The Mortality Rate of Congregations

Sam Rainer

June 18, 2008

The Christian Post recently reported on a study from the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion that revealed the “mortality rate” of religious congregations in the U.S.

According to the study, religious congregations (various churches, synagogues, and mosques from a range denominations) have a mortality rate of 1 percent. This rate means that for every 1,000 congregations, about 10 die each year.

When compared to the 5 percent average mortality rate of other volunteer-based organizations, religious congregations had the lowest rate of dying each year.

This quote from the report further expounded upon the findings:

Despite the low rate of closures, Duke Univesity professor Mark Chaves cautioned that it could mean that “weak congregations limp along rather than die, whereas in other organizational populations weak units die rather than live on in a weakened state.”

“The main difference between congregations doomed to disband and congregations destined for revival is a willingness to adapt, to alter their congregational identity in response to change in the communities in which they are located. And whether a congregation is willing to adapt depends largely on the outcome of conflict between advocates of the status quo and advocates of change,” the researchers stated.

It’s an academic spin on what many of us know anecdotally. But what’s your take? A mortality rate of 1 percent seemed low to me, but perhaps it is due to the eclectic representation of congregations.

One comment on “The Mortality Rate of Congregations”

  1. I would guess that NAMB has a different set of #’s regarding churches that close their doors- and a different definition of church as well.
    I pastor a church in the Northwest that I consider healthy- but in terms of showing numerical growth we are barely a blip on the monitor.
    There are multiple reasons- yet health is more comprehensive than a particular set of #’s
    Keep up the good work!

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