Church of the Brethren Yearbook Reports 2008 Membership Loss

Church of the Brethren Newsline
June 4, 2009

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.

The Church of the Brethren Newsline is produced by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of news services for the Church of the Brethren. Newsline stories may be reprinted if Newsline is cited as the source. Contact to receive Newsline by e-mail or to submit news to the editor at For more Church of the Brethren news and features, subscribe to “Messenger” magazine; call 800-323-8039 ext. 247.

Brethren in the News

“Judge acquits gun protesters,” Philadelphia (Pa.) Daily News (May 27, 2009). The 12 people who were arrested for civil disobedience at a notorious gun store in Philadelphia during the “Heeding God’s Call” peace church gathering in January have been acquitted. The trial took place on May 26. Among those arrested were two members of the Church of the Brethren: Phil Jones and Mimi Copp.

Also see:
“Monica Yant Kinney: Appeal to conscience carries the day,” Philadelphia (Pa.) Inquirer (May 27, 2009).

“Heeding God’s call leads to trial,” News of Delaware County, Pa. (May 27, 2009).;!-1640719862?_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=pg_wk_article&r21.pgpath=/NDC/Home&r21.content=/NDC/Home/Top

“Local gun protest trial set,” Philadelphia (Pa.) Tribune (May 26, 2009).

“Free clothing give-away,” The Suburbanite, Akron, Ohio (June 3, 2009). On June 13, there will be a free clothing give-away at Hartville (Ohio) Church of the Brethren, responding to the economic downturn that has affected many people in the community.

Obituary: Robert R. Pryor, Zanesville (Ohio) Times (June 3, 2009). Robert R. Pryor, 76, died on June 1 at his home surrounded by his loving family. He attended White Cottage (Ohio) Church of the Brethren. He worked as a electrician for Armco Steel, and retired after 33 years of service; and was a former part-time employee at Imlay Florist and a former volunteer fireman. Surviving is his wife, Marlene A. (Worstall) Pryor, whom he married in 1953.

“Volunteers Help Rebuild an Erwin Church,”, Johnson City, Tenn. (June 2, 2009). A report with video clip and photos of the start of the rebuilding of Erwin (Tenn.) Church of the Brethren, which was destroyed by fire one year ago. A team of volunteer builders called Carpenters for Christ kicked off the construction project.

“Area car club activities,” Altoona (Pa.) Mirror (May 29, 2009). Woodbury (Pa.) Church of the Brethren held a Motorcycle Cruise-in and Pig Roast on May 30. “Riders can cruise in on their motorcycles huge hogs, choppers, 3-wheelers, or scooters are all welcome or just come to see the variety of cycles and enjoy the fun,” said the newspaper announcement.

“Husband-and-wife team pastor Carlisle church,” Carlisle (Pa.) Sentinel (May 28, 2009). Jim and Marla Abe are newly installed as co-pastors at Carlisle (Pa.) Church of the Brethren. The newspaper reviews their life and ministry together.

Obituary: Andrew W. Simmons, Staunton (Va.) News Leader (May 27, 2009). Andrew Wesley Simmons, 16, passed away on May 25 at his residence. He was a member of Sangerville Church of the Brethren in Bridgewater, Va. He was a 10th grade student at Fort Defiance High School and was a son of the late Mark Wesley Simmons and Penni LuAnn Michael, who survives him.

See also: “Family and Friends Remember Accidental Shooting Victim,” WHSV Channel 3, Harrisonburg, Va. (May 26, 2009).

Obituary: Phoebe B. Garber, Staunton (Va.) News Leader (May 26, 2009). Phoebe Grace (Botkin) Garber, 88, passed away on May 25 at her home. A memorial service was held at Timberville (Va.) Church of the Brethren. She was marriage in 1943 to Virgil Lamar Garber, who preceded her in death in 2006. Her nursing career began at Waynesboro Hospital, and she also worked as a nurse in Presque Isle, Maine; and as a night care nurse in the Rockingham County area until 1963.

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