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. Mr. Whit

    "no single category or kind of congregation ... was exempt from the decadal downsizing of worship attendance." - They overlooked the Mormons who, whether we like it or not, are growing at an astonishing rate. Curious if this congregation fell between the cracks of Christianity and Judaism...

    September 20, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
  2. Dennis Davis

    TAX ......THE CHURCH.

    September 20, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
  3. John C

    He found by sad experience that his gods were of no practical use, as they never assisted him, except when he was perfectly able to help himself. At last, he began to discover that his individual action had nothing whatever to do with strange appearances in the heavens; that it was impossible for him to be bad enough to cause a whirlwind, or good enough to stop one. After many centuries of thought, he about half concluded that making mouths at a priest would not necessarily cause an earthquake. He noticed, and no doubt with considerable astonishment, that very good men were occasionally struck by lightning, while very bad ones escaped. He was frequently forced to the painful conclusion (and it is the most painful to which any human being ever was forced) that the right did not always prevail. He noticed that the gods did not interfere in behalf of the weak and innocent. He was now and then astonished by seeing an unbeliever in the enjoyment of most excellent health. - Robert G. Ingersoll, "The Gods" (1872).

    September 20, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
  4. gupsphoo

    "Adopting new technologies" is a bad idea. Sooner or later, people will realize that human inventions trumps God.

    September 20, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
  5. youth

    Because young people like me that grew up being forced to go to church or branded a freak finally have the internet so we can finally see that we atheists are not alone in this world. There are still unfortunately many communities where atheists are seen as evil and shunned, but I'm glad to see more and more people standing up against the religious brainwashing they grew up with.

    September 20, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
    • Kyle

      Atheists are well-armed with the bible. There are so many inconsistencies and lies in it that it's easy to fight back at this brainwashing trash. I was forced to go to church and believe in this filth for a very long time.

      I'm so much happier knowing the truth, knowing that the bible is a complete lie. It's nice to be free. It's nice to not live in fear.

      September 20, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
    • John C

      How-La-LOO-Ya, youth! Sleep in on Sundays and save at least a dollar a week. Meanwhile, Google Civil War (Union) cavalry Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll (1833-1899), maybe the best apostle of atheism America has ever produced. All of his works are available free online in PDF format. And his godless one-liners–whether humorous or stern–are priceless: "With soap, baptism is a good thing." ... "For myself, I have but little confidence in any business, or enterprise, or investment that promises dividends only after the death of the stockholders." ... "Theology is not what we know about God, but what we do not know about Nature." ... "It probably will not be long until the churches will divide as sharply upon political, as upon theological questions; and when that day comes, if there are not liberals enough to hold the balance of power, this Government will be destroyed." ... "Every religion has had its martyrs, and every religion cannot be true." ..."A God cruel enough to drown his own children ought not to have the impudence to tell me how to raise mine." ... "The traveler asked the minister whether God made the earth in six days, and the minister said he did. Then don't you think, said he, He could have put in another day's work to great advantage right here?" ... "I am on a ship and not on speaking terms with the Captain, but I propose to have a happy voyage, and the best way is to do what you can to make your fellow passengers happy."

      And hundreds more. Hail Pope Bob!

      September 20, 2011 at 10:58 pm |
  6. Answer

    Do you idiots in religion want to know why sometimes self-assertion works like it was a "miracle".

    It is called the subconscious mind. Positive mental feedback into your subconscious mind can change your reality. At least the reality you want to see outwards from. You do not need your convoluted prayers and practices to reach inner peace nor a satisfying lifestyle. This is a fact. If you bother to study psychology you would really free your mind and know what garbage religion really is. Religion is a negative feedback loop. Once you start feeding negatives into your psyche – like always telling yourself you are a loser – your own subconscious will make it happen. Try inputting positive feedback into your own self and you'll be way better. Have more confidence and live better.

    You losers will stay as losers as long as you keep on clinging to your crappy dogma and losing ways.

    September 20, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
    • John C

      Yo, Answer! I seem to be in a quoting mood, so how about this: "Theists don't have a god. They have a belief." - ex-born-again evangelical preacher Dan Barker (now a mainstay of the Freedom From Religion Foundation).

      September 20, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
  7. Wo0F

    Decline? Thank god.

    September 20, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
  8. Carol

    Years ago both parents did not work. Church was a social activity. Now with most parents working Sunday has become a day of rest. I love my church but I can understand the stress of work and having Sundays free to relax and rest.

    September 20, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
    • youth

      I don't miss church but I do miss the social aspect of it. I wish there were places where communities could meet once a week just to chat with each other and help each other out without having to listen to someone read boring scripture for an hour.

      September 20, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
  9. Andrew

    Jesus is amazing. I think people who don't believe are just scared to give up their own ways. I am sorry to tell you but God controls your life, not you. If you think not then you are kidding yourself. The Bible has been proven to be real with accurate dates and prohecies fulfilled. God Bless.

    September 20, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
    • Chris

      So then there is no free will....also if he controls all then he is directly responsible for the deaths of...well everyone, but namely disasters.

      September 20, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
    • pat carr

      jesus is amazing. god controls your life. BIG LOL. all of which are conveniently invisible. As an ex-christian i can tell you there was no substance to that religion. dump religion and free your life

      September 20, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
    • Mad Because It's Trendy

      Andrew, you're such a nut! God controls my life? How do you know? How does God control my life? Please prove this.

      September 20, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
    • fox in stile

      It's a shame nobody has dared once to predict anything in the future with the prophecies, only picking out things that have already happened that came close and said they were prophesied.

      September 20, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
    • Kyle

      lol @ accurate dates and prophecies!!

      How about the prophecy of jesus himself claiming that he will return before his followers died? Yet christians today still believe he's coming back! Yes, very accurate. Give or take a couple thousand years, right?

      September 20, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
    • blahblah

      That would mean god is responsible for atheists. Hindus. Jews. Buddhists... the easiest argument against a 'god' is that he can't know all, control all, be benevolent and allow the things that go on in this world to happen.

      September 20, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
    • Answer


      You want to believe. That is your point. Otherwise the rest is crap.
      Next time just type .. "I believe". You needn't be a continual t-w-a-t everyday for the rest of your life! Unless of course that is your sole ambition in life. Otherwise please carry on being that completely useless t-w-a-t that you are. Thanks.

      September 20, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
    • Nomad

      Yes God is real many churches and denominations are all about money not God. Always has been always wil be. Evil is alive and trying hard to win us over. So prais God for he is real.

      September 20, 2011 at 10:52 pm |
    • gupsphoo

      Dear Andrew, thank you so much for demonstrating how brainwashed a Christian can be.

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

      everything you state is opinion and your comments about others reveals your fears not theirs. Sad to say you are brainwashed

      September 20, 2011 at 10:54 pm |
    • gupsphoo

      @Nomad – I hope you realize saying "God is real" repeatedly doesn't make him real.

      September 20, 2011 at 10:55 pm |
    • Real Deal


      "You want to believe. That is your point. Otherwise the rest is crap.
      Next time just type .. "I believe"."

      He (they) might just replace "I believe" with "I wish".

      September 20, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
  10. Chris

    Your joking right? I live in a small town of 32,000 and theres AT LEAST 40+ churches, not including ones people have in their homes. BTW I live outside Houston

    September 20, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
    • Kyle


      September 20, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
  11. Brian

    "Those entering churches today tend to be more highly educated, while those who are staying out tend to be less educated.".....

    Tell the rest of the "study." Less educated people have less money and they can't afford churches that worship mammon. The most highly educated people tend to be secular.

    September 20, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
    • Chris

      You are correct...the religious think their better then us atheists. In reality we're the superior ones. Anyone that can draw their own conclusions from the information given is by my definition superior.

      September 20, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
    • Answer

      Self assertions are always correct to those who make them. I believe that anyone who is religious is a utterly useless t-w-a-t.

      September 20, 2011 at 10:52 pm |
    • Big Mowma

      not to mention those of us who now have to work on Sunday. Only wealthy people can afford to take the day off or whatever. Organized religion was devised by men to keep others from having direct contact with God – if there is one.

      September 20, 2011 at 10:55 pm |
  12. John C

    @ DerWeissEngel: Ganz gut! Love your controlled prayer experiment. Hey, if Jeezus will give me what I pray for, can I have an iPad2 ? Or is it true, as Col. Robert G. Ingersoll said in the 1890's, that "All prayers die in the air, which they uselessly agitate." ?

    September 20, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
  13. let him die

    Don't worry, the churches will pay all of our medical bills!!

    September 20, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
    • WatchThis

      Let (3) Light Him (6) Beast Die (9) End

      September 20, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
  14. RB

    So in the past most people where serfs, but now they have more "pleasures" and entertainment then they know what to do with. They are free and liberated, not under and constraints of state religion, but instead go at their leisure. The past is dead, so let these churches die. Root out the "agnostics" and "spiritualists", and whatever rationales people have come up saying sin is obsolete. No more "big tent". The gates of hell will never prevail against the true Christian religion. Yet when the son of man come will he really find faith on earth?

    September 20, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
    • pat carr

      the gates of hell won't but the passage of time and the dawn of reason will.

      September 20, 2011 at 10:53 pm |
  15. Dennis Davis

    I'm delighted to hear it. Religion's time is up and it's time for the world to grow up too. It serves no purpose and gets in the way of real life. All you have is that ridicules worn out book called the Bible with tired old stories written by people long dead in a time when this nonsense of yours worked to hold dominion over people who were illiterate (with and without instruments of torture and boiling lead boots). "Dave, I'm afraid this conversation can no longer serve any purpose,...goodbye" HAL to Dave 2001 A Space Odessey.

    September 20, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
    • Andrew

      I will pray that one day you will wake up and realize that Jesus is the only way.

      September 20, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
    • Chris

      Really? Pray? How old are you?

      September 20, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
    • RLP

      Yes for sure ...because doing away with god in our homes, school and lives is making huge improvements in this world...way to go!!

      September 20, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
    • sundar

      Dennis, just because you are not able to see the obvious please don't conclude bible is false. Bible is a spiritual book and only through your spirit you can discern.

      September 20, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
    • Mad Because It's Trendy

      sundar says, "Bible is a spiritual book and only through your spirit you can discern."

      Way to cop out, sundar.

      September 20, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
    • pat carr

      LOL only your spirit can discern. Oh yes the same spirit that is as invisible as "god"

      September 20, 2011 at 10:52 pm |
  16. Your Creator

    @HS and When. I appreciate the fact that you support me so passionately, but JC and I are headed on a trip out of town, you know a father/son outing and we would appreciate it if you could refrain from prayers and stuff while we are gone. Its just that with all the stuff you guys want, sometimes its hard to keep up so we just need a little break if you don't mind. Thanks in advance!! Peace out!!

    September 20, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
  17. Caleb

    I don't worry about 10 years when the Bible has been around since the start of the Israel nation.

    September 20, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
    • The Epic of Gilgamesh

      The Epic of Gilgamesh has been around for longer than the bible, gave the bible it's "Flood" myth, and is "just as true". You're right though, the older something is, the more valid an accurate it is. Take alchemy. CLEARLY, it's older than modern chemistry, and therefore more valid.

      September 20, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
  18. Pope Benedict

    More people are becoming "spiritual, but not religious." This is sort of a limbo state, where you know God is a fantasy, but if something bad happens, you have the option to believe in what you know is a fantasy, hoping you will be saved.

    September 20, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
    • blahblah

      Read the bible then read a 3rd grade science book and see if you can prove 1% of the bible or prove less than 99% of the science. If, after that, you still don't get it then enjoy your idiocy but please keep your delusions to yourself.

      September 20, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
    • let him die

      this web site doesn't have a "like" button, but I like this. So I'm pressing "like" the long hand way.

      September 20, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
    • Pope Benedict


      September 20, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
    • blahblah

      @pope – sorry, poorly worded, I was attempting to agree but, as usual, the conversation disturbs and upsets me. I'm getting off of these boards immediately! One last suggestion to the religious – I have read the bible, try reading The God Delusion by Dawkins. See what you think after that.

      September 20, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
  19. Matt

    This trend is supported by the Bible that during the end times there will be a great falling away from the church. Jesus will return when he is least expected. I take that to mean that church attendance and actual practicing Christians will decline to almost none while the majority live their lives feeling that they don't need God.

    September 20, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
    • Pope Benedict

      What does "practicing" mean, anyway? Does it mean you don't go to church, but you're still a believer in the fantasy? Why would going to a church meeting with other believers make any difference? Your either religious, or your not. The practicing thing is more nonsense.

      September 20, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
    • Dennis Davis

      We don't need god. God is a fantasy. We're figuring things out on our own just fine.

      September 20, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
    • pat carr

      LOL, oh yes the GREAT FALLING AWAY. LMAO. I've been hearing about the "Great falling away" all my life. Well i did the great falling away over 10 years ago and have never been better

      September 20, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
    • Kyle

      Actually, jesus claimed he would return before his current, living followers died. He was speaking to people of his time. Not us. He's 2,000 years late.

      In other words, jesus isn't coming back.


      READ YOUR BIBLE. If you actually read it for a change, you're going to find as time goes on, that it is all a lie.

      The end.


      September 20, 2011 at 10:52 pm |
  20. 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 10:25 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28
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.