tho."

      Ah you mean during the time of slavery and manifest destiny and all that stuff? yeah, lets return to those holy and moral times.

      September 21, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  15. The Dude

    If Atheism is so bad, why are prisons filled with Christians? Hmmmm?

    September 21, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • PJB1775

      Right, because the prisons aren't filled willed Athiests ,either?

      September 21, 2011 at 10:23 am |
    • JohnR

      It's true. Prisons are not filled with atheists.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • The Don

      They find religion in prison; the do not believe in God when the go in

      September 21, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • Ben

      They are filled with cupcakes and lollipops. Look, my statement is just as fact based as yours..

      September 21, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • JohnR

      @Don You may have a point in many cases.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:32 am |
  16. Sam

    Bull. Just another planted story to cause discouragement and confusion. Why bother even going and seeking if it's a dying church, right? Nonsense. I see churches rising up – growing and full of life and energy. Not your "grandma's old-style religion" type churches for sure....but a whole new wave of churches that focus on RELATIONSHIP and not legalistic rules. There is true revival in the land – and just because the old-school conservative churches are not seeing growth – do not mistake this for a decline in belief.

    September 21, 2011 at 10:19 am |
    • Dave

      Revival? Gimme a break. The Pentecostal types claim that every little thing is a revival. I recall when The Passion of the Christ came out so many believed it would spark revival across the United States. Puhlease.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • Daniel

      Most people go along with religion to pacify the nuts in their own families. Please don't mistake that for a preponderous of belief! I told my mother I shouldn't participate in my Confirmation becasue I didn't believe, and she MADE me go along with it because she didn't want me to embarrace her to the family.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  17. Buddha2112

    At birth...We are all atheists. unable of speech, we are indocrinated by our elders and culture we live.

    September 21, 2011 at 10:18 am |
    • Follix

      It goes more far than this, we all didn't choose our brain therefore Free WIll doesn't exist so all that Hell and Heaven story doesn't works. There are tons of other reason but anyway let's keep it to that.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • The Don

      Actually like choosing a religion you chose to be atheist

      September 21, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • MarkinFL

      In the same way I choose not to believe in Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny. Is it really a choice or can you force yourself to believe in fairy tales? Apparently some people can. Strange.

      September 21, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      "The Don – Actually like choosing a religion you chose to be atheist"

      no because if no one told you about a religion you would grow up not believing anything, atheism is the default setting if you will.

      September 21, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  18. David Claytor

    There are two Christianities – 1. Christianity (with a capital "C") this Christianity is the type that the world will never know or understand, for God in his wisdom has hidden this mystery from the wise of this world. Therefore, there is no need to look for it or attempt to understand it from, by or through worldly mediums. The mystery of Christianity is only revealed to those whom God chooses. 2. christianity (with a lower-case "c" is made up of carnal believers that have a form of godliness but deny His power. Specifically they deny God's power to change, heal, deliver and set free from the yoke of sin to which they are bound; thereby the world mocks Christianity because they somehow view the two as the same. The latter christianity is a man-made religion and needless to say, the only christianity that Time, CNN, USAToday, MSNBC etc. will ever understand. Notice: I have not read nor will I read any of the comments related to this article. I

    September 21, 2011 at 10:16 am |
    • The Dude

      It is all the same rubbish for the fearful and ignorant to cling to.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:18 am |
    • Sybaris

      So are True Christians the big "c" or little "c"?

      By your example above you god exhibits acute passive-agressive behaviors

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

      Really? Im a christian and i think that whole paragraph is a bunch of nonsense.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:33 am |
  19. Vulpes

    I hope this will become a positive trend.

    September 21, 2011 at 10:16 am |
  20. rick perrytwit ... slack jawed bible thumper

    Well, I just woke up and had my morning coffee. Someone had mentioned a big oil spill in the gulf. What was that all about?

    September 21, 2011 at 10:15 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.