“Celebrating the Church of the Brethren’s 300th Anniversary in 2008″
(May 28, 2008) — First the good news: Membership in the Church of the Brethren dropped by a smaller amount in 2007 that in either of the previous two years, down a net 1,562 members to a total of 125,964 in the US and Puerto Rico. And the denomination’s smallest district, Missouri/Arkansas, had the largest percentage gain, adding a net of six new members to grow to 555 (up 1.09 percent).
Three other districts–Shenandoah (net gain of 46 members), Middle Pennsylvania (31), and West Marva (22)–reported smaller gains in the past year.
The overall decline of 1.22 percent, however, continues a trend dating to the early 1960s. Most “mainline” denominations in the United States have experienced similar trends.
Statistics are from data collected annually by the “Church of the Brethren Yearbook” published by Brethren Press. The figures do not include Church of the Brethren membership in other countries, including Nigeria, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Brazil, and India.
Of the other 19 US districts, the largest losses came elsewhere in Pennsylvania and the west. Western Plains had the largest numerical decline, with a net loss of 307 members. Five other districts–Western Pennsylvania (down 182), Oregon/Washington (174), Illinois/Wisconsin (172), Atlantic Northeast (149), and Southern Pennsylvania (121)–had triple-digit net losses.
As a percentage, Oregon/Washington’s decline was the largest, at 13.4 percent, followed by three other western districts: Western Plains (a net loss of 8.53 percent), Idaho (6.92 percent), and Northern Plains (3.11 percent).
Atlantic Northeast, which covers eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York City, and Maine, is the largest district in the denomination, with 14,711 members at the end of 2007, followed by Shenandoah District and Virlina District.
The numbers of congregations, fellowships, and projects were all lower at the end of 2007. Congregations decreased by four, to 1,006; fellowships dropped from 39 to 37; and projects from 15 to 12. Total reported average weekly worship attendance fell by nearly 2,500 from the year before, to 61,125, and the number of baptisms in 2007 dropped sharply, to 1,380.
But in another bit of good news, reported giving to most agencies and programs was up, with average per capita giving of $43. Of the major funds, only the General Board’s Core Ministries Fund saw a slight decrease in actual giving; donations to Bethany Theological Seminary, On Earth Peace, the Association of Brethren Caregivers, and special-purpose funds all increased.
Updated “Yearbook” figures are based on data provided by congregations that turn in statistical reports. In 2007, 64.5 percent of the congregations reported, slightly less than in most previous years; 68.7 percent reported in 2006.
The “Yearbook” also lists contact information and statistics for congregations, districts, and agencies of the denomination, as well as related Brethren organizations. The 2008 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.
The Church of the Brethren Newsline is produced by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of news services for the Church of the Brethren General Board. Newsline stories may be reprinted if Newsline is cited as the source. To receive Newsline by e-mail go to http://listserver.emountain.net/mailman/listinfo/newsline. Submit news to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more Church of the Brethren news and features, subscribe to “Messenger” magazine; call 800-323-8039 ext. 247.