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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. Juan/Houston, TX

    Well, with all the hate these priests and pastors spew from their pulpits, how can anyone be surprised? We live in a society were people know they don't have to sit in a church and take verbal abuse from these "men of God". People just know better and refuse to participate. That is the reason for the decline. Plain and simple.

    September 20, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
    • pProf

      Many people have ears that love to be tickled. If a pastor preaches the truth, these will be offended and leave, or worse stay and promote dissension.

      September 20, 2011 at 11:25 pm |
    • Juan/Houston, TX

      "Truth" in church is up for interpretation.

      September 20, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
    • MikeB

      Especially that G.D. America preacher.
      The antisemitic Reverend Jackson.
      The Westboro social supremacist.
      Sensually deprived priest that abuse boys.
      Fatwas of death by theological slave masters.
      etc ...

      Wouldn't it be amazing for there to be a pure faith of benevolence through ones own freedom of choice?

      September 20, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
    • Why Not

      Give all pastors, preachers, priests and shamans the heave-ho. They don't know any more that anyone else. They just say they do.

      It "God" exists, "he" is powerful enough and smart enough to speak for "himself".

      September 20, 2011 at 11:36 pm |
    • MikeB

      Why Not – Unfortunately community organizers can't resist preaching to us. Which is what we now have as a Commander-in-Chief in D.C. Pushing his own faction's social doctrine upon us. We don't need his State religion either.

      September 20, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
    • Lin

      Neither religious or non-religious people have a monopoly on hate. You accuse religious leaders of being hateful, but whenever a religious topic is posted, a whole lot of hate, mocking, and derisive comments are posted by atheists towards believers, and it seems kind of hyp_o_critical (see if that gets past the moderator) to me.

      September 21, 2011 at 4:29 am |
    • Real Deal

      Lin,

      You will find all sorts of argument styles - some try logic and reason in varying degrees, but usually find that rationalizing the irrational is like a brick wall. It's a shame, but sometimes ridicule is the last hope of getting through to some people.

      Even Thomas Jefferson said: "“Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus.”

      September 21, 2011 at 4:39 am |
  2. B Schmitt

    Not here in the Houston area. Churches here are standing room only, all denominations.

    September 20, 2011 at 11:21 pm |
    • Zod

      The planet Houston?! Kneel before Zod!

      September 20, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
    • Jason

      Note to self: don't go to Houston unless overcome by sudden urge to be surrounded by baby-brained idiots.

      September 20, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
    • fox in stile

      You actually frequent all the churches of all denominations to verify this?! Now that's doing your research!

      September 20, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
    • Juan/Houston, TX

      Jason, FYI, Houston is the 4th largest city in the country. We are a Blue city. We have a out gay mayor. We have a very diverse city. Whites, Latinos, Blacks, Asians, and Arabs all living together in harmony. Large gay community. Most fortune 500 companies outside of NYC.

      This is a great city...your loss if you don't ever come...you won't be missed.

      September 21, 2011 at 12:00 am |
  3. Answer

    @THINK..

    "almost convincing yourself that there is no God. I pity all of you"

    Let's reword your view – "almost convincing yourself that there IS God. I pity you."
    You see you get nowhere with your view point unless you have evidence that God exists. You are doing the spewing. Promoting your God – we are arguing on your opinion. It is for you to provide the evidence. think on your logic – here think about the insurance company – how do they operate?

    September 20, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
    • Jason

      Who cares about the insurance company.

      September 20, 2011 at 11:25 pm |
    • Answer

      The insurance company is a model for the method of providing proof.

      It is a fact that you have to provide proof to make a claim. Even if you hate having to pay insurance money.. it is not the point of the matter. Go whack off instead of being a c-u-n-t.

      September 20, 2011 at 11:29 pm |
  4. Garry

    Faith has always been about things that cannot be seen or proven; otherwise it would not be faith.

    September 20, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
    • Answer

      So then do why don't you stop preaching?

      September 20, 2011 at 11:21 pm |
    • pProf

      But faith is not blind, it is not a leap into the dark. It is solidly built upon a firm foundation of truth and knowledge.

      One can have faith in that which is unworthy of faith. Mohammed for instance, or Joseph Smith, or "the Virgin Mary." Faith that is not founded on the Rock (Jesus) will not save anyone.

      September 20, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
    • Answer

      "firm foundation of truth and knowledge."

      Really would like for you to type out your version of the truth. It is always your version that you promote.
      So have a go at it. Let's see your version.

      September 20, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
    • Jason

      how insightful

      September 20, 2011 at 11:29 pm |
    • Jason

      How about John 14:6 "Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

      That's not my version, your version, or anyone else's version. That's the only version pretty much. For example, if I say a stove is hot, and you say a stove is hot, who's truth is it? Both? Neither? The truth is the stoves, it's the one on fire.

      September 20, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
    • Answer

      "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

      Whose viewpoint did it come from? the bible did not write itself.
      If your next position of defense is to retort to naming God wrote it himself.. you'll see your own stupidity. Let's roll your garbage out for others to plainly see.

      September 20, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
    • Answer

      "That's not my version, your version, or anyone else's version."

      Or anyone's version? You are one convoluted f-u-c-k-ing moron.

      September 20, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
  5. pProf

    You say "While the survey showed that many congregations are adopting new technologies and innovative worship, there were steep drops in financial health and attendance..." It may be precisely because of "new technologies" and "innovative" activities that people are leaving in droves. The sovereign, holy God is no longer preached. A weakly, grandfatherly, old guy in the sky gospel is "another gospel" than the one Paul preached.

    While getting back to the true Gospel might drive even more away, at least those who remained would be the true believers, the faithful. The path is narrow and few there be that find it, after all.

    September 20, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
    • COUNTRYCOOK

      AMEN !

      September 20, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
    • Why Not

      Let this omniscient, omnipotent "God" preach for itself.

      September 20, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
    • Kristina

      Well said...Amen.

      September 20, 2011 at 11:30 pm |
    • pProf

      @WhyNot: He has given us his general revelation in nature, and his special revelation (the Bible). He spoke to us in these last days by his Son Jesus. His word has sounded forth and will not return to Him without accomplishing all He desires–the salvation of his chosen people and the condemnation of all who reject his Son. Which group will you be in?

      September 20, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
    • Jason

      Are you one of those that picks out only what they want to prove their point? It also said:

      "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.""

      That blog said HIGH SPIRITUAL VITALITY, as in not low.

      September 20, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
    • Kyle

      The path is chock full of sheep that are incapable of reading the bible and doing some research that proves the whole thing is a contradictory joke full of lies.

      September 20, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
    • Why Not

      pProf,

      "The Great and Mighty Oz has spoken. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!"

      As a wise poster often says, you have no gag reflexes - you'll swallow *anything*!

      September 20, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
    • David

      That there is an inverse relationship between inteligence and the propensity to rely on faith-based (i.e. supernatural) sources for decision-making.

      September 21, 2011 at 12:10 am |
  6. Winston419

    Does anyoe know a good tattoo artist? I need to set my cross on fire.. I branded myself with this BS at 19..

    September 20, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
    • COUNTRYCOOK

      Jesus is still the son of God you died for our sin's. We are just tired of false preachers in the pulpit stealing our money. We should have thrown the bums out a long time ago. TBN IS THE WORST

      September 20, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
  7. COUNTRYCOOK

    We got tired of hearing "God wants you rich, give your money to the preacher and God will make you rich" nonsense.

    September 20, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
    • MikeB

      There is definitely a shortage of Mother Teresas, Ghandis, and Martin Luther Kings.

      September 20, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
  8. Winston419

    The internet is around now.... Before.... people could never really study religion without a preacher. Now we know religion is all about manipulation of simple and most compliant of minds.

    September 20, 2011 at 11:08 pm |
    • Answer

      Religion focuses on two main methods of attack – focusing on the mind : firstly with your emotions, and (most importantly) with outright – fear.

      September 20, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
  9. So what?

    Its because churches have confined the definition of God. By definition of a lot of religions lot of people will be hell if anyone of them is right. Its hard to wrap your head around by it self. The question for me is not that God exists but which God exists.

    September 20, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
    • THE BROWN NOTE

      its because mostly poor people go to church

      September 20, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
  10. Kebos

    On the decline? That's great news. I'm not surprised.

    September 20, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
  11. Markus

    When I go online I see stories of every kind. I see news from many points of view. I see sites dedicated wholly to fiction. I see intermediate sites peddling alternative conspiracy theories, or more genuine historical arguments. Since they offer many explanations most of them are wrong, of course.

    This tells us that the humans are creative.

    And I can look before the Internet at what they've done, and see their movies and books: Superman, Frankenstein, Hamlet, Beowulf, Hercules, Gilgamesh ... again, the lesson is clear: humans are creative, and have been creative for as long as they have existed.

    So to the religious, I ask: "What part of the phrase 'people make stuff up' don't you understand? Which of the four words confuses you?"

    Do not whine. Whining is irrelevant. Do not pray for me. Prayer is irrelevant. Do not quote your story to me. Your story is irrelevant. Your mind is the only thing worth talking to. Tell me what you don't understand. Do you not understand how YOUR feelings could be wrong, human, once you've become emotionally attached to something? Is that it?

    September 20, 2011 at 11:01 pm |
  12. John D. Ponder

    All this shows is that Americans are hungry for God, but that they favor spiritual expressions which are strong, vibrant, growing, contemporary, relevant, and experiential. Big churches are getting bigger because they are meeting people's needs! Those that are stuck in tradition are drying up due to obsolescence. The message never changes – JESUS – but the clothing of the message MUST change. This is a wake up call to those that are not growing – change, innovate, or die.

    September 20, 2011 at 11:00 pm |
    • sybaris

      They all just need to go away

      September 20, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
    • THE BROWN NOTE

      what is with this eurotrash jesus drivel chat all the time?

      no jesus

      know peace

      September 20, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
    • Your god is a fossil

      No, if Americans are hungry for anything it's food, what with the current unemployment crisis

      September 21, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
  13. tb

    roll the dice make your choice. follow christ live forever, dont follow christ and do not live forever. pretty easy decision. No religion required to make that call. Even a three year old can make that call

    September 20, 2011 at 10:58 pm |
    • Kyle

      No religion required? It's called christianity.

      And you missed the boat. You see, you still live forever according to the religion, but in hell.

      Also, tell me where jesus is at. According to the bible, he was supposed to return about 2,000 years ago. jesus' own words. LOOK IT UP IN YOUR BIBLE.

      September 20, 2011 at 11:01 pm |
    • fox in stile

      That's assuming christ and not one of the hundreds of other supernatural deities is the correct one, and we won't be punished for not believing in any of the others. Pascal's Wager is unsound.

      September 20, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
    • sybaris

      Yes, a 3 year old can make that call but has no comprehension of the choice other than the fear that is instilled in it. Before then the 3 year old is the same as what we all were, atheists.

      September 20, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
    • Winston419

      Thank you for helping me make my choice to become an Atheist.

      September 20, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
    • Melody

      I'm sorry, but I haven't heard of any human being that has lived forever. If you think someone can live forever, awesome. But where is your physical proof that if one follows Christ, they will live forever? Nobody has absolute proof of what happens to individuals once they die. Science is your friend, science has been proven.

      September 20, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
    • Answer

      @Winston

      It's not a matter of us helping you to attain a position of choice. You wanted to do the research to compare and based on that need you gained insight on what you wanted for yourself. Self attainment and self – choice.

      We are glad to have presented logical answers for all to see.

      September 20, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
    • Observer

      So we should get our direction from 3-year-olds? Nope. You can.

      September 20, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
    • Z

      > Melody, read the bible as a historical book. Most of the incident was written in a short span of time. Did you know Alexander the Great was written more than a hundred years but yet people believe in him. Enoch lived, had great fellowship with God, and walked with God, skipping death, Elijah too, and Jesus resurrection was to conquer death. So, we have a hope to live forever. It is NOT a body with a spirit, but a spirit with a body. No one ask you to skip science, you can use science and archeologist to proof the existence of the incidence in the Bible.

      September 20, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
    • Kyle

      Z.

      You're brainwashed.

      September 20, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
    • fox in stile

      Z, Alexander the Great conquered much of the known world, left much evidence behind, and his existence is corroborated in other texts from many different cultures. The only place Jesus exists is in the bible. Only a few other texts make reference to an unnamed "anointed one", which was a common term for a venerated figure, but never mention any Jesus by name, nor make reference to his divinity.

      September 20, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
  14. eastwood1379@gmail.com

    Everything is in Quran and Sunna.

    September 20, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
    • Kyle

      By everything, you mean hundreds of pages of toilet paper?

      Agreed.

      September 20, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
  15. Upon this rock

    Tell you what....
    Watch the next sunset..over water if possible
    Pull a vegie from your garden
    Watch a two year old tag after Mom and Dad
    When you drink your next glass of water look into the glass and ask who made this water
    There are there are three things you are totally dependant on' food-air-and oxygen – you get five to ten days without the
    food or water, you get about three minutes without oxygen.
    Has man ever made water?
    Has man ever made oxygen?
    Has man ever made food?
    "It is appointed unto man once (see that?) o-n-c-e.... to live and then the Judgement."
    I'd be careful about mocking God, real careful!!

    September 20, 2011 at 10:53 pm |
    • Kyle

      Nope.

      But man made god.

      Ooooh, I'm so blasphemous! I sure hope I don't burn in Tartarus for my transgressions!

      *Tartarus is a mythological place in Greek mythology in the Underworld. It should also be known that the bible also speaks of Tartarus. In other words, christianity stole the idea of the 7th level of hell from Greek mythology.

      September 20, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
    • Mark

      what drivel grow up

      September 20, 2011 at 10:58 pm |
    • fox in stile

      You ascribe intention where there really is no reason to expect it. This is because we, who never do anything without an intention or a purpose, at first could not conceive of a world where this wasn't the case. Now we have no need to anthropomorphize everything. Sometimes the question "why?" doesn't apply. Beyond conscious creatures, intention is a myth, a trick of thought, a mirage, and artifact of a bygone era.

      September 20, 2011 at 11:00 pm |
    • THE BROWN NOTE

      did god create the internet?

      nope

      does god give aids and cancer to babies?

      yup

      well, your god does

      since i don't believe in god, i don't have to sit here and play the blame game

      like you christian types like to do

      you and the mormons

      September 20, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
    • sybaris

      Tell you what,
      You see a tree
      You see a bird
      You see a baby
      The only evidence for anything or the creation of anything is what is there and you cannot prove otherwise.

      September 20, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
    • Dennis Davis

      Ok, I'll be careful about mocking God. Now, Tax let's his Church and you go take some Zoloft.

      September 20, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
  16. Dennis Davis

    Taxing .....all Churches is the grease that will help religion and their irrational beliefs slide into the abyss without delay. The sooner the better.

    September 20, 2011 at 10:53 pm |
  17. Gavin Ford

    Religion is declining. Nice to see some GOOD news for once.

    September 20, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
  18. Dennis Davis

    Jesus spoke to me in a dream. I said, "We are in financial troubles and need jobs , what can we do?" He said,."TAX THE CHURCH".

    September 20, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
  19. GAW

    Also even thought more and more people are dropping out of organized Religion aka Church they still maintain beliefs in an ultimate reality (God) afterlife and may develop private spiritual practices such as prayer, mediation ect. Many embrace universal truths as found in many world religions. Sort of a mix and match Religion if you will. Over all more people including myself are increasingly skeptical of people telling us what to believe or what NOT to believe.

    September 20, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
  20. THINKKKKK

    Why is it that the universe is the way it is? Why is it so beautiful, big, powerful, orderly, messy, chaotic, harsh. Why are we even here, why is it that there are atoms, molecules, simple organisms, complex organisms, why is it that you, looking at this screen able to think about what your writing, think about thinking, think about whether there is God, whether there is no God move your fist, move your arm, breath, blink, sleep, stress, laugh, cry, reflect, talk. Did this all happen by "chance" or by a simple (or complex) mathmatical equation, or a "god" atom; you try to start making sense of things; well look at all the bad. that would not be logical, look at all the suffuring, and thus leads to one of my favorite Bible stories, Adam and Eve. I believe in the most basic theme of this story, we have left God's realm in the "Garden of Eden" so to speak, he wants us to find our way back, to find our way home from the lust, hatred, glutuny, and selfishness. But the best example of God is all around us, and all people from all religions and backgrounds experience it everyday; Nature. The sunrises and sunsets, the blue sky, the forests, cities, roads, parks, schools, busniesses, Space, moon, planets, solar system, galaxy, universe, and each other. When you wake up tomorrow morning think about all these things did come about from math theorems that came out of nothing, or something much bigger, much more omnipotent, then yourself, myself, everything put together. Think, believe, faith.

    September 20, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
    • Kyle

      I have faith in science.

      No god has ever appeared before me. None ever will.

      September 20, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
    • Mark

      again more unscientific drivel

      September 20, 2011 at 11:00 pm |
    • Answer

      It's okay if you do not understand science. We who do understand science know we have to ask questions.

      If you're too obtuse and stupid that's your problem. I can only advise you to off yourself and not have children. Please die quickly and go onwards to meet your invisible friend in your imaginary 'heaven'. Do not pollute this earth further with your garbage.

      Burn your copy of your useless bible before you off yourself. We'll make reservations on your attempt at polluting the earth's air if you would kindly dispose of yourself in the upcoming tsunami or natural disaster. If you have your gun ready.. please use it now. Don't miss. Good luck.

      September 20, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
    • Strange1-2

      Oh, and the next time you have some major health issue reject any physician trained in science and choose a faith healer instead. After all, why should we waste time learning anything when we should just bask in the warm glow of a sunrise and smile aimlessly while chanting a religious mantra until the banality of it dulls our senses into nothingness? Idiots.

      September 20, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
    • THINKKKKK

      Where did anything come from then fellow all knowing humans, and where did I say science is bad? Oh and has the world gotten better or worse as people have lost their faith and been "enlightened" by athiesm. Look at the riots in London, the divorces rates. Look at where the lowest percentage of religious followers are in European countries, how are they fairing right now? With the "weight" of religion off their shoulders why arnen't they thriving? Why is it that all of you are even on here preaching to each other about how smart, and sophisticated you are. If you are so sure about the truth then why do you talk amongst yourselves, almost convincing yourself that there is no God. I pity all of you, and God bless the universe.

      September 20, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
    • Johan S

      I wonder if God thinks the same thing ..what could create something as powerful as God?

      September 20, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
    • Lin

      @Answer, did it ever occur to you what a cruel, vicious thing that was to say to a fellow human being? Telling someone to "off yourself" and "die quickly"?

      September 21, 2011 at 4:36 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.