Church of the Brethren Yearbook for 2021 includes 2020 statistical information for the denomination

By Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

Church of the Brethren membership in the United States and Puerto Rico is just over 91,000, according to the most recent statistical report in the 2021 Church of the Brethren Yearbook from Brethren Press. The 2021 Yearbook–published last fall–includes the 2020 statistical report and the 2021 directory for the denomination.

The directory features detailed information about Church of the Brethren structure and leadership including listings of congregations, districts, ministers, and more. The statistical report on membership, worship attendance, giving, and more derives from self-reporting by congregations. Over recent decades, the number of congregations that report has fallen off. The 2020 statistics reflect the reports returned by 481 or 52 percent of the churches in the denomination, which means Yearbook figures are approximate.

The Church of the Brethren Yearbook is published annually as a searchable document in pdf format. The 2021 Yearbook may be purchased for $24.95 at www.brethrenpress.com/SearchResults.asp?Cat=70. The 2021 edition includes the 2021 directory for the denomination and the 2020 statistical report.

Find inspiring stories from Church of the Brethren congregations at www.brethren.org/church/#church-stories.

Denominations that are part of the Global Church of the Brethren Communion outside the US and Puerto Rico are not included in the Yearbook directory or statistical report.

The Church of the Brethren Yearbook is published annually as a searchable document in pdf format. It may be purchased for $24.95 at www.brethrenpress.com/SearchResults.asp?Cat=70.

Statistics from 2020

The Yearbook reported 91,608 members in 24 districts and 915 local worshiping communities (congregations, fellowships, and new church projects) across the Church of the Brethren denomination in 2020. This represents a net loss of 7,072 members over the previous year.

Average worship attendance for the denomination was reported as 30,247.

The number of local worshiping communities in the denomination included 874 congregations, 29 fellowships, and 12 new church projects.

Comparisons over the years

The statistical report includes a comparison over five years, revealing that a decades-long gradual slide in membership is increasing year-on-year:

— In 2016, denominational membership was 111,413, a net loss of 1,225 over 2015.

— In 2017, the net membership loss increased to 2,172.

— In 2018, the net loss more than doubled to 4,813.

— In 2019, the net loss increased to 5,766.

— In 2020, the net loss was 7,072.

To compare total membership over a “baker’s dozen” years, for 2008 the Yearbook reported a total membership of 124,408. In 2008, when the Church of the Brethren celebrated its 300th anniversary, the denomination for the first time since the 1920s recorded a membership total below 125,000. In 2008, 66.2 percent of congregations reported (www.brethren.org/news/2009/newsline-for-june-3-2009).

A comparison of the number of local worshiping communities over five years reveals an annual loss, sharply increased in 2020:

— In 2016, there was a net loss of 6 local worshiping communities over the previous year, for a total of 1,015.

— In 2017, the net loss increased to 16.

— In 2018, the net loss was 5.

— In 2019, there was another net loss of 16.

— In 2020, the net loss was 63.

The loss of local worshiping communities represents those that have become inactive or have been closed by their districts (usually because of insurmountable membership losses or financial difficulties) and those that have left the denomination. While some congregations that left in recent years were influenced by a split-off group, others chose to go independent.

In the last couple of years, the largest losses of congregations have happened in just a few districts with three–Western Pennsylvania, West Marva, and Southeastern–each losing from a dozen to more than 20 congregations.

In 2021, two districts continued to lose numbers of congregations

Two of the 24 districts continued to lose numbers of congregations in 2021, in statistical reporting that will be published in the Church of the Brethren Yearbook for 2022. Typically, closing or leaving congregations are reported to or confirmed by district conferences in the summer or fall and then reported to the Yearbook office, which keeps the official listing of congregations.

West Marva and Western Pennsylvania are the two districts that reported a loss of more than just a few congregations in 2021: 14 congregations closed or left West Marva in 2021, and 9 closed or left Western Pennsylvania in 2021, according to preliminary reports from the Yearbook office. The other 22 districts each reported 3 or fewer congregations closing or leaving in 2021.

More district statistics

Shenandoah District, with 13,253 members, and Atlantic Northeast District, with 10,683 members, were reported as the two largest districts and the only with more than 10,000 members in 2020. Atlantic Northeast reported the largest total worship attendance of 4,348 followed by Shenandoah at 3,922. No other district reported an average worship attendance of more than 3,000.

Of the smaller districts, 6 had a membership of less than 1,000 in 2020: Pacific Northwest with 763 members, Southeastern with 794, Southern Plains with 469, Idaho and Western Montana with 437, Missouri and Arkansas with 343, and Puerto Rico with 339.

— Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford is director of News Services for the Church of the Brethren and associate editor of Messenger magazine. James Miner in the Yearbook Office contributed to this report.

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