While the impact of COVID-19 on church attendance continued throughout last year, The Episcopal Church’s newly released 2021 Parochial Report shows an increase in overall giving amid challenges presented by pivots to online and hybrid worship since 2020.
Data from the Parochial Report—the oldest, most continuous gathering of data by The Episcopal Church—touches every congregation throughout nine provinces and provides insight into the state of the church.
The pandemic prompted a deadline extension for reporting in 2021. In 2020, average Sunday attendance (ASA) was only calculated from the first 12 Sundays of the year before widespread lockdown. The 2021 statistics—which include data from 2019-2021—continue to reflect the hardships faced by Episcopal congregations, which varied widely in the number of Sundays they were able to worship in person.
funds collected through offerings and pledges (“plate and pledge”) increased by 3 percent
While in-person average Sunday attendance declined 35 percent in 2021 over the previous year’s count, overall membership in The Episcopal Church measured only a 3 percent decline.
A surprise finding—particularly given the drop in attendance—was that funds collected through offerings and pledges (“plate and pledge”) increased by 3 percent.
For the second time in report history, narrative questions were included in the data collection during 2021, inviting feedback on how congregations sought to name and address racial injustices, as well as changes they hope to see in their faith communities. Responses to the narrative questions were incorporated into the summary of the 2021 Parochial Report Data, and an in-depth analysis will be forthcoming. Narrative questions were also included in 2020 related to pandemic impact.
The pandemic’s continuing impact on congregations nationwide—including The Episcopal Church—is the focus of a five-year research project led by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, titled “Exploring the Pandemic Impact on Congregations” (EPIC). Findings from a summer 2021 survey of 38 Christian denominational groups “clearly show that the pandemic has had a profound impact across the religious spectrum,” principal investigator Scott Thumma wrote.
Since 2019, 35% of churches reported a decline of 25% or more in attendance, the study shows. During the height of the pandemic, 54% of churches surveyed reported that they completely discontinued fellowship events. The reality of continued variants and hospitalizations is keeping congregational life from returning to “normal,” the study notes. Eighty percent of congregations are offering both remote and in-person options for worship.
“I empathize with the feelings of concern many may feel after reading this data, and yet it is important to remember that the institutional church as we know it has not been the form that Christianity has always taken,” Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said. “The essence and core of the church is not its outward form, which will always change over time. The essence and core is Jesus Christ—his Spirit, his teachings, his manner of life, his way of love—and the movement he founded cannot be stopped.
We need our church leaders, both ordained and lay, to embrace this moment of reinvention, and the folks I see rising up are going to bring us into a profoundly different age.”
In addition to historical congregational data, Episcopalians can view denominational, provincial, and diocesan trends in these reports:
- Fast Facts and Fast Facts Trends
- Average Attendance by Province and Diocese 2019-2021
- Baptized Members by Province and Diocese 2012-2021
- Statistical Totals for The Episcopal Church by Diocese 2020-2021
- USA Plate and Pledge Income 2017-2021
- Average Pledge by Province and Diocese 2017-2021
- Financial and ASA Totals by Diocese 2021
The Parochial Report, in accordance with Canon I.6, is developed by the House of Deputies Committee on the State of the Church, authorized by Executive Council, and overseen by the Executive Officer of the General Convention.