A Decade of Change in American Congregations 2000 – 2010

Despite ‘bursts of innovation and pockets of vitality’, the last decade has produced a slow, overall erosion of the strength of America’s congregations, according to the Faith Communities Today series of national surveys of American congregations prepared by David Roozen.

A Decade of Change in American Congregations 2000-2010, tells us that in 2010, one in four congregations had less than 50 people in the pews. While the number of megachurches doubled in the last decade, the growth of the Evangelical church seems has leveled off and some congregations beginning to shrink.

Roozen said the two big trends in the survey results are the ageing of mainline congregations and the ‘halted growth of the Evangelical church’.

“What’s interesting is how old the Oldine really is,” he said. “Half of the congregations could lose one-third of their members in 15 years.” Over half (53 percent) of Oldine Protestant congregations consists of seniors 65 years old or older, and 75 percent of these churches said that 18-34 year olds make up less than 10 percent of their membership. 

The church is losing older members to disabilities or death and there are no young adults to take their place. Young adults aren’t really abundant in the Evangelical churches either. “The Evangelical growth movement has basically halted and begun to retreat,” he said. Additionally, the study found a steep drop in financial health and continuing high levels of conflict that is turning people off.

The FACT Surveys were conducted in 2000, 2005, 2008 and 2010 and the decade brought the following changes:

  • Increase in innovative, adaptive worship
  • Surprisingly rapid adoption of electronic technologies
  • Dramatic increase in racial/ethnic congregations, many for immigrant groups
  • Increase in the breadth of both member-oriented and mission-oriented programs
  • Increase in connection across faith traditions

One  indicator of church health and vitality Roozen found was that more churches are turning to contemporary worship. In 2010 electric guitars and drums were found in one in four congregations, a 14 percent increase from 2000. Evangelical churches were the early adaptors of contemporary worship, but it has now gained a strong foothold in mainline churches as well. Roozen said the research shows contemporary worship is a catalyst of spiritual vitality, especially when it was combined with other innovative worship practices.

The bottom line according to the FACT surveys is fewer persons in the pews and decreasing spiritual vitality, but we should not give up hope since mainline churches are beginning to face the reality of church decline and make changes to arrest it.


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About Gary L Hunt

Gary Hunt is a retired business executive and trusted adviser on the energy and information verticals. ghunt94526@gmail.com .

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