The Interim Report of the House of Deputies Committee on the State of the Episcopal Church

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Fact:

• Almost half (49%) of our parishes and missions have an Average Sunday Attendance (ASA) of 70 or less. The norm - nearly two-thirds (63%) of Episcopal congregations--
has an ASA of 100 or less.

Read it very carefully and read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalEpiscopal Church (TEC)* Christian Life / Church LifeParish MinistryEvangelism and Church Growth

36 Comments
Posted November 30, 2007 at 5:02 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Athanasius Returns wrote:

Ouch, that New Thang “theology” (NTT) is really already leaving a mark!

November 30, 6:43 am | [comment link]
2. robroy wrote:

Kendall picked out the stat that was most impressive. An ASA of less than 70, with all the controversy in the episcopal church is truly knockin’ on death’s door.

The year 2006 witnessed about a 3% drop in Average Sunday Attendance, compared to 1% in the previous year. An estimated 41% of this drop can be attributed to the departure of congregations or substantial parts of congregations from their dioceses.

As I pointed out over at SF, the 1% figure is deceptive because 2004 wasn’t a Christmas effect year and 2005 was. Apples and oranges. The TEc’s statistician estimates the true ASA drop was around 2.5%. Both 2005 and 2006 were Christmas effect years, so no adjustment is needed. And hey(!), I thought congregations couldn’t leave, only individuals.

The failure of some dioceses to fully support the program of The Episcopal Church at the national level is having a deleterious impact not only upon domestic operations…

Do “domestic operations” include suing other Christians? Apparently not because two lawyers on the Executive council, in response to requests of the retired bishops for financial clarity with regards to costs of litigation, gave no clarity but did say the lawsuits were “an extraordinarily good value.”

Lawyer bishops. Lawyer members of the Executive Council. When I was a teenager, I wanted to be an Episcopal priest. I see now that my problem was that I didn’t go to lawschool.

November 30, 8:01 am | [comment link]
3. Observing wrote:

From the fastfacts mentioned in the report:
                                              2005 2006
                                              ——-———
% of Churches Growing 10%+ in ASA (past 5 years) 22% 20%
% of Churches Declining 10%+ in ASA (past 5 years) 50% 52%

So its not just whole congregations and dioceses leaving, more than half of congregations have lost more than 10% of attendance in the last 5 years, and that percentage is increasing, and only 20% of congregations are showing any real growth.

November 30, 8:39 am | [comment link]
4. AnglicanFirst wrote:

The report resembles the ‘ramblings’ of a substance abuser who is ‘in denial.’

The report alludes to problems but does not adequately describe the causes of those problems nor the specifics of the ‘leadership direction,’ taken by ECUSA’s General Convention and elected leaders that exacerbates those problems.

November 30, 9:09 am | [comment link]
5. Mark Johnson wrote:

This is all certainly disappointing.  However, as I’ve stated before, I don’t believe that because numbers are down means that the church is “wrong.”  If you allow numbers to determine who is right/wrong - then you would have to concede that Islam must be holding to the truth, since it is fast-outpacing Christianity in growth.  I think these are numbers that we Episcopalians should be concerned about for certain.  However, I don’t believe that numbers are everything.

November 30, 9:35 am | [comment link]
6. Knapsack wrote:

Don’t overlook the significance of the debt burden for seminary graduates line item, an astute addition.  Clergy who are white-knuckling their finances due to staggering student loan indebtedness are likely to fall into a passive-aggressive pattern with their congregations, unwilling to challenge the laity (or even lead to some degree), while feeling the obligation to plaster and spackle over any and every conflict for fear of disturbing an unsteady equillibrium.  They know they aren’t speaking honestly and forthrightly, and resent the circumstances that have forced them into radical dependence, not on God, but on the stability of the vestry and their relative contentment from meeting to meeting.  This resentment gets expressed in different ways with different people, but is very often there behind the grim smile, as the budget is painstakingly parsed.  It can erupt in odd bursts of manic energy around things like, oh, MDGs or something like that, since they can’t talk about their own situation—isn’t done, you know.

Which connects to that note about “priest’s leadership style.”

November 30, 9:42 am | [comment link]
7. chips wrote:

Whether the Episcopal Church’s theology is right or wrong is for God’s ulitmate judgement.  However, the numbers do show the liklihood that TEC’s theology is divisive among existing members causing significant numbers to depart and not percieved to be correct or inticing to sufficinet numbers of non-Episcopalians for them to join.

November 30, 9:45 am | [comment link]
8. Rev. Patti Hale wrote:

Two things of note:

#1 3 of the 6 “positive” things the committee notes are: Pension Fund performance, national staff restructure and building rennovations at 815 that benefit “the whole church”  (?)

i.e The positive things have nothing to do with the Gospel

#2 Apparently there is “substantial evidence” that it is “mission” that unites us and not theology. 

Can anyone tell me please how we can divorce our theology from mission?  Once again this asserts that what is most important is not our believing but doing.  I would submit that we can’t even agree on the “doing” since the MDG come from the UN and not TEC.

Finally… the document speaks of great transformational ministry in our ever shrinking congregations….  Hmmmm…. examples please.

November 30, 10:11 am | [comment link]
9. David Keller wrote:

These guys are now doomed.  SCDME issued the same report in 2004.  Dr. Crew personally killed 20/20 as a result even though GC had made 20/20 the #2 funding priority for TEC.  SCDME was then flooded with revisionists and totally marginalized. (As an aside, you may want to note that while the HoB relies on our peculiar polity to ignore Dar es Saleem, when they don’t like what GC did they just ignore it and/or defund it).  It is interesting also, that while John Guernsey was the chair of SCDME, Evangelism was the stated #1 priority of the Episcopal Church.  While the State of the Church folks want to make it a priority again, history is agianst them—or to be absolutely blunt—it will never happen. The leadership of TEC is scared to death of real Christian Evangelism.  Dr.Crew noted as early as 2001 that in Evangelism he “smelled a rat”.  He merely reflected the thinking of the vast majority of our “leadership”.

November 30, 10:26 am | [comment link]
10. robroy wrote:

And Rev Patti, the touted increase in ERDF was due to Katrina givings. Perhaps we might wish for more natural disasters so that the ERDF giving remains high?

As to Knapsack’s pointing out the issue of seminarian debt. Anyone who incurs significant debt with the intent to go into Episcopal ministry seriously needs to have his or head examined. With plummeting church rolls, the already bloated numbers of Episcopalian clergy will reach ridiculous levels, say 2 priests for every lay members?

November 30, 10:35 am | [comment link]
11. David Keller wrote:

#5—As another marginalized Episcopalian, Bp. Dan Herzog, once said, “any farmer can tell you—if it ain’t growing, its dead.”

November 30, 10:35 am | [comment link]
12. DRLina wrote:

The report did not mention any improvement in the very low pensions which lay people receive.

November 30, 11:52 am | [comment link]
13. Albany* wrote:

Wasn’t there suppose to be a flood of new membership after 2003? Didn’t we hear that said at the highest levels—even the prior BP? And Spong, didn’t he say something about how Christianity must “change or die.” The patient just doesn’t seem to be responding.

November 30, 12:21 pm | [comment link]
14. Br. Michael wrote:

18, not so.  God will do the ultimate weeding out.  But Paul says in tounge lashing the Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 5:9-13   9 I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.  11 But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.  12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?  13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you.”

Paul is pointing out that as a holy people a royal preasthood Christians are expected to have a high standard of sexual and other morality.

November 30, 1:12 pm | [comment link]
15. Billy wrote:

To get back on topic from messing with the troll, can anyone tell me about this committee that issued this report?  Is it a reappraising group?  What is its purpose?  Does anyone pay any attention to it in the hierchy of the church?
If it is made up of reappraisers (and one member resigned - anyone know why?), this would seem to be a rather sobering report to the PB and to the Pres of the HOD ... i.e., things are not going well at all under your watch and they seem to be going from bad to worse, except for the giving for Katrina victims last year.

November 30, 1:45 pm | [comment link]
16. Sarah1 wrote:

Hey Billy—since it is a committee of the church, it is broadly made up of revisionists.

November 30, 1:50 pm | [comment link]
17. Br. Michael wrote:

All right Doubtful, try this:
Matthew 18:15-17   15 “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.  16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’  17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
The point is we have the ability to discern immorality and disobedience to God’s word.  We can then take some form of corrective action.  The idea that you seem to be advancining that Scripture condons immorality and sinful living is simply not true.  It’s just that reappraisers don’t like what Scripture asserts as morality.  They assert their own morality and are quick to judge and discipline when that is violated.

November 30, 1:56 pm | [comment link]
18. Rob Eaton+ wrote:

On Jesus’ parable in Mt. 13 and Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians (and Romans, etc.)

The Kingdom of heaven is like this:  God will not obliterate a sinner while here on earth, only because he or she has sinned, and so we also must be patient.  The sinner’s final judgment will come at the last day, with everyone else.
Paul is not contra.  He agrees with Jesus (which comes with the territory of being inspired by the Holy Spirit), that you can tell the difference between a stalk of Tare and a stalk of Wheat.  The Wheat is living in the Spirit; the Tare is not, and Paul describes what that looks like.
Pray and work for the Tares to be transformed into Spirit-fed Wheat.  That’s evangelism.

RGEaton

November 30, 1:59 pm | [comment link]
19. Rob Eaton+ wrote:

David Keller,
I was thinking the same thing about the report issued in 2004.  The ratio, for instance, of small congregations to large congregations has not significantly changed.  And TEC 815 leadership has been unwilling to accept the reality of decline except in such ratios—at least not until Kirk Hadaway’s devastating membership reports.  I think they’ve been in shell shock, and trying to pin a litigation bandaid on the ” no loss of congregation” strategy, which only pushes more people out, and the ASA down.  The last section of this report is the most current part, and reflects the dawning.  I believe Minnesota’s report is very important for this very reason.  It has been a poster child of the new TEC.  My, did we see through a glass darkly.  And childish things must pass away.
  I’m not sure Louie did the killing alone.  But I think we would agree that the sudden surge of enthusiasm for the 20/20 Goal—which for many deputies wasn’t as much about the big, hairy, audacious goal being presented, as it was that anybody was actually interested in evangelism at all at that level!— caused Louie and crew to see a swing of momentum away from their agenda to something else, and, with fear and abandon and much skill, they thus worked to rectify that situation by undercutting it.
For me, as someone working to affirm the goal, it was disheartening to know that people like John Guernsey, Kevin Martin, Hugh Magers, and others would not now be heading up a major evangelistic push in TEC.
Revival would not come from the top down—it will come from the pew up.

RGEaton

November 30, 2:21 pm | [comment link]
20. Albeit wrote:

The report did not mention any improvement in the very low pensions which lay people receive.

“Lay people?” Try many of the clergy as well. They’ve gotta hold onto that money, just in case!!???  I find it interesting that the Pension Fund at the end of 2006 had over $8 billion in assets against $4.7 billion in required reserves (Check out http://download.cpg.org/home/publications/pdf/2006AnnualReport.pdf  pg. #6) 

It all adds up to a pathetic level of support for the TEC clergy and laity who are enrolled, considering the massive resources possessed by the Fund. Well, at least this can free up 815 to use some of it to thin out the clergy numbers by redirecting some of those resources toward efforts (as in litigations) aimed at forcing select clergy out of the Church and the Pension Fund. That should really enhance the resources to recipient ratio, to the benefit of all of the Revisionists who are left.

Should anyone be surprised that 815 would use the CPF to leverage and even fund its “innovative” agenda?

November 30, 4:21 pm | [comment link]
21. C. Wingate wrote:

I’m leery of trying to make sense of the small parish size numbers. What is striking is the admission that strife is causing real losses, to the point of them being even willing to put hard numbers on the losses.

November 30, 4:50 pm | [comment link]
22. Rob Eaton+ wrote:

doubtfully,
Not quite what I said, nor what I was saying Jesus and Paul are saying.
Nor is what you said about “banning”, etc., quite right.

RGEaton

November 30, 4:57 pm | [comment link]
23. MargaretG wrote:

I was fascinated by the frankness of this sentence:

The consecration of the Bishop of NH, Parish finances, and the priest’s leadership style were frequently mentioned as sources of conflict in 2005.

It is not just the fact that the Bishop of NH is mentioned—but that he is first on a very short list. I thought “All is Well” and “Its only a few isolated individuals - a very small group” were the standard lines.

Like #15 Albany* I thought we were assured that the elevation of VGR had brought in a flood of new people, and the said Bishop of NH was able to vouch for it because he had seen it himself.

Finally, this line also suggests “All is Well” may be an “understatement”.

Church center staff turnover has been high, and morale has been problematic”

November 30, 5:40 pm | [comment link]
24. Statmann wrote:

For 99 domestic dioceses the average decline in membership was about 2.7 percent for 1996 through 2002, but the average decline in membership eas 8.3 percent for 2002 through 2006. The loss rate is quite likely accelerating. But when one makes observations about TEC, one must always follow the money. It has been and still is a wealthy church. For these 99 domestic dioceses the average increase in Plate & Pledge was 32.9 percent for 2002 through 2006. Such bounty surpasses inflation and permits generous increases in real dollars. But for these 99 domestic dioceses the average increase in Plate & Pledge was only about 8.8 percent for 2002 through 2006, not even covering inflation. TEC is not accustomed to frugal means and will find a continuation of similar increases quite upsetting. It will be very painful for small parishes which lack the financial means for departing TEC. TEC will continue to have a high percentage of small parishes.    Statmann

November 30, 6:10 pm | [comment link]
25. Ross wrote:

Hmm.

The year 2006 witnessed about a 3% drop in Average Sunday Attendance, compared to 1% in the previous year. An estimated 41% of this drop can be attributed to the departure of congregations or substantial parts of congregations from their dioceses.

From the Episcopal Fast Facts 2006 document that the report references, the ASA drop is from 787,271 in 2005 to 765,326 in 2006—a drop of 21,945, or 2.78%.  If an “estimated 41% of this drop can be attributed to the departure of congregations or substantial parts of congregations from their dioceses,” then they’re figuring that roughly 9,000 people have left as part of departing congregations etc.

9,000 is about 1.2% of the 2006 ASA, just to put that in some perspective.

Overall, this is a pretty sobering report.  As I’ve said all along, if I were 815, it isn’t the “departing congregations” that would be worrying me, it would be the gradually declining long-term numbers and the aging demographics.  I’d be interested to see some age profiles calculated year-to-year, if it were possible to get that data.

It makes me realize just how special my parish is… if what I see in the pews and in Sunday School is any indication, we’ve been growing pretty significantly over the last year or so, and a lot of that growth is families with young children.  Unfortunately, we’re a rare exception in the diocese.

November 30, 6:40 pm | [comment link]
26. The_Elves wrote:

Due to the troll problem on this thread, we’ve deleted 21 comments that appeared here.  Some *may* have been legitimate, but they were the same IP address as the troll, and it’s hard to verify if any were really legitimate comments.

Also, the numbering sequence is now totally kaput.  And there may be comments above that refer to now non-existent comments.  Sorry for the confusion, but the entire thread had become unreadable.

Thanks to those who continued to leave valid and on-topic comments in spite of the craziness earlier.
—elfgirl

November 30, 11:11 pm | [comment link]
27. John Wilkins wrote:

Interesting report.  I don’t think TEC is much different than other mainline churches in suffering from a loss of membership.

But I doubt the decline has much to do with theology.  Correlation does not mean causality - as indicated in another thread.  There are organizational questions that TEC has to consider.  Church growth has little to do with theology:  for example, Saddlback and Joel Osteen simply have very effective sorts of organization.

It focuses the question quite well, however:  who is the Episcopal Church?  What is our mission?  Good questions.

November 30, 11:28 pm | [comment link]
28. Knapsack wrote:

I would not quite agree with John Wilkins, in saying that in an era when American Legions and bowling leagues and German men’s choruses and Soroptomists are all cratering membershipwise, there is not room for a simple conservative/liberal dichotomy.  Plenty of conservative institutions based on membership and formal leadership roles and pledges/dues/member fees (see almost any country club, for instance) is going through a major crisis of aging membership exacerbating lack of new blood and leaders.

Having said that, a vital mission-focused parish with a strong, clear message *in almost any tradition* can grow, even in the Rust Belt.  But the Long Coasting Period (1945-1970) of the American mainline/oldline certainly reaffirmed and calcified some really toxic patterns of congregational life that we can’t seem to dismantle fast enough.  Add the clergy dilemma, and you have a situation very similar to that faced on the fast-growing frontier post-Revolution:  lots of nominally Anglican folk jumped to the tradition that had a strong, clear message tied to a flexible leadership structure that meant they had worship and sacraments more than once a year:  hence the fearsome prevalence of Methodist Churches (two to a block, some stretches) from the Appalachians to the Mississippi.

November 30, 11:47 pm | [comment link]
29. MargaretG wrote:

Hi Elves - I suspect that spammer is back.

I too think that John Wilkins with being a little blind in his comment. But it is a blindness that is frequently found in the mainline protestants. Since the late 1960’s the leaders of the mainline churches have been claiming “we must be “modern” or we will die”—now they are having an enormous issue in coming to terms with the fact that being modern hasn’t stopped them from dying. Interestingly this same catch-cry has been very apparent in the current dispute about the Bishop of New Hampshire in the guise of “we must accept recent scientific evidence ...”

December 1, 12:09 am | [comment link]
30. The_Elves wrote:

Hi Margaret.  Looks to be another troll altogether, different IP address.  She too now is banned.  What on earth is it with this thread that would attract nearly 30 troll/spam comments.  Yikes.

All:  We’re a bit short-handed elfing at times.  If you see problems, please feel free to e-mail us:  .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (or Kendall) with the details of any thread that is under a troll / spam attack.

Thanks

December 1, 12:59 am | [comment link]
31. John Wilkins wrote:

The problem is that mainline churches were only modern in theology - not in organization or technology.  That TEC only two years ago started using TV when YouTube was starting is just one example of its institutional conservativism.  If TEC had listened to people who dug Sgt. Pepper’s rather than Englebert Humperdink in 1968, perhaps its decline would be less steep.

Modern theology has been around 100 years.  Honest to God came out more than 40 years ago.  The decline has much more to do with making Churches into another thing to consume than theology.  We compete, now.  That is different.

December 1, 1:02 am | [comment link]
32. Statmann wrote:

Birth control has no doubt contributed to the declining membership of TEC. But today, the PB has actually judged the declining number of children in TEC as a tribute to its higher intelligence level. Same-sex unions will certainly not reverse this trend. Then, you have the problem of fathers explaining to their young sons that sodomy is approved by God. All of this (and more) is relevant to the basic question: is the post-2002 period diferent than the pre-2003 period. The data, though small, suggest Yes.    Statmann

December 1, 3:27 am | [comment link]
33. John Wilkins wrote:

Statmann, my father did not explain to me that sodomy was “approved” by God.  He said some people are gay, and some people are straight.  Our actions have consequences. 

Reappraisers are “agnostic” about sodomy.  And sexual acts in any heterosexual marriage can be quite… varied.

December 1, 3:51 pm | [comment link]
34. Statmann wrote:

Wilkins, if your father explained that homosexual and heterosexual were both “OK”, then bisexual should be really cool. Statmann

December 1, 5:59 pm | [comment link]
35. dwstroudmd+ wrote:

Well, given the reaction to our parish’s participation in the Cotton Carnival this past October, I’d like to give the HOD the scoop from SE Missouri.

“Identity
“Who are we?” What does it mean to be an Episcopalian? What are our core values?
How are we differentiated from other Christian faith traditions? What are our strengths and
weaknesses? Where are our opportunities?”

Overheard passers by:  “What’s the Episcopal Church?”
“You know, the one with gay priests.”

“Mission”
Overheard passers by:  “Oh.  Yeah.  I’ve heard about them on TV.”

“Organization
Conflict and change can create opportunity. Leadership, at its best, can seize that
opportunity to create new momentum. Are we structured to seize it? It is difficult to execute any
mission if the vision itself is cloudy, or if the means to carry it out are less than optimal.”

Overheard passers by:  (kept on walking…......away)

I’d just like to take this time to thank the HOD for their clear elucidation of the consequences of their actions in the GC of 2003 and 2006.  Identity, Mission, and Organization of the ECUSA/TEC are known on the national basis here in fly-over country.  We are judged by that knowledge regardless of 6 decades of service to the community.  And we’ll keep on “growing”, too, right in line with the national statistics and for the same reason.

December 2, 1:31 am | [comment link]
36. John Wilkins wrote:

Staatman - that’s your fantasy.  If you’re into it, I’m not expecting to bless it.  If its an issue for you, then you’ll have to figure it out. 

We live in a culture where we’ve divorced physical pleasure from other attributes like greed or envy.  Further, you don’t recognize that benath the terms of sexual identity, are individuals.  Its the sort of love that’s important.  Not the number of partners.  I know its kind of exciting to think that there is a slippery slope, but the data seems to indicate that free thinkers seem to have more stable marriages than Christians.  Perhaps we should stop complaining about gays and look squarely at the log in our own eye. 

dwstroudmd’s excercize in being overheard says much.  First, hes clearly in a culture where gay leadership is a liability.  Not so where I am.  Overheard would be “they are the ones who walk the walk of accepting people for who they are.” 

Unfortunately, dwstroudmd’s analysis is as poor as TEC’s.  He simply assumes that conflict and change cannot create growth, without plunging deeper into discerning between sorts of conflict and change.

December 2, 2:08 pm | [comment link]
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