By Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
Church of the Brethren membership in the United States and Puerto Rico is just over 87,000, according to the statistical report in the 2022 Church of the Brethren Yearbook, published by Brethren Press. The 2022 edition–published late last year–includes the 2021 statistical report and the 2022 directory for the denomination.
This is the most recent official reporting of denominational statistics including statistics on congregations, districts, Annual Conference agencies, church-related colleges and universities, and Bethany Theological Seminary. The statistical section relies on self-reporting by each of those bodies, which means Yearbook figures are approximate. 2021 statistics reflect reports returned by 445 or 50 percent of the local worshiping communities (congregations, fellowships, and new church projects).
The directory portion of the Yearbook includes listings and contact information for congregations, districts, ministers, and more.
Denominations that are part of the Global Church of the Brethren Communion outside the US and Puerto Rico are not included in the directory or statistical report.
The Church of the Brethren Yearbook is published annually by Brethren Press as a searchable PDF document. Find out more at www.brethren.org/yearbook. The 2022 Yearbook, which is the most current edition, may be purchased for $28.99 at www.brethrenpress.com/SearchResults.asp?Cat=70.
Find inspiring stories from Church of the Brethren congregations, and stories of Brethren taking seriously the call to be “Jesus in the Neighborhood,” at www.brethren.org/church/#church-stories.
Numbers for 2021
The Yearbook reported 87,181 members in 24 districts and 887 local worshiping communities (congregations, fellowships, and new church projects) in 2021. This represents a net loss of 4,427 members over the previous year.
The number of local worshiping communities included 852 congregations, 23 fellowships, and 12 new church projects.
Average worship attendance for the denomination was reported as 23,164.
Shenandoah District, with 13,208 members, and Atlantic Northeast District, with 10,501 members, were reported as the two largest districts in 2021. The next largest memberships were reported by Virlina District, with 8,570 members, and Mid-Atlantic District, with 8,030 members. No other districts reported having more than 8,000 members in 2021.
Of the smaller districts, 6 had memberships less than 1,000: Pacific Northwest, with 767 members; Southeastern, with 610 members; Idaho and Western Montana, with 429 members; Puerto Rico, with 339 members; Missouri and Arkansas, with 332 members; and Southern Plains, with 328 members.
Only 2 districts out of the 24 reported increases in membership in 2021: Northern Plains reported gaining 39 members for a total of 1,860; and Pacific Northwest reported gaining 4 members for a total of 767.
Only 1 district–Atlantic Southeast–reported an increase in the number of local worshiping communities, gaining 1 for a total of 21 in 2021.
In 2021, 6 districts reported more than 50 local worshiping communities (only active local worshiping communities, and no meeting points, are included in these numbers):
— Shenandoah reported 96 local worshiping communities.
— Virlina reported 90.
— Atlantic Northeast reported 68.
— Mid-Atlantic reported 59.
— Middle Pennsylvania reported 54.
— Western Pennsylvania reported 53.
Comparisons over the years
The statistical report includes a comparison of total denominational membership over 5 years from 2017 to 2021:
— In 2017, denominational membership was 109,259, representing a net loss of 2,172 over 2016.
— In 2018, denominational membership was 104,446, representing a net loss of 4,813 over 2017.
— In 2019, denominational membership was 98,680, representing a net loss of 5,766 over 2018.
— In 2020, denominational membership was 91,608, representing a net loss of 7,072 over 2019.
— In 2021, denominational membership was 87,181, representing a net loss of 4,427 over 2020.
To compare denominational membership over more than a decade, for 2008 the Yearbook reported a total membership of 124,408–the first time since the 1920s that Church of the Brethren membership fell below 125,000. In 2008, 66.2 percent of congregations reported (www.brethren.org/news/2009/newsline-for-june-3-2009).
From 2017 to 2021, the largest losses of members were reported by 5 districts that each lost more than 2,000 members: Atlantic Northeast, Southern Ohio and Kentucky, Western Pennsylvania, Southeastern, and West Marva.
A comparison of the denomination’s total number of local worshiping communities, from 2017 to 2021:
— In 2017, the total number of local worshiping communities was 999 (953 congregations, 35 fellowships, 11 new church starts), representing a net loss of 16 over the previous year.
— In 2018, the total number of local worshiping communities was 994 (953 congregations, 33 fellowships, 8 new church starts), representing a net loss of 5 over the previous year.
— In 2019, the total number of local worshiping communities was 978 (935 congregations, 33 fellowships, 10 new church starts), representing a net loss of 16 over the previous year
— In 2020, the total number of local worshiping communities was 915 (874 congregations, 29 fellowships, 12 new church starts), representing a net loss of 63 over the previous year.
— In 2021, the total number of local worshiping communities was 887 (852 congregations, 23 fellowships, 12 new church starts), representing a net loss of 28 over the previous year.
From 2017 to 2021, 5 districts reported double-digit decreases in numbers of local worshiping communities (only active local worshiping communities, and no meeting points, are included in these numbers):
— Southeastern reported a decrease of 30, from 43 in 2017, to 13 in 2021.
— West Marva reported a decrease of 23, from 62 in 2017, to 39 in 2021.
— Atlantic Northeast reported a decrease of 14, from 82 in 2017, to 68 in 2021.
— Western Pennsylvania reported a decrease of 14, from 67 in 2017, to 53 in 2021.
— Southern Pennsylvania reported a decrease of 10, from 44 in 2017, to 34 in 2021.
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 a number of congregations have joined a split-off group, others have gone independent.
— Yearbook staff James Miner contributed to this report. Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford is director of News Services for the Church of the Brethren.
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