More Protestant churches closing than opening – and understanding the bigger patterns

One source suggests more Protestant churches are closing than are opening:

Photo by Luis Quintero on Pexels.com

About 4,500 Protestant churches closed in 2019, the last year data is available, with about 3,000 new churches opening, according to Lifeway Research. It was the first time the number of churches in the US hadn’t grown since the evangelical firm started studying the topic. With the pandemic speeding up a broader trend of Americans turning away from Christianity, researchers say the closures will only have accelerated…

“In the last three years, all signs are pointing to a continued pace of closures probably similar to 2019 or possibly higher, as there’s been a really rapid rise in American individuals who say they’re not religious.”

The rest of the article deals with why this is happening and what happens to these buildings.

For this post, I am more interested in putting the cited numbers in context. Here are different aspects of this:

  1. As cross-sectional numbers (first sentence above), it is hard to know what do with these figures. In 2019, more Protestant churches closed than opened. This is a one year figure.
  2. Looking at trends over time is useful. The next sentence above says this is the first time that more congregations have closed than opened since Lifeway started tracking this. So this is a reversal or change to a larger trend? How long has anyone tracked this? Is it assumed that it is good or normal that more churches open than close each year?
  3. As noted above, there are fewer people claiming religious affiliation. Are there additional factors involved, such as a shift of attendees toward larger congregations?
  4. Are there other data sources for the number of churches and what does their data show?

With the attention that is paid to the declining number of religious Americans, it would be helpful to continue to look at the corresponding organizational changes including changes in the number of congregations.

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