Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Why The Episcopal church Is Not Worried About a Declining Membership

The headlines last week did not bode well for the future of the Episcopal organization. Jeff Walton posted a review of the latest statistics which show a continued drop in memberships and average Sunday attendance with smaller parish size and therefore fewer paying customers for an aging clergy.

"The denomination continues to see church size shrink, with the average Episcopal parish attracting 58 worshipers on a Sunday, down from an average of 65 in 2011. Similarly, 71 percent of the denomination’s churches have an attendance of fewer than 100 persons, while less than 4 percent attract 300 or more. The trend lines do not bode well for the future, with 55 percent of congregations experiencing decline of 10% or greater in the past five years. In contrast, only 18 percent of congregations grew their attendance by 10 percent in the same time span. As a whole, the denomination has experienced a 26 percent drop in attendance since 2005."
The Episcopalians don't seem to be particularly worried about the decline, and do not appear to have a plan to increase their numbers. Any other organization would be scrambling to create a new strategic plan, retraining of the employees in new ways of growing the church would be next, the board of directors would be calling for the CEO's head, and the stockholders would be demanding a new board of directors.

So what is it with Episcopalians that they don't seem to care? I have started a list of possible explanations:

1) Because they believe that they are right about same sex marriage, gender neutral language, etc. This attitude leads to an air of superiority and a belief that the rest of the world will eventually come around and endorse all of the Episcopal innovations.

2)Because they have enough money in trust funds ($355,969,542 as noted in my last post).

3) Because the clergy have enough money in their pension funds. (As of September 30, 2014, those assets stood at $11.8 billion (unaudited)). See page 6 of this General Convention report.

4) Because fewer seminary graduates will suffice for the fewer churches and all those older retired priests will have plenty of work filling in the gaps.

5) Because it is the troublemakers who are leaving and the old conservatives who are dying off, and this leads to a safe club for those who want to push the progressive agenda.

6) Because many clergy are going to retire soon and it won't be their problem anymore.
When last I checked,
"the typical (median) rector, vicar or priest-in-charge is 59 years of age and was called to his or her congregation in 2009 (note: survey was completed in mid-2014)"  (Episcopal organization publication p.4).
7) Most Episcopalians never were taught that they are supposed to go out and make disciples. Of course, when you are given a false gospel to spread, you are going to have a hard time building a following.

8) Most Episcopalians are blissfully unaware of the trouble they are in.

I am sure readers can add to this list and should feel free to do so, but don't expect anything we point out to be taken to heart by the Episcopal organization. You can't say they haven't been given a chance to pull out of the tail spin before they crash and burn.


  1. Spot on with each point and have come to the same conclusion on most. I'm working in my diocese to investigate and develop a strategy to reverse these trends. I'm shocked by the headwind I'm encountering particularity from the the diocesan upper leadership and even denial that the trend exists. During a meeting diocesan council meeting I mentioned the long term decline only to be met with scathing rebuke from an officer who said the stats for wrong. Others nodded in support. All this in spite of pointing out that the diocese generated those numbers. I do agree that to many clergy either don't care or are complacent knowing that there pensions and salaries are secured.

    1. The response from your diocese council is exactly what I have seen at all levels of TEc when these issues are raised. If only the blind could see...