BCA Discusses Declining Membership Strategies

Updated: Dec 27, 2020

“What every temple has to do is find what’s going to work for you. Find out

what’s important for the growth of your temple and find that balance — the

balance with your existing Sangha and bringing in the potential members.”

BCA President-Elect Terri Omori of the Vista Buddhist Temple


For the first time in its history, the BCA Executive Committee devoted an

entire meeting on the elephant-in-the-room issue of declining membership

at its temples and churches — and heard several presentations on

strategies aimed at reversing the trend. And while Bishop Rev. Marvin Harada emphasized the BCA has “got to address this membership decline issue first” by tackling it “head-on,” he expressed optimism about increasing membership.

"As the new Bishop, it is my goal to turn this curve around during my term

of office — but it’s going to take the effort of all of us, ministers, leaders and

members,” Rev. Harada said, noting that the BCA is looking at

implementing the effort in the post-pandemic period. “Let’s make Shin

Buddhism a thriving Buddhist tradition in this country for decades to come.”

The Buddhist Churches of America’s membership woes are in line with the

national trend affecting other, larger religions, including Protestants and

Catholics, according to the Pew Research Center. Since 2010, Protestants

have declined 16% and Catholics by 13%.

However, the BCA’s problems are more pronounced. From 2010 to 2020, it

has seen a 28% decline in membership, from 16,994 members to the

current 12,200. Over that same time, the BCA’s total budget has increased

29%, from $1.43 million to $1.85 million.

And, in Japan, with the Nishi Hongwanji in Kyoto, the situation is more dire,

according to Rev. Harada. Of its 10,000 temples, fully one-third may be

shuttered in the next decade, he said.

Issue Takes Center Stage

The Buddhist Church of America’s membership concerns took center stage

at a Nov. 22 BCA Executive Committee Zoom meeting, which was

attended by about 90 people.

The wide-ranging discussion, strategies, and recommendations included

presentations from: Vice President Glenn Inanaga of the Orange County

Buddhist Church; President-Elect Terri Omori of the Vista Buddhist Temple;

Spokane Buddhist Temple President Celeste Sterrett and Minister’s

Assistant Amanda Goodwin; Berkeley Buddhist Temple President Bradley

Menda; and Rev. Jon Turner of the Orange County Buddhist Church.

“It (membership) is the foundation of the BCA, as sensei (Rev. Harada)

said,” said Inanaga, who presented the membership metrics in PowerPoint.

“It supports our temples, it determines our dues and it is a measurement of

our success. And, finally, it is a key performance indicator much like any

other business or any other charitable organization, which should be

monitored and measured constantly.”

Inanaga said membership is a BCA national issue because the impact is

being felt by all of the BCA districts, ranging from a 0% percent reduction in

membership in the Northern California District and a 2% drop in the

Southern District to a 21% decline for both the Central California and the

Eastern districts.

Consequently, BCA assessment per member has risen by 80% over the

past decade compared with a 19% increase in inflation, reflected in the

Consumer Price Index, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The average BCA membership assessment was $84.13 in 2010; it’s now