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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. John

    For skeptics, I don't suppose your views are any less valid than any other person's, but I don't believe in you...

    September 22, 2011 at 12:02 am |
    • John Richardson

      Yeah and?

      September 22, 2011 at 8:26 am |
  2. John

    "innovative and contemporary..." That's not the reason I attend Church. I go there to participate in Mass. The congregation and clergy are not there to entertain me.

    September 21, 2011 at 11:57 pm |
  3. Reality

    From p. 24:

    To enhance the speed of the demise of all religions, please post the following on your refrigerator doors:

    SAVING 1.5 BILLION LOST MUSLIMS:
    THERE NEVER WERE AND NEVER WILL BE ANY ANGELS I.E. NO GABRIEL, NO ISLAM AND THEREFORE NO MORE KORANIC-DRIVEN ACTS OF HORROR AND TERROR LIKE 9/11.

    SAVING 2 BILLION LOST CHRISTIANS:
    THERE WERE NEVER ANY BODILY RESURRECTIONS AND THERE WILL NEVER BE ANY BODILY RESURRECTIONS I.E. NO EASTER, NO CHRISTIANITY.

    SAVING 15.5 MILLION FOLLOWERS OF JUDAISM:
    ABRAHAM AND MOSES PROBABLY NEVER EXISTED.

    Added details upon request.

    September 21, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
    • Josh

      "All you are is worm food".. How inspirational and life affirming! Worthy of Hitler himself!

      September 21, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
  4. Dante

    Churches should be places where Jesus' love is both preached and practiced.

    It's OK to say "Jesus loves you." It's OK to show his love through our actions.

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wc2bNadIwJc&w=640&h=360]

    September 21, 2011 at 11:21 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      @Dante
      I was somewhat amused seeing this video....Yes, it is all right for you to say " Jesus loves you" if you want to say it.....
      But to say it to a company of mocking fools, it's like throwing your pearls to a herd of swine..
      The only hope they have IS NOT in telling them "Jesus loves you", BUT in the warning of the fierce judgment of God that is comming to them – so perhaps, some of them will fear, and gain some wisdom, letting go of their folly.
      And, friend, don't say it is cruel, or that it shows " intolerance". There is NOT SUCH thing in God's vocabulary (pertaining to this subject) .......
      The Word of God is full of those warnings. It's much more cruel NOT TO WARN THEM, lest their blood be on our hands! (Ezekiel 33)

      September 22, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
  5. Josh

    "It is written 'My house shall be a house of prayer' but you have made it a den of thieves."

    September 21, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
  6. Josh

    Who cares about a corpse that people call a church? Jesus left most American "churches" a while back folks.

    September 21, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      I believe that too, Josh!

      September 22, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
  7. Richard S Kaiser

    FifthApe wrote on Wednesday, September 21, 2011 at 7:16 pm, stating, I posted stating, "Just because in the last 100 years we have "Fully" uncovered all there is to know is pure fantasy!" FifthApe responded stating, "Of course we haven't. We never will! But the argument from ignorance is totally unconvincing. Because we don't have an explanation for a given observation does not lead to UFOs or invisible gods. A looked at that link and was left thinking – so what? I'm not really sure what the point is other than a common observation at a very superficial level. What I know about both phenomena leads to far more differences than similarities."

    "The point" I am leading up to FifthApe is, "If one can openly and without criticism see that what is upon the Celestial plains of outer space is an exact but vastly bigger 'thing' than that which is upon the inner plains. We have the Celestial/Outer Plains of Cosmology and the Atomic/Inner Plains of Cosmology. Both of these Cosmological Plains are but Main Branches of Fractal Cosmology. If mind you if these two Cosmological Plains of Spatial Relativities are made samely and they both have identical characteristics then, it would seem reasonable that there would be life-forms upon the Inner Plains of Cosmological Relativity. Ergo in such a Plain would Life be found out to be a realistic truth beyond the understandings of most simple mindedness folks who only care about what color socks to wear today.

    It may also be plausible that this Celestial Cosmos is so huge that our current understanding of but a singular universe cannot even begin to fathom such a Cosmos so huge that we are but a simple speck of a speck of a speck upon another world so huge many simplistic minds would never be able to grasp outrightly, this idea of Cosmologic Relativity.

    September 21, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
    • Richard S Kaiser

      I would like to utilize my do over card by stating, Fractal Cosmology entails three degrees of Cosmologic Relativity. Fractal and Celestial and Cellular Cosmologies. Fractal Cosmology is divided into two branches one being the Celestial and the other branch being the Cellular of Cosmology, These 3 branches, if thoughtfully considered are a Completeness in that neither can be without each other's Plains of Cosmological Order. Without Fractal Cosmology- the Celestial Plains and the Cellular Plains of Cosmology would never have come to fruition.

      September 21, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
  8. Jeanne

    Pursue Jesus!

    We need to pursue Jesus according to His Word, not following the sensationalism of our day. Earlier this year, people everywhere were caught up in discussion about the end of the world. That discussion was triggered by a group of people who were convinced that Jesus would return on May 21, 2011. They paid a lot of money to get the word out and, while I admire their zeal, they were dead wrong.

    When the disciples asked Jesus when the world would end, He emphatically said no one could know the exact day and hour, not even Himself. Only the Father knows that information (Matthew 24:36). But Jesus gave His disciples signs so they could know the generation. Through His Word, you and I also can know whether we're living at the end of human history as we know it, because Jesus clearly stated that there would come a final generation. As you match the signs He gave with our present generation, do you think this could be the last one?

    We can't predict when Jesus will return. But He is coming. We don't know the day or the hour. But one day, either at Christ's return or your death, you will stand face to face with Him. If you live your life expecting to see Jesus in the next five minutes and you don't, what have you lost? Nothing. What have you gained? Everything. So wake up! Give God your full attention. Refocus on His Son, Jesus Christ, as your hope for the future. Ask God to reignite such an expectancy of seeing Jesus that you live the rest of your life with no regrets.

    "Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure" (1 John 3:2-3, NKJV).

    September 21, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
    • Richard S Kaiser

      @ Jeanne,,,,,,

      Sorry lass but we are suppose to seek the Kingdom of God,,,,,,,,

      Mat 6:33 "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."

      September 21, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
    • Reality

      Actually, Jesus was a bit "touched". After all he thought he spoke to Satan, thought he changed water into wine, thought he raised Lazarus from the dead etc. In today's world, said Jesus would be declared legally insane.
      Or did P, M, M, L and J simply make him into a first century magic-man via their epistles and gospels of semi-fiction? Most contemporary NT experts after thorough analyses of all the scriptures go with the latter magic-man conclusion with John's gospels being mostly fiction.

      Obviously, today's followers of Paul et al's "magic-man" are also a bit on the odd side believing in all the Christian mumbo jumbo about bodies resurrecting, and exorcisms, and miracles, and "magic-man atonement, and infallible, old, European, white men, and 24/7 body/blood sacrifices followed by consumption of said sacrifices. Yummy!!!!

      So why do we really care what a first century CE, illiterate, long-dead, preacher man would do or say?

      September 21, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
    • tallulah13

      How about pursuing knowledge? How about looking beyond your church to the world and real people, to the universe and all the amazing discoveries being made every day? This is a wonderful opportunity for you to open your mind. Don't waste it.

      September 22, 2011 at 11:14 am |
  9. Daniel

    Christians, Jews and Muslims. Why is it always these three and not others that are deserving of analysis? Especially if Pew studies have found that new religious movements – a category which includes contemporary Paganism and African Diaspora religions – are the religious affiliations showing the greatest gains in membership? There are many more threads in American religion than Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Consistently restricting the discussion to those three is inaccurate and reductionist. Our society is more complex than that.

    September 21, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
    • Fred1

      Why? Because money talks

      September 22, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
  10. PRISM 1234

    Reading the posts just on this blog only, reinforces the fact that the Bible and it's prophecies are true. Woe is to the mockers, woe is to the world drunk with their carousings and blaspemies. When the judgment of God comes they won't know what hit them till they open their eyes in Hell. And can anyone say God is unjust to do all that!

    No, He would be unjust if He didn't! ! !

    And this time I also must say A M E N!

    September 21, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
    • Know What

      Prism,

      The behavior that you imagine in your "God" tells us a whole lot about who *you* are. Quite repulsive, actually.

      September 21, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
    • Fred1

      Mock! Mock mock mock. Mock mock mock mock mock MOCK!!!

      September 22, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
  11. Richard S Kaiser

    RichardSRussell wrote on Wednesday, September 21, 2011 at 7:13 pm, stating, "Oh, for goodness' sake. I went to your silly website, and what did I find? Pattern recognition. Circles look like circles. Ovals look like ovals. Xes look like Xes. Simple shapes look like simple shapes — at all sorts of scales from the subatomic to the galactic. Is this supposed to prove something? Did you not notice that you and I share a first name and middle initial? What's the deep cosmic significance of THAT unlikely coincidence, do you suppose?"

    Your downplaying the issue that "inner space" phenomena and "outer space" phenomena are of sameness and taking such as a grain of salt is duly noted. I see these samenesses of the very small and the very biggest objects to be more than what simplistic minds care to soundfully digest or even steadfastly ponder upon without verbal diplomacy getting in the way. There are differences between Celestial Cosmology and Cellular Cosmology yet both these branches are rooted in Fractal Cosmology. Care to diffuse this perspective of Cosmological renderings?

    September 21, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
  12. oneone

    How many gods are there people believe in?

    God has angles, Satan has demons.

    My god and religion are real and true.

    YOUR religion is just a pile of bull poo.

    They say there’s only ONE god to believe in.

    If you don’t believe, it’s the ultimate sin.

    No more Zeus, Odin, or Thor, MY hero.

    We’re just one god away from the true number…. ZERO.

    September 21, 2011 at 9:38 pm |
  13. Amistavia

    It's nice to witness the slow death of religion in this country. I hope it accelerates.

    September 21, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
    • Richard S Kaiser

      @ Amistavia

      Getting your wish is a plausability but, what will there be to take its' place? I'd rather see us bringing back the Gods of Ancient Times, Ares, Hermes, Hephaestus, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, the Charites, Heracles, Dionysus, Hebe, Perseus, and Persephone were children of Zeus. Then you also have Chaos,Thor, Gaia, Uranus. among many others too many to keep up on.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
    • Amistavia

      I'm hoping some degree of education and rationality fills the void.

      September 21, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
    • Richard S Kaiser

      @ Amistavia

      Hope you say? Any relative of Faith? Seems to me these are but brothers of one degree of relativity,,,,. 🙂

      September 21, 2011 at 11:01 pm |
  14. buxxy

    Well, as a kid I was shoved into the Catholic religion. When I went to mass and CCD, I had no feelings of comfort or caring or anything that would show a kid what religion really was meant to be. All I saw were fat, distant priests, the basket coming around at least three times during mass for money, and a cold and really un moving mass with a congregation that sounded like robots. Rules, regulations, this, that and the other thing. I couldn't wait to leave. That religion alienated me forever. I believe that praying is a private thing and not done in front of hundreds of people. Sure, there is a God...but I can't believe that he would want this culture of fear and guilt to rule his followers. Organized religion is not for many of us...spirituality can be expressed in many ways and I think many people are following a path to do so – on their own.

    September 21, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
    • John Richardson

      I remember choir practice and since I do, all I can do is shriek in horror at the words from Amazing Grace: When we've been there 10,000 years/Bright shining as the sun/We'll have no less days to sing God's praise/Than when we first begun

      If that is not the definition of hell ...

      September 21, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
    • vbd

      Almost like I wrote this. I remember being made to "kneel up" by wicked nuns with clickers. You sure got the part about no warm fuzzy feeling from church.

      September 21, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
  15. Lucille

    Maybe the church, the body of Christ, has allowed the world to come in. Robbery, lies, adultery, falsehood and the list goes on. "Take these things hence; make not my Father's house an house of merchandise."

    September 21, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
  16. Joaquin

    The main reason why people don't go to church is because they go for a personal benefit. They go to look good when compared to their friends, to get their sacraments and marry through the church, when they have completely lost all hope and need someone to give them more hope, etc... Why don't you just go to pray for others to continue a calm life, to forget the weekly stress and to meditate on the tiring week. Just because people go to church doesn't mean that they go because they believe there is an impending Armaggedon or a holy ghost. Some of us go there to feel the peace the day the churches stop being peaceful I will stop going.

    September 21, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
    • John Richardson

      An interesting take. Thanks for sharing!

      September 21, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
  17. yes

    one smart person said: religion is an opium for the people. Nobody needs it.

    September 21, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
    • Kevin

      He was smart, you say. How exactly did HIS system turn out?

      September 21, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
    • TheyNotHim

      Ummmm, his system is in control of the dominant economy on the planet today (China) and boasts the largest standing army on Earth, a space program, over a billion citizens, and a culture that was inventing technologies before your culture was inventing its deities...read a little mkay?

      September 21, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
  18. clark1b

    every person knows that God is and that He is to be worshipped ... most rebel against that and bury it deep inside their consciences. Church attendance is declining because the churches have for the most part (especially the American church) left the gospel of Jesus Christ and preach man-centered sermons. The same thing happed about 2500+ years ago in ancient Israel and in Rome during the dark ages and more recently in Europe. God will not be mocked but He is slow to anger ... but we still need to repent of our national sins and turn back to Him seeking forgiveness.

    September 21, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
    • Allan

      Your god looks really silly in that pink frilly dress bent over and with that post stuck up his aft end like that. But maybe he likes that.

      There, I just mocked your god who "will not be mocked".

      Your god is a childhood fairy tale. Get over it and start dealing with reality.

      September 21, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      "Every person knows"? Nuh-uh.

      September 21, 2011 at 9:24 pm |
    • Jeanne

      Amen clark1b Amen!!

      September 21, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
    • tallulah13

      I know no such thing. I do know is that people of every religion will tell you that god needs to be worshiped in their specific way, otherwise you will suffer for eternity.There are so many different variations on the "correct" way to worship that one starts to suspect that there really is no god at all, just people trying to get you to do what they want you to do.

      September 22, 2011 at 11:20 am |
  19. Jim P.

    When you grow up, you often lose interest in playing with your invisible friends. And paying for them.

    September 21, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      Good point, Jim. I've long suspected that fundies make such a big deal out of being "born again" because they're AFRAID to grow up and keep wanting to relive their childhoods, with a big daddy looking out for them.

      September 21, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Good point. So many are "born-again" after some trauma or problem in their lives. I suspected that they're just tired of being grown-ups and are running back to Daddy for comfort.

      September 22, 2011 at 11:23 am |
  20. The Pope

    Well, they can always pray it away......................................except there's no god.

    September 21, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
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About this blog

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