Monday, July 24, 2017

The Diocese by the Numbers: Attendance

So, having looked at the diocese in the large, in this round we will be looking at parish attendance. For those who are new to these analyses, I reiterate my disregard of the membership numbers, because they are poorly maintained: they tend to change abruptly when a rector leaves because the interim directs someone to clean up the rolls, but as a rule there isn't much of a correlation between membership and attendance. Besides, parishes are dependent upon activity, not mere membership, and ASA is the best gauge of that activity we have.

First, the averages. Parishes tend to the small side: while the mean attendance in 2015 was 92 people on a Sunday, the median attendance was considerably smaller, at 67 attendees, and the largest parish (St. Anne's Annapolis) has ASA of 491, 50 more than the next largest (St. John's Ellicott City). A bit under three quarters of parishes have under a hundred attending on the average Sunday.

The shrinkage in a decade is striking, because it appears almost across the board. First of all, thirteen parishes closed, while only two were started: St. Hilda's, to replace St. Timothy's Catonsville, and Church in the Square, a mission in Baltimore which is too new to appear in the statistics.Working with the others, we find in 2005 a mean ASA of 120 and a median of 88. Now, this is biased by the losses: even considering the size of St. Tim's (it was a pretty big parish as those things go), most parishes which closed did so because they weren't viable, and therefore could be presumed to fall at the low end; it is likely that the averages for all parishes active in 2005 were someone lower than the calculated values. But the message for those that survived is clear: they showed considerable losses.

And indeed, very few parishes showed any gains, and these were all small parishes. Only thirteen parishes had gains, and all of them had ASA under 100; on a percentage basis, all the large gains were in parishes with small enough attendance to where even gaining a single attendee made a substantial difference. Three parishes showed no change, and all the rest showed losses. The pattern of losses is quite different from that of the gains: the biggest parishes tended to have somewhat smaller losses, but even so, excepting the top ten parishes, the losses are spread out evenly across a range up to 60%, and the number four parish (All Saints Frederick) showed a loss of 42%.

And in absolute numbers, the losses in larger parishes dominated gains (note that the losers on top of the axis in this chart):

There is a distinct geographic pattern to the gains: six of the ten parishes showing substantial percentage gains are to the west, with Harriet Chapel Thurmont the only one east of Catoctin Mountain. By contrast, there is little pattern to the losers, but most of the closures were in or near Baltimore, the exception being in or near Frederick. The largest parishes are central, with two exceptions:

  • St. Anne’s, Annapolis
  • St. John’s, Ellicott City
  • Redeemer, Baltimore
  • St. Margaret’s, Annapolis
  • All Saints, Frederick
  • Cathedral of the Incarnation, Baltimore
  • St. James’, Lafayette Square (Baltimore)
  • Christ Church, Columbia
  • St. Martin’s in-the-Field, Severna Park
  • St. Thomas, Owings Mills
  • St. James, Lothian
  • St. John’s, Hagerstown
Again, the smallest parishes show no particular pattern.

While I cannot, with the data I have, show the closed parishes in the various breakdowns, we do know how much attendance these parishes represented. There is a difference of 565 in attendance between the total for diocese reported in 2005 and the sum for the 104 surviving parishes (omitting Church on the Square). The diocese reported 116 parishes in 2005, so the mean ASA for the departures and closures was about 47; together they represented a bit over 4% of the total. The loss of these parishes accounted for over 15% of the total loss, which was %27 of 2005 ASA; but the surviving parishes, themselves, had a 24% decline.

The overall picture is thus negative in almost every way. We are losing parishes, and our parishes are losing people. Unless the pattern changes dramatically, continued losses will lead to continued closures.

In the next post: money.

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