Unique Pittsburgh-area ministry succeeds in area despite nationwide drop in church-going attendance
Joe McCullough didn't always attend church regularly.
“There came a point when my wife said, ‘You better start setting an example for your kids,' ” said McCullough, 62, of Coraopolis.
These days, McCullough, president of the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Knights of Columbus, attends church every week, sometimes two Masses in a weekend.
He is among a growing minority of regular church-goers, despite a recent uptick in interest in religion, studies show.
More than 60 percent of Americans say they are members of a church or synagogue. “The Bible,” the History Channel's 10-part Easter miniseries, drew record audiences. The March 13 election of Pope Francis energized Roman Catholics around the world.
Yet few Americans actually sit in pews each week.
“Short-term, immediate events can generate interest but don't have long-term consequences,” said Mark Chaves, Duke University professor of sociology, religion and divinity and director of the National Congregations Study.
The dropping attendance rates stem from fundamental demographic changes and what Chaves calls “declining religious socialization.”
“The percentage of people who did not attend church as a child has been steadily increasing,” he said. “More of them grew up in religiously inactive households.”
Also climbing is the number of Americans who do not identify with any religion, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. One-fifth of the U.S. public — and a third of adults under 30 — are religiously unaffiliated, the highest percentage ever in Pew Research polling.
Dwindling attendance led to the formation of a unique ministry in Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh Lutheran Urban Ministries, founded in 2004 by the Rev. John Gropp and the Rev. Beth Siefert, enables small, struggling or pastor-less churches to pool financial support and offer joint worship, outreach and fellowship.
Three full-time and one part-time pastors perform two services each on Sundays at seven Lutheran churches stretched between East Liberty, the South Hills, Duquesne and Carnegie.
“Attendance has stabilized and we're seeing some growth,” said Siefert, pastor at St. Andrew Lutheran Church in East Carnegie.
Other churches are taking notice.
“We've been contacted by the national (Lutheran) church and the Methodists,” said Siefert. “It's a grand experiment and we're still experimenting.”
Over the past 40 years, self-reported church attendance declined among Catholics, though Protestants fared a little better.
The share of Catholics who say they attend Mass at least once a week dropped from 47 percent in 1974 to 24 percent in 2012; the number of Protestants attending church once a week went from 29 percent in 1974 to 38 percent last year.
Overall, 39 percent of Pennsylvanians said they attended church services at least once a week, Pew said. Fifty-six percent said they pray daily.
Other researchers put attendance even lower. Just 20.6 percent of Americans go to church every week, according to the 2012 General Social Survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.
All Saints Parish in Masontown, Fayette County, is bucking that trend — for now, said the Rev. John Butler, pastor to the mainly blue-collar and older parishioners.
“The demographics here are not in our favor for the future,” he said. “No one is moving here.”
The parish's four weekend Masses draw about 1,200 people.
“It's not standing-room-only, but they're filled,” Butler said.
Craig Smith is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5646 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pennsylvania Gov. Wolf: ‘Theatrics’ holding up budget
- Pennsylvania Senate defeats tax overhaul plan
- Bucks County tells state: No budget, no tax payments
- Philly traffic stop turns violent; trooper shot in shoulder
- Western Pa. community colleges struggle for relevancy as enrollment falls
- Pa. Supreme Court’s tarnished rep tough on sole female justice
- Amish man runs Harrisburg marathon in his traditional clothing
- Philly DA says training helped prosecutors named in scandal