Sunday, October 18, 2009

Crunching the Red Book: 2007

Now that the 2007 Red Book numbers are out, it's time to apply the analysis I performed for the 2006 data. This year I've decided to make a longitudinal comparison for 2004-2007, the years for which data is available on-line.

What is most striking to me is the utter consistency of the numbers. The rates of activities per member (baptisms, marriages, etc.) vary but slightly from year to year, showing a slight decline overall in every category of about 10% over the period. The average rates are as follows:

Baptisms per member: 1.92%
Child: 1.69%
Adult: 0.22%
Receptions: 0.31%
Confirmations: 1.21%
Child: 0.55%
Adult: 0.65%
Marriages: 0.70%
Burials: 1.50%

As before, the rates are in proportion to each other. Burials are a bit more than twice marriages, and the latter is slightly less than child baptisms. The disturbing number, as before, is the departure rate. Baptisms plus receptions together are 50% greater than burials, and adding adult confirmations just makes it worse. Somewhere in excess of six thousand people appear to leave the Episcopal Church every year, or about 2.6% of the total membership; this contrasts with average net losses each year of about 1.9% of the membership.

So who is leaving? The conventional wisdom is that it happens soon after teens leave home. puzzling this out of the data is difficult. It's reasonable to assume that child baptisms roughly represent births to Episcopalian parents, and these happen at over the replacement rate at about 2.4 baptisms per marriage. (Note that there is an error possibility here, because of course not all Episcopalians marry within the church. I'm assuming for the moment that marriages that take people out of the church are balanced by marriages that bring people into the church; I'll account for that assumption in a moment.) Now, according to the CDC, about 10% of the population who survives to age 15 never marries. This is surprisingly consistent with the marriage to burial rate, although accounting for successive marriages would lead to a lower expected rate of burials to marriages. Another factor here is that people who are dying now were generally married a long time ago, mostly when the church was quite a bit larger. There actually should be a substantial excess of burials to marriages. Therefore there does seem to be a large outflow of people who have had children and then left. Probably the larger outflow is those that leave before marrying, but at the moment I haven't figured a way to puzzle this out of the data. One of the contributors to this rate is people who marry out of the church (e.g., to Catholics-- we generally would lose these marriages and the subsequent child baptisms to the Catholic church).

At any rate, the evidence is clear: poor retention is what is causing the church to decline.

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