(June 5, 2007) — Membership in the Church of the Brethren membership declined by 1,814 in 2006, according to reports received by the denomination. That represents a decrease of 1.4 percent from the previous year, about the same as the decline in 2005. Total reported membership in the US and Puerto Rico now stands at 127,526.
Denominational membership has been on a steady decline since the early 1960s, as it has been for most “mainline” denominations in the US. Statistics are collected annually by the “Church of the Brethren Yearbook” published by Brethren Press. The figure does not include Church of the Brethren membership in other countries including Nigeria, Brazil, India, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti. The Nigerian church is the largest Brethren body in the world.
Sixteen of the 23 US districts reported net membership declines last year, while seven reported increases. Some trends reversed from the previous year: Pacific Southwest District, which had the largest decrease in 2005, had the largest percentage increase in 2006, up 84 members, or nearly 3.5 percent. In fact, much of the growth was west of the Mississippi River, with the districts of Idaho, Southern Plains, and Western Plains also reporting net membership increases. Illinois and Wisconsin, Shenandoah, and Southeastern were the other districts reporting gains. Shenandoah District had the largest numerical increase, up 89 members.
Meanwhile, Atlantic Southeast District–which had the largest percentage increase in 2005–reported the largest percentage loss in 2006, down 8.9 percent (a decrease of 178 members). Five districts had declines of at least three percent. Southern Ohio District reported the greatest numerical decline, with a net loss of 371 members.
Atlantic Northeast remains the largest district, with 14,860 members at the end of 2006, followed by Shenandoah and Virlina. Missouri/Arkansas District is the denomination’s smallest, with 549 total members.
The number of full congregations fell by five, to 1,010, and the number of fellowships dropped from 42 to 39. Church planting, however, resulted in a net increase of five new projects, for a total of 15.
Total reported average weekly worship attendance dropped by 1,572 from the year before, to 63,571. And the number of baptisms was at its lowest level in decades, with just 1,657 reported.
Giving was mixed, with donations to the General Board’s General Ministries Fund and On Earth Peace up slightly, while giving to Bethany Theological Seminary and the Association of Brethren Caregivers was down. Average per capita giving was $41.
Updated “Yearbook” figures are based on data provided by congregations that turn in statistical reports. In 2005, 68.7 percent of the congregations reported, a fairly consistent response to previous years; 69 percent reported in 2004.
The “Yearbook” also lists contact information and statistics for congregations, districts, and agencies of the denomination, as well as related Brethren organizations. The 2007 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.