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Churn, church, churn

Churn, church, churn

If Protestantism is treated as a single religious group, then fully 34% of American adults currently have a religious identity different from the one in which they were raised, which is up six percentage points since 2007. If the three major Protestant traditions (evangelical Protestantism, mainline Protestantism and historically black Protestantism) are analyzed as separate categories, then the share of Americans who have switched religions rises to 42%. – Chapter 2: Religious Switching and Intermarriage, America’s Changing Religious Landscape, Pew Research Center, 2015.

Of American adults raised Episcopalian/Anglicans, 61% have changed their religious identity. Of American adults currently identifying as Episcopalian/Anglicans, 46% were raised in another tradition. (These percentages are based on calculations from the table on page 38 of the report. The values are in line with other mainline Protestant denominations. Click thumbnail below)


The report surveyed 35,000 American adults. 1.3% currently identify as Anglican/Episcopalian.

Were you aware of the magnitude of churn in the church? Do the numbers from the Pew survey square with your local Episcopal church experience? How much might be accounted for by inter-religious marriage? Does church churn have any implications for The Episcopal Church and the way it does its ministry?

Posted by John B. Chilton


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Gary Roberts

It’s been clear for more than 30 years that we are not keeping our children! We really do need to rethink our children and young adult education — by this metric it’s not working very well. Numbers may not be the best metric, however.

Chris Harwood

Has anyone polled former members/kids to ask their opinions? I’ve had one church I attended that actually called to check up on me and ask why I no longer came. The others never bothered. A few churches I’ve attended have had “secret shoppers/worshippers” come to assess the church and none rated as highly as they expected. I left one because they were very insulted over the report-and I agreed with it. I think the comment above about people thinking church is a place to learn to be a “good person” is correct. Once they know that, they think they don’t need church anymore.

P Quiggins

This has been my observation without the supporting data. Our church teaches respect for all denominations, so children who take that to heart have no problem joining another one. We need to continue doing that but affirm the uniqueness of our own more than we do now.

P – Welcome first time commenter. Note that Cafe policy is that comments should include first and last names. – eds.]

Robin Neill Mcgraw

I was raised a cradle Episcopalian, quit going regularly in my 20s and then in my 30s when my son was 4 years old, I came back to my hometown, had my son baptized in the church I grew up in, and taught Sunday School for 16 years. My son is 30 now and an Episcopal priest; I have been to many other churches of different denominations, but have never felt “at home” anywhere else. I dont know the statistics, but we are so community-oriented and open to all people…….I don’t know why people leave.

Chris Harwood

Hmm, it sounds like the only church you’ve ever been “at home” in is your home church from childhood, Episcopal or otherwise. I’m glad you made it home. I rather wish I could, but mine is gone. Out of curiosity, did you attend Episcopal services elsewhere and would you have returned to the church if you hadn’t moved back to your hometown or if you hadn’t had a family? If you were still single or couldn’t go home, what would it take to get you to church or to like a new one? Those answers may help since more and more people are moving(and staying away), staying single, and remaining childless.

Anand Gnanadesikan

Churn is not necessarily a bad thing, insofar as the distinctives of different denominations minister to different needs in the body of Christ. A denomination that is good at meeting the needs of those with substance abuse issues may not be as good at meeting the needs of the next generation. A church with a highly emotional worship may not meet the needs of introverts. I don’t see it as a catastrophe that 45% of folks raised in the Holiness tradition move to other Protestant denominations.

But it seems like more of a problem if 34-35% of those raised in a denomination leave Christianity altogether- a comparable fraction to those staying in the church in the Congregational and Episcopal traditions.

Having spent time around both traditions, I would say that both have lost the idea of conversion and redemption as central to Christianity. Instead, what’s preached is basically “being a Christian means being a nice person.” Given that doctrinal adherence is neither necessary nor sufficient to be “nice”, it is hard to see why one should make the effort.

Benjamin Miller

I’ll always remember this evaluation of mainline vs. Catholic vs. evangelical youth who eventually became Nones:

“Catholics who become Nones are hurt. Evangelicals that become Nones are angry. Mainline Protestants who become Nones are just bored… For Mainline Protestants, the theme is neither hurt nor anger, but a sense of ennui. They got it. They get that they’re supposed to be good to people, share what they have, do good in the world. If I had a nickel for how they love, love, love their youth group, or what a great time they had on their mission trips, I’d be a very wealthy woman. ”

“What tends to happen with Mainline Protestants is that they are deeply affirmed in early formation and then they “graduate” from church. And we let them have that model. Our church schools are parallel to other kinds of schooling. One young woman told me, ‘I learned everything I needed to know there, I get it. I don’t need this in order to be a good person or in order to make sense of everyday life.’ I hear this when I interview parents as well: ‘Our children will learn good values. Check. They’ve learned this, we can move on.’ ”

JC Fisher

“If we don’t really believe we are sinners, why do we need the Spirit? And if we don’t need the Spirit, why do we need the church?”

Whew, that’s DEEP! While I do believe that *I* am a sinner (I make no judgments about anyone else), I have less difficulty saying that EVERYONE needs “the Spirit”, as each one understands that same Spirit. Just to endure all of life’s BS, y’know? And the Spirit is most *supportively* found, in community (aka, the People of God). HTH.

Anand Gnanadesikan


Coming from an evangelical background, I find it amazing that folks can miss the Gospel preached weekly through the liturgy. But as a teacher, I know that you can expose folks to material and have them parrot it back at you without there being any understanding involved.

One thing Episcopalians could learn from evangelicals is the importance of the conversion of recognizing sin and redemption as the heart of the Christian message. If we don’t really believe we are sinners, why do we need the Spirit? And if we don’t need the Spirit, why do we need the church?


JC Fisher

“I get it…we can move on.”

So it’s “what the Church can do/did do for ME (and then my children, while they’re young), not what I can do for the Church.”

But did they “get it”, really? Because if you don’t think you need to give anything back to the Body of Christ, I think perhaps one lost the (Gospel) plot along the way somewhere.

Anand Gnanadesikan

This is excellent. And on target.

dave hall

What about someone like me who was raised Episcopal became a Roman Catholic ( I had attended a Catholic school) and then came back to the Episcopal Church in my 20’s. Now I prefer to attend Episcopalian services although I often attend Catholic services. And Catholic churches are always open for prayers.

David Streever

Hi Dave: thanks for your comment. Please use your full name in future comments (that’s part of our policy, sorry about that!)

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