Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Church of the Brethren Yearbook reports 2008 membership loss.

Church of the Brethren membership in the US and Puerto Rico dropped below 125,000 for the first time since the 1920s, according to 2008 data from the "Church of the Brethren Yearbook."

The denomination’s membership stood at 124,408 at the end of 2008, according to data reported by congregations. The total number of congregations in the church also hit a landmark, dipping by seven to 999. There are also 50 fellowships and projects, an increase of one from the previous year.

Sixteen districts reported net decreases in membership in 2008; seven reported increases. Hardest hit were districts in the Midwest and the Plains, where every district except Michigan reported a decline.

Districts with the largest percentage decreases were Southern Plains (17.1 percent), Oregon/Washington (7.8 percent), Southern Pennsylvania (5.6 percent), and Western Plains (5.3 percent). The largest numerical decreases were in Southern Pennsylvania (a net loss of 391 members) and Western Pennsylvania (down 182 members).

Interestingly, several of the denomination’s smallest districts were among those reporting gains. Missouri/Arkansas (up 1.6 percent, to 564 members), Idaho (up 1 percent, to 598 members), and Michigan (up 1.7 percent, to 1,347 members) all saw slight increases. Other districts with membership gains were Pacific Southwest (1.7 percent), Southeastern (1.3 percent), Atlantic Southeast (0.5 percent), and Middle Pennsylvania (0.2 percent). Pacific Southwest, with a net gain of 42 members, had the largest numerical growth.

The overall denominational decline of 1.24 percent is similar to that of the past few years and continues a trend dating to the early 1960s. Most "mainline" denominations in the United States have been experiencing similar trends over that period. Studies have attributed the decline to growing secularism, a growth in independent churches, and changes in ways membership is recorded, among other factors.

Total reported average weekly worship attendance fell by more than 2,000 from the year before, to 59,084, but the number of baptisms in 2008 jumped sharply to 1,714, up 334 from the previous year and the highest number since 2004. Giving to most agencies and programs declined.

Updated Yearbook figures are based on data provided by congregations that turn in statistical reports. In 2008, 66.2 percent of the congregations reported; this is similar to most recent years, providing a consistent means for comparing statistics. About 64 percent reported in 2007.

The Yearbook also lists contact information and statistics for congregations, districts, and agencies of the denomination, as well as related Brethren organizations. The 2009 edition is available from Brethren Press; to order call 800-441-3712.

-- Walt Wiltschek is editor of the Church of the Brethren’s "Messenger" magazine.

Source: 6/3/2009 Newsline

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