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. stevie68a

    Man can have but one master. The TV preachers have Money as their god. The smile of a Joel Olsteen, is phony, phony, phony. Yet people seem to fall for it so easily. My sister lives in a housing project, yet she sends money every month to Olsteen
    as a "faith partner". If you're one of the people who think that god is watching you're every move, do volunteer work for a
    shelter, or help an elderly neighbor, but don't send money to these thieves. The mega churches are no different. Church
    attendance is dropping, because people are getting wise that no one has a hotline to god. People who believe fervently in this
    nonsense, should at least consider that they've been fooled.

    September 22, 2011 at 9:09 am |
    • george

      well what a surprise that kenneth copeland,,benney hinn,and all the many crooks on tv and they all are ....not anything from god is forsale and you dont have to buy a answer to your prayer....these men are agents of satan preaching get money get more of everything just give me your cash and you will get it all...and they hide from people like me because they are scarred of being exsposed......and it wont be much longer and they will all be gone and most of the itching ears people who follow them while yet living in thier sins...

      September 22, 2011 at 9:21 am |
  2. J

    Now we have television. Television tells us what to think, and how to think it.

    September 22, 2011 at 8:34 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Did you hear that on television?

      September 22, 2011 at 11:02 am |
  3. Willow

    Well, a lot of us no longer literally believe in the supernatural stuff that we were raised with as kids. So without direct evidence, what do churches have left? All they want to do is be bigoted towards everyone who isn't white, middle class, Christian, and straight. So what is there left? Maybe if they stopped actively hating people who weren't like them and stopped telling people who live perfectly ordinary lives and aren't serial killers that they deserve to literally be tortured for all of eternity. I doubt that'll happen since fear is a necessary part of Christianity; it's how they keep people in the religion.

    September 22, 2011 at 8:31 am |

      Very true, Its a pathetic system of fear run by hypocrites. And I dont believe any God would want us to live our lives in fear. For what kind of God is that?

      September 22, 2011 at 9:05 am |
  4. Jason

    There's a phrase I've always loved, though I don't recall the source. "The religious person does a good deed because they want to get into heaven. The athiest does a good deed because they want to."

    September 22, 2011 at 8:02 am |

      Thats correct. I am not sad to see religion on the decline. Its an archaic system of fearmongering and control created by man and uses God as excuse to preach usually intolerance in underhanded ways while delivering so called positive messages.

      September 22, 2011 at 8:22 am |
    • Jimtanker

      Absolutely right. Their system of morality is based on the threat of heII or the promise of heaven.

      September 22, 2011 at 8:26 am |
  5. The_Mick

    It used to be that churches reached out to the communities in serving their congregations. Now more and more of them expect the communities to come to them in order to be enlightened – and their pockets lightened. On top of that, the Catholic church stubbornly ignores what they should see as "signs from God" that married men and women should be allowed to become priests. As a consequence, the Catholic Church intentionally fails to administer to its flock, resulting in one-priest parishes or even one-priest serving three parishes and, as a consequence, no supervision of potentially morally bad priests.

    September 22, 2011 at 7:43 am |
  6. YOU

    Want to believe in God? Fine, have faith; we all have a little in something I like to think. But Jesus? Really? What has that fraud done for us that has, tangibly, made this a better world? All I see is hatred, war, and division – even amongst Christians, who all paint a different picture of the man (doesn't help sell the story). You need to realize that the messiah is in YOU, inside all of us. You need to look inside of YOURSELF for the answers and then reach out to help others. YOU don't need a church for that or even a religion. YOU were born with all the answers you need, just look. Now get off your knees, stop worrying, and go lead a good life.

    September 22, 2011 at 7:19 am |
    • Friday

      the messiah is in YOU are you kidding me?..If that was the case people would be able to solve their own problems and it's evident that we can't. We pride oursevles on how far we have come as a people..so may advancements..pftt People can't even have basic repsect for one another. If people acutally praticed the things that Jesus taught (both "christians and un-believers alike) we would be better off and what did He teach that is so wrong, love ur neighbour, give to others etc...but everyone is following after thier own hearts, idolizing everything from other people to cars to money....so what exactly do you expect. we only pray when things go wrong and after that don't mention anything of Christ..No one is intrested in having any kind of relationship with Him, which is at the heart of what He wants, but when things go wrong He gets the blame..No one likes the things He has to say, it's lame and it does not fit into the life we want to live and on and on we go..Yet look were we are morally....

      September 22, 2011 at 8:15 am |
    • John Richardson

      @Friday You can't solve any of your own problems? How old are you?

      September 22, 2011 at 8:23 am |
    • Friday

      @ John Richardson, I'm old enough to understand you have no understanding what I'm talking about. When i'm refrring to solving problems you obviously think I'm referring to simple mundane things that God gave us common sense for....unreal you could'nt even pick up on that...

      September 22, 2011 at 8:27 am |
    • ThinkForYourself

      "what did He teach that is so wrong, love ur neighbour, give to others etc.."
      It's not like he was the only one to teach this – and he definitely wasn't the first. You can have the same effect if you follow the teachings of the Buddha. In fact, I find Buddhists to be, on average, far more peace-loving than Christians. The point you missed in the original comment was that we don't need some deity to be good, moral people. We have the power to change ourselves and to better ourselves.

      September 22, 2011 at 9:14 am |
    • Friday

      "We have the power to change ourselves and to better ourselves."....I agree to some point but there are things that I feel only God can fix. If we could fix it, why don't we? why are people so angry and full of hate? Why do we treat each other like dogs? Actually dogs are treated better. What makes people murder people in such horrific ways why are people so depressed and hurting and no meds can help them...they look good on the outisde and inside where it counts there is such emotional turmoil that they cannot even find the words to express what they are feeling..who fixes that?

      As for Buddah..I guess where the clash comes in is that Jesus said "I am the way the truth and the light no one comes to the Father but by Me"

      September 22, 2011 at 9:29 am |
    • Friday

      yes yes i know it's "I am the way the truth and the life"...my bad, sorry

      September 22, 2011 at 9:32 am |
    • YOU

      @ Friday: You seem to miss the point of me highlighting the intrinsic potential the mankind has. Humans can and have been solving complex problems for millions of years. You seem to shrug off the progress we've made as a species and appear to have lost faith in your fellow man. I think that may go against the teachings that you follow. Life is hard, always has been, yet we still achieve and live to love, to lose, to laugh, and to cry. Some things will always hold true and it's ok to be imperfect. Once we learn to accept ourselves, with our many flaws, only then can we hope to move past the blame game and finger pointing and continue to grow. We are the same, each of us. See the good in YOU, and then begin to see the good in all.

      September 22, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Friday, what difference does it make if only a god can fix things since he hasn't and shows no sign of doing so in the future (please do not quote biblical prophecies ).
      It makes your god's ability to do so on par with people's ability. We can do it but we don't. He can do it but he doesn't. Once again, simply another god created in our image.

      September 22, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • John Richardson

      @Friday If you meant something other than what you said, don't snarf at me for not reading your mind. But name one problem that god has solved. One.

      September 22, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
  7. Reality

    From p. 25:

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




    Some added details:

    The Infamous Angelic Con:

    Joe Smith had his Moroni.

    Jehovah Witnesses have their Jesus /Michael the archangel, the first angelic being created by God;

    Mohammed had his Gabriel (this "tin-kerbell" got around).

    Jesus and his family had Michael, Gabriel, and Satan, the latter being a modern day dem-on of the de-mented.

    The Abraham-Moses myths had their Angel of Death and other "no-namers" to do their dirty work or other assorted duties.

    Contemporary biblical and religious scholars have relegated these "pretty wingie/horn blowing thingies" to the myth pile. We should do the same to include deleting all references to them in our religious operating manuals. Doing this will eliminate the prophet/profit/prophecy status of these founders and put them where they belong as simple humans just like the rest of us.

    September 22, 2011 at 7:16 am |
    • Rednip

      That's a bit much to write, do you have a refrigerator magnet?

      Did Jesus live? Heck, I'm not even really sure that you exist. So there.

      September 22, 2011 at 9:00 am |
    • .........

      all reality posts are copy paste spam garbage hit report abuse on all reality posts

      September 22, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
  8. JiminTX

    Hopefully this means that people are becoming independent, critical thinkers and thus are walking away from the foolishness of an Invisible Sky Friend who grants wishes.

    September 22, 2011 at 7:15 am |
  9. Tammy

    Churches lost all credibilty with me for their "christian values" when they got into bed with the gop back in the 80's. There is nothing christian about them anymore, they are just a get-out-the-vote arm of the republicans.

    September 22, 2011 at 6:57 am |
  10. ?????

    Can I ask a question? WHO CARES!!!!!!! Secular folks, why do you care if people go/don't go to Church on Sunday? Fellow Christians, why do you care about about what secular folks think?

    September 22, 2011 at 6:06 am |

      I care when fear mongers push their so called values on the rest of us. Believe whatever you want, your free to do so. Leave the judgement at the door when you deal with the rest of us. Its not your place to judge others or preach archaic hate and intolerance either.

      September 22, 2011 at 8:43 am |
  11. Hooligan

    I can only hope that more and more people are not going to church because they realize the planet is over 6000 years old.

    September 22, 2011 at 3:31 am |
  12. Louis

    Looking at all the screaming comments from religious types makes me glad, yet again, that I am raising my kids as moral, decent and secular Americans. We don't need religion and the hate that comes with it.

    September 22, 2011 at 1:59 am |
  13. A message to America

    America, stop hating Christianity. You will turn into a real bad guy from a good guy in history just like other historic villain nations. Don't do that. It's against your fathers and your mothers and also against the God Almighty. You've been an air-headed play boy for some decades but you still have excellent Christian population within you. Live and not die by listening to them.

    September 22, 2011 at 1:06 am |
    • tallulah13

      Reply from America: This is a secular nation. Our founding fathers saw the example of the kingdoms of Europe and realized that religion in government is the enemy of freedom. That is why they wisely separated the two. This way, everybody can follow the religion of their choice, or indeed choose not to believe, and as long as they are not breaking laws, or violating the rights of others, the government will not bother them. Get it?

      September 22, 2011 at 2:07 am |
    • Hooligan

      did you even proof read that before you posted it?

      September 22, 2011 at 3:32 am |
    • Dustin

      I'll stop hating Christianity when Christianity stops hating a majority of the world for simply being different.

      September 22, 2011 at 4:41 am |
    • Candace

      Spot on tallulah13 and Dustin!!! Brilliant!!!

      September 22, 2011 at 6:27 am |

      When Christianity stops judging the rest of us and the world, then I wont worry about it. When it stops sending messages of hate and intolerance candy coated and shrouded in Gods name, then I wont worry!

      September 22, 2011 at 8:26 am |
    • ThinkForYourself

      The overwhelming majority of Americans are Christians. So ... we hate ourselves? No wonder so many Christians seem angry.

      September 22, 2011 at 9:10 am |
    • MarkinFL

      God can take care of himself, my father doesn't believe in that horsecr@p any more than I do ( or his father) and my mom was pretty ambivalent about the whole thing. She was raised Southern Baptist and was certain that they at least had it all wrong. Raised me Methodist in the 70's until our church went all fire and brimstone and she got us the he11 out of there.

      If Christianity will leave everyone else alone, we will leave Christianity alone.

      September 22, 2011 at 11:14 am |
  14. Michael Roberts

    you have got to be kidding me. "christian morality" is an oxymoron. christianity is responsible for every single serial killer the US have ever known. religion is responsible for 9/11.

    do you not realize that "religion" is a sad excuse for you to let others tell you what to think?

    screw your god and screw your jesus. what do you think is the largest source of pedophiles and perverts ever known? your god-forsaken "holy bible" and the abomination that you call christianity is the source. look it up. it's not science, so you won't have to think too hard.

    please take up something less damaging. like bestiality. or dwarf tossing. or knitting.

    September 22, 2011 at 1:04 am |
    • Kuba

      Ehh, easy for you to say. That damn dwarf tossing club membership does not come cheap.But I think I'm getting a hang of it

      September 22, 2011 at 1:57 am |
    • Hooligan

      I am SO down for dwarf tossing.

      September 22, 2011 at 3:32 am |
    • Fred1

      How dare you call Christianity an abomination
      And Moses said unto them “Have ye saved all the women alive?... Now therefore Kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known a man by lying with him, but all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves” Num 31:1-2, 9-11, 14-18

      September 22, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • MarkinFL

      I read the entire bible one time and the end result was that not only did I still not believe in any gods, I now knew that if I ever found out I was wrong and this one existed I would have to be his enemy. The god of the bible is a sick little monkey worthy only of our disgust.

      September 22, 2011 at 11:42 am |
  15. Mathilda

    Religion-hating Americans are immoral and stupid. They are 100 years behind Russians and 150 years behind Germans on the effect of hatred against religion.

    September 22, 2011 at 1:01 am |
    • Hooligan

      I am immoral because I don't judge people based on a book that was written by men from a period when people spat on a wound to cure it and sea serpents were a legitimate hazard when traveling?

      PFFFFT ok.

      September 22, 2011 at 3:34 am |

      Mathillda, you should leave the judgement to your God. Its not your place to make these judgements. Believe whatever you want, just keep it out of my life. In truth, many feel sorry for you that you base your life and a great fictional book.

      September 22, 2011 at 8:30 am |
    • Rock

      And by the way Mathilda...F you
      Haha – that is all
      Hey somebody, pass the apples

      September 22, 2011 at 9:02 am |
    • MarkinFL

      I'm still trying to figure out the actual meaning of per post. I'm pretty sure I get the intent but you sure have to look at it holistically to get any meaning from it.

      September 22, 2011 at 11:17 am |
  16. Lynn

    Attending church doesn't make you a moral person. It just gives a lot of immoral people a place to disguise themselves. Religion isn't all bad but some day it will be obsolete.

    September 22, 2011 at 12:46 am |
    • Billygee

      religion is the last refuge for a scoundrel. The more pious you pretend to be, the more you are compensating for your own immorality. A truly moral person has no need to put on airs, they just live their lives. Religion is nothing more than politics, power and control. Spirituality and a relationship with God does not require a church, a priest, pope or pastor. I'm all for community and a shared experience, please just don't pretend that God plays favorites and sanctions one church, belief or denomination over another. How facile.

      September 22, 2011 at 12:55 am |
    • Mathilda

      @Lynn, hating church or organized religion makes you insane, though. Look at your American atheists. They already behave like the Kim family in North Korea.
      And Christian Americans feel ashamed in immorality but secular Americans boast of their immorality. A huge difference. USA is worthless without Christianity.

      September 22, 2011 at 12:59 am |
    • Candace

      @Lynn Yep! I'm with you on that! Religion isn't all bad but just like the other old structures in our country that are currently experiencing problems (i.e. our public school system)...the more rigid and "lifeless" they are the more irrelevant they will become. They will be replaced however by something more "responsive". The newer generations will see to it! In fact I believe it was Time Magazine that did an excellent article on people becoming more "spiritual". @Billygee...Enjoyed those comments!

      September 22, 2011 at 6:41 am |

      Mathilda, why dont you go pray for us 'immoral' secular people and do what you do best. Your free to be a Christian, just dont push it on the rest of us. Your fearmongering doesnt scare us. The ones that sqauwk the loudest are usually repenting for the biggiest sins. That is if they truly changed?

      September 22, 2011 at 8:38 am |
    • MarkinFL

      I think I saw Mathilda in one of those early 70's "movies". She seems to be living off of guilt.

      September 22, 2011 at 11:18 am |
    • Fred1

      Let’s look at some great Christian leaders

      Augusto Pinochet –Chile
      Religion: Roman Catholic
      Atrocities The Rettig Report (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rettig_Report)– 2,279 persons disappeared and were killed for political reasons.
      Valech Report (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valech_Report)–approximately 30,000 tortured while several thousand were exiled.
      Participated in Operation Condor (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Condor) a campaign of political repressions in several SA countries. The "terror archives" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terror_archives), found in a police station in a suburb of Asunción Paraguay, listed 50,000 people murdered, 30,000 people disappeared and 400,000 people imprisoned.
      Was said that Pinochet believed these operations were necessary in order to "save the country from communism”

      Francisco Franco–Spain
      Religion: Roman Catholic
      Called himself the defender of "Christian Europe" against "atheist Communism."
      Atrocities Attempted coup led to the Spanish Civil War (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Civil_War) which ended with Franco becoming dictator and leaving 190,000 to 500,000 dead with at least 50,000 executed. The victory was followed by from 15,000 to 25,000 summary executions and imprisonments,

      Charles Taylor –Liberia
      Religion: Baptist
      According to a June 2, 1999, article in The Virginian-Pilot,[20] Taylor had extensive business dealings with televangelist Pat Robertson.
      (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Patriotic_Front_of_Liberia) that initiated and participated in the Liberian Civil War charged with numerous abuses including massacres, torture, kidnapping and political assassinations. An estimated 50,000 and 200,000 people killed, and more than two million people forced from their homes.

      September 22, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  17. Mathilda

    USA is being filled with blasphemers and perverts. Brace yourself for being razed by foreign forces or natural disasters since that is the pattern. Or repent and listen to godly leaders to be preserved and blessed again.

    September 22, 2011 at 12:37 am |
    • Rock

      I pray that god spares us all the pain and agony of these impending disasters...oh wait that hasnt helped anyone else has it... nevermind

      September 22, 2011 at 9:03 am |
    • MarkinFL

      You know what the really great thing is? Her god will destroy her nation to punish us. We get all the fun and she gets to share the punishment. That's what I love about gods, they are so deliciously perverse and capricious.

      September 22, 2011 at 11:20 am |
  18. Somber Facts

    It's USA, the nation itself, that has been declining for the last decade, losing all the respect from the world not because of wars but because of her immorality. A man(USA) who scorns his own conscience(Christianity) is not worthy and gets no respect or a bright future.

    September 22, 2011 at 12:35 am |

      Most secular people are moral. Thats just a stereotype your peddling. If any decline has happened, its world politics and a deteriorating economy that are the at play here. Although I have not given up on the United States. I think we can do whatever we want and we can build a stronger nation when we leave archaic hate and intolerance behind. We can build a stronger economy too. So the many immoral who hide under the religious system draw the truth out in reality. We see the desperate and sick cloak themselves in religion to hide their sins. Sorry, WE ARE ON TO YOU!!!

      September 22, 2011 at 8:53 am |
    • Fred1

      and just where in the bible does it say that?

      September 22, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
  19. Message to my beloved Christian Americans

    USA still has vitality with a possibility of bouncing back. The last nation of hope in the entire West. It's Europe that is humanly-speaking permanently and hopelessly dying off. Asia, Africa, and the Islamic land have unprecedented growth of Christian faith in spite of grueling persecutions. The Holy Spirit is moving everywhere powerfully in the last days. American Christians, take heart. God owns the universe. God is in control and He is saving His people everywhere even today. Just continue your own battles for righteousness courageously in your land. There was never an easy era or easy place for any true Christian. We all have our own assignments where we are planted. Jesus our King will come back at the nick of time. We just should never give up or dwell in sins but keep looking up to Jesus till the very end. Revelation 22:7-21 is only true.

    September 22, 2011 at 12:19 am |
    • tallulah13

      Oh, boo hoo. Poor christian martyr. People aren't letting you rule their lives anymore, and somehow that translates to you being a victim? I advise you to get a really big ladder and get over yourself.

      September 22, 2011 at 2:03 am |
    • Rock

      Dangit, my wh0res are late getting here

      September 22, 2011 at 9:06 am |
    • ThinkForYourself

      That you think god has "His people" just shows what a childish, petulant god you have. That's the behavior that I would expect from some high school click, not some supposedly benevolent creator.

      September 22, 2011 at 9:08 am |
    • PRISM 1234

      Thank you, "Message" for encouraging words.
      For this we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28), and we know that the expectations of the righteous
      result in joy, but the hopes of the wicked will perish(Proverbs 10:28) , without hope... for it is a fearful thing to fall in the hands of living God whom they mocked, refusing His mercy.

      God bless you, friend!

      September 22, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
  20. Mathilda

    America is slowly dying... As usual, the problem is not attendance or numbers. It's America's general moral decline that is killing her and it reflects in her church life. USA kind of became weird in 70's. Congrats to her she survived 30 more years. God alone can revive her.

    September 22, 2011 at 12:17 am |
    • Hooligan

      LOLOL whut?

      September 22, 2011 at 3:30 am |
    • Fred1

      Yes, just look at all the good christianity has done for Hati

      François "Papa Doc" Duvalier–Haiti

      Religion: Roman Catholic
      Atrocities: Used murder and expulsion of opponants. Estimates of those killed are as high as 30,000.

      September 22, 2011 at 12:24 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.