FWCC Census of Friends Shows Declines, but More Research is Needed

The Friends World Committee for Consultation collects membership data from yearly meetings around the world. Initial research from the most recent 2021 census suggests a decline of 24% in the number of Friends meetings and churches in the United States between 2010 and 2020. In addition, in that 10 year period there was a 12% decline in individual members and attenders, and an undocumented rise in Meetings that have no physical location and are held virtually. 

Every ten years, FWCC Section of the Americas assists the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies (ASARB) to conduct the US Religion Census. This is separate from the federal government’s population census, yet aims to be just as comprehensive in its reporting on religious congregations in the United States. Due to the pandemic, the data collection for the 2020 US Religion Census extended into early 2022.

From November 2021 until January 2022, FWCC gathered data on Friends of all branches throughout the United States. When possible, we received data on local congregations from the Yearly Meeting to which they belong. When that proved difficult, we contacted the local meetings themselves. Among the data we requested were counts of members and attenders. Some meetings reported both of these figures; some only reported one or the other. Some meetings didn’t report any figures at all.

So, here are the important things to keep in mind as we look at this data:

  • While we did our best to contact Friends, there may be congregations that were not counted. 
  • Much of the data we collected came from Yearly Meeting offices. In some cases, local congregations hadn’t submitted updated counts to those offices for a year or two.
  • Among some Yearly Meetings that have split in the past ten years, we encountered some confusion about who was keeping track of membership data. We noticed that some meetings we know still exist weren’t reported at all.
  • FWCC plans to continue this research and analysis in the coming year.

With those things in mind, here is a comparison of the 2010 and 2020 counts for Meetings:

FWCC is raising funds to further this work, identify trends, and build new online resources for Friends. In order to promote healthy growth in the future, Quakers need to understand our truth today. 

A version of this article will appear in New York Yearly Meeting’s Spark to be released in September.