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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. fox in stile

    The pews of lonely worship houses sit,
    In favor of guidance sought from mind;
    For moral compass of inner thought now lit;
    Chosen law replaces Word from high unfit;
    Cosmos-reaching, leaves hollow Book behind.

    September 20, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
  2. n

    People are tired of having religion shoved down their throats. They are always told they are bad and are going to burn in hell. What if there was a God that loved everyone and didn't care how you worshiped him? How can man say a religion is the right one when they go only on "faith".

    September 20, 2011 at 9:48 pm |
    • Notnews

      Good point. There are many faiths to choose from so if you reject reason, how do you determine which faith to follow? Roll of the dice? Whatever your parents chose? If you apply some sort of logical thinking, then why would you choose ANY faith?

      September 20, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
  3. EvolvedDNA

    Jack.... sounds like God is mixing up "grace" with" threat" But, really, with the intelligent eniti-ty you ascribe to god you claim his only method of communication is with earthquakes and shaking? Why cant he just come down and tell us?

    September 20, 2011 at 9:47 pm |
  4. Andreas

    Going...going...going...soon to be gone! Thank you Human Evolution!

    September 20, 2011 at 9:47 pm |
  5. Hmmm

    Remember to tell people that when they die that they don't actually have to die but that they can keep on living. Tell them that there is a better life waiting for them, a heaven, if you will. This should motivate people to improve today's society despite the imminent Armageddon where your particular version of God destroys everything.

    September 20, 2011 at 9:47 pm |
    • JC

      It's funny how people assume that Christians are complete morons and yet before they became christians they were exactly like everyone else. It's not that we're more ignorant...in fact our knowledge is no less than anyone else you'll meet. The difference is we understand what we're talking about differently than those that assume they know what christianity is all about. In fact, what you said is not the way it works. Heaven was never meant to be the motivation...in fact if it is and you're a Christian you may want to check yourself...

      September 20, 2011 at 9:52 pm |
    • Answer

      @JC

      Then why don't you enlighten everyone on what you consider is the motivation on your stance.

      "Heaven was never meant to be the motivation...in fact if it is and you're a Christian you may want to check yourself..."

      September 20, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
    • Answer

      @JC

      I can only surmise that peace throughout the whole world is the ultimate cause. Yet, as it stands religion does not bring that.
      It divides. It comes down to sole opinion on what is the best religion. Do you have an explanation on this?

      September 20, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
  6. Sam

    I left the church, because I couldnt be good enough to be a true Christian. Not that I didnt believe, more or less I couldnt trust or obey, nor did God keep his promises.

    September 20, 2011 at 9:46 pm |
    • Lin

      @Sam, I don't think any of us are ever totally "good enough." Everyone messes up. We ask for forgiveness and then we pick ourselves up, make amends if we hurt someone, and try to do better. I think it's okay if it doesn't happen overnight, just as long as you keep trying. I know I have to keep working at it all the time.

      September 21, 2011 at 3:34 am |
    • J

      God keeps His promises, but you didn't keep your faith. Instead of blaming God, you need to look to yourself..once you are sanctified by Christ, you are good enough..and His Spirit changes you so you stop sinning. If you know God is real, then you know that you will have to face Him on judgement day..so repent while you still have time.

      September 21, 2011 at 5:04 am |
  7. anonymous

    People are too busy for religion, marriage and family. Work hard, play pay hard.

    September 20, 2011 at 9:46 pm |
  8. BinMesa

    Good news! Finally something positive.

    September 20, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
  9. say it like it is

    "The God I believe in isn't short of cash, Mister!" -Bono

    September 20, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
  10. keyser

    I just can't believe that adults actually believe in this stuff. Lets face it, they made it all up. It's about time the country started growing up.

    September 20, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
    • Notnews

      Good point, and frankly it's simply amazing. It has a lot less to do with intelligence than psychology. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that all religions are made up by man to cater to our insecurities about mortality and injustice. In fact pretty much everybody acknowledges this for any religion other than their own. Deep down most people know it's made up, but they're afraid of death and so engage in this unhealthy world of make believe.

      September 20, 2011 at 10:53 pm |
  11. Hmmm

    Remember to tell your children and others who may have a different belief that they will be tortured for eternity if they don't convert to your version of your holy book.

    September 20, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
  12. Remy

    I cannot believe how many of you quote scripture as the truth. The Bible was written well after Jesus died and many claimed to be Mark, Luke, John and Matthew but weren't so his apostles didn't even write most of what you are quoting. Why don't you try to become a little educated and a take a History of Christianity class. There you'll find out that Jesus wasn't even considered a divine being until 325 AD (he was however considered to be a political protestor). This divinity of Jesus came about because of a bunch of power hungry men who wanted to hang on to their power and scare the little folk into believing if they don't submit to the church's will, they will go straight to hell. Karl Marx was right - religion is the opiate of the masses. So glad I'm not one of the herd.

    September 20, 2011 at 9:42 pm |
    • Evan

      "The Bible was written well after Jesus died"

      Not so. The last book in the Bible, Revelation, was written 60 years after Christ's life, while the earliest book was written 15 years afterwards. 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 records a pre-Pauline Christian creed that most scholars place within 5 years of Christ's life, some within 18 months. The first mention we have of Homer and the Buddha come nearly 400 years after their lives. All we know about Socrates comes after his life and most of what we know about Alexander the Great comes well after his life. I'm guessing you just typed this down without doing any research.

      "There you'll find out that Jesus wasn't even considered a divine being until 325 AD"

      "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God..." (John 1.1). The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus was divine. It was in 325 AD that this belief was fully articulated, although it existed well before this.

      "religion is the opiate of the masses"

      Tis' why the reformers broke off of the Catholic Church.

      September 20, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
  13. Answer

    I would like ask you silly bible nuts that have been endlessly quoting your garbage on these blogs a question..
    "how long have you been doing it?"

    Just a simple question. The second one is "have you convinced yourself that more much?".

    September 20, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
    • Answer

      The third question is "how satisfying is for you to be an endless monotone dou-che bag?"

      September 20, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
  14. Hmmm

    This is great news! Now if we could just get people to stop believing in talking snakes and virgin births. Remember religious people- PAY, PRAY, AND OBEY.

    September 20, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
    • noway

      I admire your ignorance

      September 20, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
  15. JohnQuest

    At this rate we should have Jesus and Mohammad on the same shelves as Zeus and Baal in a few year, if we are fortunate.

    September 20, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
    • Matt

      The God that Christians, Jews, and Muslims worship was around way before Zeus and other gods. Don't think he's going anywhere.

      September 20, 2011 at 9:42 pm |
    • Evan

      Except the Christian God is of a compeltely different nature than Zeus. The Christian God is eternal, omniscient, omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and exists outside of space and time. As St. Anselm describes Him: the perfect being.
      Zeus, on the other hand, seems to be concerned with little more than protecting his favorite warriors.

      September 20, 2011 at 9:46 pm |
    • Jack O'Tack

      Evan, your Christian god does not exist. Fact. Rock solid FACT.
      Prove me wrong with real facts or go back to Chump-ville and shut-up.

      September 20, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
    • JohnQuest

      They are all equal unless you think "my God is better than your God". It could be argued that the Abrahamic Gods are mainly concerned with petty things such as what a person eats, whom they sleep with, how they worship and the like. And according to something I read the Abrahamic Gods have a "Favorite" People, of course the face the the Favorite people are the ones that wrote the text explaining that "God" considers them his favorite is just a coincidence.

      September 20, 2011 at 9:55 pm |
    • Answer

      @Evan

      "Except the Christian God is of a compeltely different nature than Zeus."

      Another ridiculous @rse speaking out of his posterior. Evan do you have insight in Zeus? What do you intimately KNOW about Zeus? That you can easily make this statement? You see your own words do you not.. self professed knowledge! You know absolutely squat about Zeus! Yet like all religious zealots – yours in particular is always about your own. Stick to what you know – that is-> nothing! Ignorant t-w-a-t!

      September 20, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
    • Evan

      "your Christian god does not exist. Fact. Rock solid FACT"

      No, He absolutely does exist. FACT! (That's virtually what you sound like to me).

      ""my God is better than your God""

      When Atheist compare Zeus to God, they obviuosly don't understand what God actually is. God is, by definition, the perfect being.

      "Evan do you have insight in Zeus?"

      I've read the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Aeneid, so probably way more than you

      September 21, 2011 at 9:21 am |
  16. zip

    Democrats need to go after churches like Republicans are going after unions.

    September 20, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
  17. Notnews

    It's well established that as a society progresses the role of religion declines. In generally the more developed the country, the more educated, and the more intelligent the population is, the less religious that country is. A recent study calculated that nine European countries will become primarily non-religious within 50 years.

    September 20, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
    • Evan

      "It's well established that as a society progresses the role of religion declines"

      I know right. The Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Communist China, North Korea, Vietnam, Burma, Khmer Rouge Cambodia, and Communist Albania, all largely Atheist countries, were some the the most progessive societies ever! (not really...)

      September 20, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
    • Jason

      Like the Soviet Union?

      September 20, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
    • JC

      I can def agree with that...because that's what happened in Rome. But once Rome fell, religion popped back up. Of course this was mainly due to Christianity starting up but was also why persecution was so popular.

      September 20, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
    • Jason

      JC. Byzantine Empire (Eastern Roman Empire) maintained their knowledge and society, but practiced Greek Orthodox Christianity.

      September 20, 2011 at 9:46 pm |
    • Michael

      The only problem with that reasoning is that studies by the Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life show that in the USA, more education tends to be associated with more, not less religiosity. Those entering churches today tend to be more highly educated, while those who are staying out tend to be less educated.

      September 20, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
    • j

      And then those societies begin to crumble as God is removed.

      September 20, 2011 at 9:52 pm |
    • Jack O'Tack

      Like Norway? Norway makes every believer's argument look like rotten cow puke. Norway is almost completely secular.
      Secular doesn't have to mean atheistic. Secular is living in the real world without interference by anti-survival and frankly irrational values that religions are ultra-famous for. Go peddle your lies somewhere else.

      September 20, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
    • Notnews

      Michael, it's true that in the US college graduates are more likely to attend church, however their overall religiosity is actually lower. For example those who attend college are more than 3x as likely to agree with evolution, and are much more likely to accept that people of other world religions can go to heaven. Further, when you step back from this American quirk and look at education levels globally, it holds true that more educated countries are less religious.

      September 20, 2011 at 10:10 pm |
    • Notnews

      Evan, the correlation of a country's overall development and its loss of religion among the modern western world is undeniable. There are many many studies that highlight this.

      September 20, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
    • Lin

      It's also been pointed out that once the role of religion declines, so does the society. Gibbon pointed out that the abandonment of religion was one of the main reasons Roman society fell apart. He also argued that some of the other factors included a loss of respect for the home and family, high divorce, high taxes, excessive obsession with violent and decadent entertainment (panem et circenses), and not paying attention to the things that were weakening the society internally (I'm paraphrasing). I have read comparisons of the decline of Roman society to other societies that also fell apart for similar reasons. Like it or not, a common religious belief system is a powerful community/society builder.

      September 21, 2011 at 4:05 am |
  18. neoseven

    Maybe bishops and priests should stop molesting young boys for a change? Eh?

    September 20, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
    • YBP

      They're not too young to not know what they are doing...and be willing participants. In most cases, both the priest and the "sensitive" kid scored. Let's be honest.

      September 20, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
    • Jack O'Tack

      YBP that is disgusting. Some kids were at least as young as four. They couldn't have an orgasm if their life depended on it.
      If they played along, it was only because they were illegally and fraudulently coerced into doing so.
      They didn't know any better. That's the definition of a child in legal terms. They don't know any better and are helpless against what some sick adults want to do to them. These "priests" also represent a super-being bigger than the kids parents.
      That makes it terrorism, torture, abuse, and a lot of other stuff. Orgasms do not make it right to take advantage of helpless beings. that is r.ape. Add the psychological torture, threats, terrorism, lies, and other forms of abuse and you have likely destroyed that child's chance to have a healthy s.exual relationship when it grows older.
      Who is going to pay for the damage? The rapist. They'd damn well better pay for it – with their lives if need be.
      Better check your bank account, YBP! They might be knocking on your door soon.

      September 20, 2011 at 10:10 pm |
  19. YBP

    This is the very best news that I have heard since September 11, 2001, when in the name of the god of the ancient middle east 3000 innocent people suffered yet another hideous deat that only the religious could have dreamed up.

    September 20, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
    • YBP

      hideous death, not 'deat.'

      September 20, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
    • Matt

      As if man isn't capable of atrocities himself? Would you say every evil act done by a person or group goes back to belief in religion or a god? Or is it truly done out of power, greed, and jealousy?

      September 20, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
  20. Jack Parker

    I firmly believe that the world is, and has been, in a time of shaking. God, according to scriptures, is shaking everything that can be shaken and only that which is of Him will remain. And that shaking began in the church and then moved to the world. Many of those who are not really Christians (only claimed to be) have been leaving churches left and right. This is talked about in scripture. And not every CHURCH that claims to be Christian is, so they've been falling away, too. The true church, and true Christians, are coming out of this stronger, seeing what's going on and are keeping their eyes on Him. Everything going on in the world now is God's grace, not punishment. He's separating those that are of Him and those who aren't. He's giving the world time to realize their sins, repent of them and turn to Him before it's too late. That's grace.

    September 20, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
    • Ten Cate Bob

      No, there simply are fewer Christians now. But why would a loving god need to do such "shaking"? Weird what you seem to believe.

      Do the world a favor and google "No True Scotsman fallacy" before you blather more. Or just study up here http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/No_True_Scotsman That's logic. Learn it and your god delusion will go away.

      September 20, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
    • JohnQuest

      That's fantasy and a dangerous one at that. According to your beliefs anyone not believing as you do is going to he-ll, my question then is, how could you love someone you believe is going to he-ll?

      September 20, 2011 at 9:42 pm |
    • LEB

      If you think the world is "shaking" and morality is crumbling and the state of humanity is failing... then you obviously have no education on human history what so ever. The world is a MUCH better place than it was generations and centuries ago. Worldwide violence has been on a steady decline for the past 50 years. Healthcare has vastly improved. Illiteracy declines more every year. Poverty and hunger are still problems, but they, too, are declining. By pretty much every measure, these current times are the best that humanity has had so far.

      And also, the Western countries that have the strongest civil rights also happen to be the least religious. Do some thinking on that.

      September 20, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
    • Andreas

      Dude...this mindcontrol thing called Religion has lasted long enough. Humans are getting smarter and evolve. It is obvious that the new generations can now go and look what they are being told by their elders, who have used lies to control them. Look, just stop already. There is nothing that makes sense in the bible anymore. There is nothing in the bible we all don't already know. Some that don't trust themselfs to have common sense will hang on the bible or such books. Lazxy parents will use the threat of 'God' to control their kids. Remember Santa? Ya, it's that...just for grown ups. God is not shaking anything because she does not exist. Now, maybe there has been a man named 'Jesus' (there are many today) and maybe he fooled some that wanted to believe him, like those Hale-Bob crazies, but really, that has nothing to do with anything, anywhere. Oh, and while you are at comparing to the bible...how come nobody ever mentions the violence in the Bible? How 'God' has slaughtered many men, women and children? How he demands from followers to kill and how many massacres 'he' has been involved in. Hmmm? EvilBible dot com...Learn!

      September 20, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
    • pflo

      Go to hell. No wait, hell is a pretend. Go away.

      September 20, 2011 at 9:48 pm |
    • Matt

      How is it a fallacy when one group twists and misuses a certain piece of scripture for their own greedy desires? Would you not say that group truly isn't a part of the way they're supposed to believe and act?

      September 20, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
    • tready

      I couldnt believe that there would be masses of people actually against god,it still saddens me to think of that,but after seeing responses on here, its becoming a painfully obvious truth.

      September 20, 2011 at 9:54 pm |
    • JohnQuest

      tready, It saddens me that people, smart, well adjusted people are against Ba'al and Santa the longer I live the clearer it becomes Ba'al and Santa will punish all the non believers.

      September 20, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
    • J

      You are exactly right brother. God is sorting out the sheep from the goats.

      Matthew 7:14

      Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.

      For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

      America I think is falling under judgement and all of those who are falsely converted are falling away.

      Romans 1:18

      For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

      There are signs everywhere..the presidents speech on 9/11 for example. Obama read Psalm 46, which is about judgement and the end of the world. God is warning us..

      Repent people! God is not going to spare you! Repent from your wicked lives!

      September 21, 2011 at 5:11 am |
    • Your god is a fossil

      Good, maybe he'll just shake all his "believers" right off the face of the earth and leave it to the rest of us

      September 21, 2011 at 7:23 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.