This past week the 2010 Orthodox Census was released as part of a larger study of Congregation Study. There are some very interesting findings in this report. Although membership numbers do not always tell the strength of a church it is important to note how many of us there actually are.
This study, which can be found here, gives information on the following items:
1. Parishes and monastic communities in American Orthodox Christian Churches including the so-called Oriental Orthodox Christian Churches.
2. Church “adherents” the most inclusive category of church membership which includes children and anyone participating even occasionally in church life.
3. Church “regular attendees” the persons attending church on a regular basis.
The information was gathered directly from the parishes and not from the HQ’s of the Jurisdictions. Numbers are a funny thing and depending on who is asking depends on the answers to the questions. I am sure there is a percentage of error here with the numbers but for the most part it looks like it is spot on.
Let’s get to the data and some observations.
The survey show there is 1,044,000 adherents of the Orthodox Church in the United States. This number is significantly lower than the usual five million number we usually here. I have heard in the past for example that the Greek Archdiocese has a million adherents as does the Orthodox Church in America (OCA). So where did 4 million people go? Well I think we are seeing the real number now in this survey.
Last year a denominational survey was taken and it showed that Orthodox Christians made up less than one percent of the entire population of the USA, so the one million number would make more sense.
American Orthodox Christians worship in 2,380 local churches and represent 20 different national Orthodox Church bodies. Again, this number seems more realistic with an average parish size of 438 versus an average parish size of 2,100 if we use the five million number. Now I have not been to all 2,380 Orthodox parishes in the USA but I find it hard to believe the average size is 2,100! That’s individuals not families.
In the last 10 years the Orthodox Church in the USA has grown by 16 percent. Now there is no data available as to what this growth looks like. For example, my Archdiocese the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese in the Americas has grown 121% in the same time period. The Archdiocese grew from 14 parishes in 2000 to 31 in 2010 in the USA. All of those parishes are filled with immigrants from Romania who were already Orthodox. I would be interested in the growth by non Orthodox that is where the money is, so to speak. People who change churches from one Orthodox Church to another are not considered growth, it is growth but it is transfer growth. The growth of a church should be measured by the number of new Christians the Church has.
The most staggering number is the percentage of adherents that actually attend church on a regular basis. This number came by asking the parishes the number of people who attend on a typical Sunday. Now this leaves much to interpretation on what a typical Sunday is. However, according to the survey, 27% of Orthodox Christians in the USA attend Church on a regular basis. In my parish my average is 26.25% of my adherents attend Church. This is not on a typical Sunday this is all year. Last year I counted each of the Sundays we worshipped, excluding Easter, and came up with an average of 35 people. I have 75 names on a list that would be 26.25% that number is way too low. We can do better.
Another interesting fact is that the largest population of Orthodox Christians in the USA lives in just 5 states. California (14.5%), New York (13.5%), Illinois (7.2%), New Jersey (6.9%), and Massachusetts (5.9%). Cool, Massachusetts made the list!
It would appear from the survey that the Orthodox Church is in the same position as many other Christian Churches in the USA; we have low numbers of people who attend on a regular basis. I would be interested in a survey as to why the 73% does not attend church. That is the important group, not that the ones who come on Sunday are not important, but they are there.
This fall the Roman Catholic Church launched a media campaign called “Come Home to the Catholic Church” or something along those lines. Maybe we need to do the same thing.
When I came here to this parish more than six years ago, we had a discussion about how to increase church membership. I remarked that we need to get the parishioners to come to church, and then the growth will come from that! If we can get the ones we already have to come to church, the church will be in a much healthier place, and then we can focus on those from without.
Any thoughts on the numbers?