A Look Back to 2009 and a Consideration of Statistics in the Episcopal Diocese of Lexington

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Since Lexington has an upcoming Diocesan election, I decided to look at some history and and lo and behold the statistics for that diocese were discussed in a post and spirited discussion on August 14, 2009 with the title "Kendall Harmon: Significant Subsurface Deterioration in the Episcopal Church". For starters, that whole blog post and all the comments are well worth the time to reread.

Since that blog post was nearly three years ago, the statistics in view were those from 2007--
If you look at baptized membership, Lexington shrank from 8949 in 1997 to 8002 in 2007. That is a decline of 10.6%. Now, however, consider the more meaningful number, Average Sunday Attendance. In this category, Lexington fell from 3905 to 2973 in the period from 1997-2007. That is a decline of 24%.
If you now go to the research and statistics website of the Episcopal Church, you can look at an update of these numbers for 2010. These figures show 2010 baptized membership of the diocese of Lexington at 7504 and Average Sunday Attendance at 2,693. If you now consider the 13 year trend, note that the decline in baptized membership from 1997 to 2010 is 16.15% and that of Average Sunday Attendance is just over 31%.

Also note that according to the U.S.Census Bureau's figures, Lexington, the see city of the diocese, has grown in population from 260,512 in 2000 to 295,803 in 2010. This represents a population growth of approximately 13.5% in this time frame (the growth for the whole state of Kentucky's population was 7.4% during this period).

Now, consider all this and ask yourself this question--given these trends and numbers, what is the one question you really must ask of each finalist to be next bishop in Lexington? Why something about their vision and strategy for growth and for reversing the precipitous decline, surely. And yet was such a question asked in the published profiles? No. This is what I mean by deep denial--KSH.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalEpiscopal Church (TEC)TEC BishopsTEC DataTEC Diocesan Conventions/Diocesan CouncilsTEC Parishes* Christian Life / Church LifeParish Ministry

Posted May 22, 2012 at 7:00 am

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The URL for this article is http://www.kendallharmon.net/t19/index.php/t19/article/43010/

1. Timothy Fountain wrote:

And it goes without saying that the Bishop who “nurtured” this ghastly decline was promoted to the right hand of the “Primate” and given some kind of authority to “restructure” the denomination.  Deep denial indeed.

May 22, 9:14 am | [comment link]
2. Undergroundpewster wrote:

The obligatory question about “mission” was in there, and the responses show why this form of question should be avoided in these bishop searches. You’ve got to pin these people down.

May 22, 10:10 am | [comment link]
3. mbgentsch wrote:

Canon Harmon, thanks for your links; quite interesting.  After many years in the navy, selection boards, etc., I’ve wondered how so many ECUSA leaders would fare in other professions by comparison.  I recognize there’s a “calling” to this one and christians of various stripes swim upstream of multi-generational recession of religion’s importance in American life.  And I have no idea what exists in the talent pool of a younger generation to be called as bishops future.  I look forward to seeing.  I mostly wonder a whole lot about this (my) generation.  ...I enjoy your postings.  Keep up the good work.  Best

May 22, 2:52 pm | [comment link]
4. Luke wrote:

This past weekend, I, along with a number of other former members of The Church of the Nativity (Episcopal), but now members of St. Luke’s Anglican Church, Maysville, Maysville, KY, who left Nativity in Nov., 2005, following a number of miserable experiences with the then diocesan bishop, Stacy Sauls, attended a weekend seminar hosted by six area Anglican congregations.
Despite AMiA confusion involving a couple of the churches, we mingled eagerly with one another, and I can tell you that Anglicanism is vibrantly alive in the area known to some as the Episcopal Diocese of Lexington.
Here, under the leadership of our rector and vestry, St. Luke’s is doing things and reaching out in ways the old parish never conceived of, much less talked about. Thanks be to God!

May 22, 3:31 pm | [comment link]
5. FrVan wrote:

In my memory, Bishops Moody and Hosea were saintly men, who raised a diocese out of almost nothing. Took the faith into the mountains, and hidden places of the Commonwealth, and created a seminary not to train wannabe bishops, but those who just wanted to be the best priests possible. Some still serve to this day. The evil shadow of novelty and modernism descended upon Lexington with Bishop Wimberly and, his sidekick and “Wormwood,” Canon Platt (later deposed)...Sauls only continued in the train…Though he was pathetically a pawn of 815…

May 22, 4:31 pm | [comment link]
6. wvparson wrote:

While I largely agree about the narrowing of theological perspective as a cause of decline, I think we all need to realize that the growing invisibility of Episcopal congregations compounds the felony. In communities in which all but surviving denominational loyalists occupy pews, church building, even with red doors, their signs, web sites and newspaper ads, have become drawn and written in invisible ink, ignored as irrelevant to “real life” by more and more secularized people. And those of us huddled in our ‘upper rooms’ fear to go into the world to witness to the Living Christ.

May 22, 5:05 pm | [comment link]
7. MichaelA wrote:

Luke at #4, thank you for that encouraging news.  Whilst it is interesting to watch liberal TEC dioceses decline in just the way that so many of us have predicted (“We told you so you”) the terribly sad side effect of this is that the Anglican witness is being lost from these communities. 

So it is great to hear that Anglicans are in there planting churches witnessing, making disciples and fellowshipping with each other!

May 22, 6:26 pm | [comment link]
8. Tfleetwood wrote:

The link for “research and statistics” would suggest that liberal dioceses are not the only ones in decline.

May 22, 7:31 pm | [comment link]
9. mbgentsch wrote:

Tfleetwood#8, yes. MichaelA#7, if by the comment you mean the re-constituted Episcopal Church of the 1980s, aka AC-NA, the jury is out despite the ‘triumphalist’ tone of some of what i read in blogs and heard in my former AC-NA parish.  From my personal experience, the emergent neo-Anglicanism is theologically incoherent as well.  Best

May 22, 10:22 pm | [comment link]
10. robroy wrote:

mbgenstsch writes, “From my personal experience, the emergent neo-Anglicanism is theologically incoherent as well.”

Actually, I have visited many ACNA churches. Theologically they are very coherent: “Jesus Christ came into the world and I the worst of them.” You would think that the TEc-ers would be becoming more coherent as the orthodox leave. That is not the case. There are too many heresies for the liberal remnant to espouse. They disagree on all levels except that it wonderful to have expunged the “fundies” (the term must be said in a low scowling fashion ending in a hiss).

Non serviri, sed servire.

May 23, 12:06 am | [comment link]
11. robroy wrote:

Should have been, “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners and I the worst of them.” You all knew that, but the mostly secular humanists who don’t believe in sin who are left in the episcopalian pews wouldn’t - South Carolina being the exception, of course. ;^)

Non serviri, sed servire.

May 23, 12:10 am | [comment link]
12. Sarah wrote:

RE: “liberal dioceses are not the only ones in decline.”

Boy that’s the truth—it’s dreadful to be a conservative parish or diocese in a flamingly heretical, corrupt national church like TEC.  Very hard to keep hold of conservatives in such a denomination led by hideously, incompetently, and rather tasteless heretics.

May 23, 12:33 am | [comment link]
13. Luke wrote:

#9 mbgentsch - Any thinking person within ACNA knows there are differences amongst congregations and worshippers within ACNA. Tell me a church or churchly group that hasn’t had, or doesn’t have, some doctrinal or liturgical differences, please. These are, after all, human attributes.
Much more significantly, we believe that coherence resides in the Lord, not in human minds; that the Jury is God Almighty in Heaven, not here on earth, as It has always been; and it is He whom we seek to glorify in our new-found liberty from the oppression of the last half-century in the Episcopal Church.
Perhaps you can join us in this thinking! Praise the Lord.

May 23, 6:26 am | [comment link]
14. Tfleetwood wrote:


Not sure what the implication is of that observation.  Are you suggesting that if a conservative parish or Diocese is in decline it is the national church’s fault?  If so, what do you propose a conservative parish or Diocese ought to do about that?

May 23, 9:14 am | [comment link]
15. Sarah wrote:

RE: “Are you suggesting that if a conservative parish or Diocese is in decline it is the national church’s fault?”

It’s certainly a strong underlying pre-condition.  Getting conservatives to stay in a corrupt heretical denomination like TEC is like getting people to take Tylenol in their local city right after the cyanide was discovered and Tylenol announces that they think things are okey-dokey anyway. 

That analogy is an excellent precursor to the probable best solution for dioceses or parishes which believe the Gospel and are within a denominations whose national leaders do not—strong, clear, public, complete and total differentiation from the national brand.

Had the national corporate entity refused to take steps to protect their Tylenol bottles, then each and every pharmacy and local region would have had to do so—and would have had to announce loudly that, while national Tylenol had failed, the appropriate steps had been taken on the local level to assure a healthy Tylenol bottle, rather than a cyanide-laden one.

In the long run, there’s simply not a market in the US for a radically, flaming progressive “church” that’s also quasi-liturgical.  People don’t want a product like that—as TEC is learning to its cost, and as parishes and dioceses are learning as well.

However, I *do* see that the Diocese of South Carolina has bucked the tide with their growth—which further demonstrates my point.  The Diocese of South Carolina has done the most of any diocese in TEC to say “hey—while those loons over there don’t believe the Gospel, we’re different, we do, and here’s our practice to demonstrate that.”

Naturally, I’d expect revisionists like the ones who have commented on this thread to not agree.  But that’s nothing new, as we don’t share the same Gospel or foundational worldview, values, or basic principles. 

We’re two gospels in one organization, and that’s how it will be for many years to come.  Best to make that crystal clear.

May 23, 10:04 am | [comment link]
16. Tfleetwood wrote:

#15 Thanks for the clarification and I enjoyed the analogy.

I see how the Diocese of South Carolina has bucked the theological/ liturgical trends of progressivism.  I do not see how they’ve bucked the trend with their growth.  My read of the statistics shows them to be in decline, albeit the third slowest declining Diocese on the list which I suppose is a bonus.  However it appears as if their current ASA is at a 10 year low.  Perhaps the national brand is a bit too toxic, even for a strongly differentiated local brand?

May 23, 11:22 am | [comment link]
17. Sarah wrote:

You could be right—it’s traditionally been *the* growing diocese in TEC [look back at headlines from 2006-2009].  But perhaps even its sturdy differentiation has caused its previous growth to slip. 

But . . .  it’s not looking too shabby in at least Charleston County either:

But again—I guess we’ll see when the diocesan stats come out for 2011.  Somehow I expect that SC will be “least in decline” if decline it is.  ; > )  And first in growth . . . or perhaps . . . “only” in growth if growth it is.

Which gets us back to my point.

There’s just not a market for ragingly revisionist faux Christianity with a liturgical gloss to it.  Libs are usually opposed to Christianity in general, and those who are not go to the UU church.  The percentage of 1) libs 2) who wish to fancy themselves religious, 3) who also like the pretension of a little light liturgy is alarmingly teensy.

And then there’s the whole church-fighting bitter-division thingy—never very attractive and going to play itself out for at least the next decade.  Once the lawsuits wind their way down in the coming couple of years, you’ll have a nice fresh crop of grossed-out conservative Episcopalians, repulsed by the actions of the next General Convention which, refreshingly, we enjoy like a nice cooling tsunami every three years, rolling into our parishes and dioceses with a cleansing tide.

May 23, 1:46 pm | [comment link]
18. Sarah wrote:

By the way, Tfleetwood, you do recognize that the year of decline in ASA in South Carolina arose from their loss of the largest parish in the diocese don’t you?

Because . . . the largest parish didn’t want to be in a corrupt, heretical larger organization called TEC?

May 23, 1:52 pm | [comment link]
19. Sarah wrote:

Of course . . . those who left claimed that 6-8 parishes were gonna leave.  My guess was closer to 2-4 . . . which proved an overestimate.
; > )

No, I think that the Diocese of South Carolina will recover handily from the loss of its largest parish . . . unlike most other dioceses in TEC who lose their large parishes.

And the differentiation will do it.  I think there’s a market—a significant market—for the Christian gospel in the rich, Anglican liturgical/Prayer Book heritage that is the Diocese of South Carolina’s.  There’s a larger market for the seeker-sensitive, informal, evangelical churches.  A significant one for Anglican churches.  And a next-to-nothing one for TECusa’s brand of faux Christianity.

May 23, 2:07 pm | [comment link]
20. Tfleetwood wrote:

# 18,

Maybe I’m reading the chart wrong, but it looks like there wasn’t a “year of decline” but years of decline interspersed with years of growth.

04-05 the diocese declined by 579 ASA
05-06 the diocese grew by 297 ASA
06-07 the diocese declined by 260 ASA
07-08 the diocese grew by 305 ASA
08-09 the diocese declined by 21 ASA
09-10 the diocese declined by 1,891 ASA

I don’t think these numbers merit panic, much less comparison with the deep decline mentioned above.  But neither do I think these numbers are cause for optimism. 

As to the recovery of the Diocese from the loss of its largest parish, I would suggest the numbers say the Diocese should be concerned about recovery in general not in specific reference to the loss of any one parish.  Even if you remove 09-10, the picture isn’t rosy.

May 23, 5:48 pm | [comment link]
21. Sarah wrote:

RE: “Even if you remove 09-10, the picture isn’t rosy.”

Not at all—in fact it’s *quite* rosy.  When you look at the year 2000 you see an ASA of around 12,500 and when you look at the year 2009 [prior to the departure of the largest parish] you see an ASA of around 14,000.

In the midst of that 10 year spread, the peak ASA was in 2004, followed by bouncing-ball years of decline and growth, with the next highest ASAs in that ten year period occurring in 08 and 09—truly stunning considering the decade of misery, chaos, corruption, and heresy in the larger church.

Needless to say, that chart is the very opposite of the standard TEC diocese chart.

No question that the events post-2003 have been damaging and destabilizing even to the Diocese of SC—which further demonstrates my original thesis.  But I maintain that SC will enjoy a solid recovery from the loss of their largest parish—much to the discomfiture both of some conservative Anglicans and many revisionist Episcopalians.  And, if they continue further differentiation from the odiousness of the national denomination, they’ll probably top 15,000 at some point—all, again, in direct antithesis to the vast vast vast vast vast majority of TEC dioceses.

Again—this is not something that will make *some* conservative Anglicans very happy, nor most revisionist activist Episcopalians.

But it makes me quite happy.

May 23, 8:04 pm | [comment link]
22. MichaelA wrote:

mbgentsch at #9, you appear to have read far more into my post that is actually there.

Firstly I referred to cases where liberal dioceses of TEC have declined.  I didn’t refer to all dioceses, in fact I didn’t make an entirely sweeping statement about liberal dioceses either.

Secondly, I referred to the Anglican witness being lost from communities in those cases where the TEC parish or mission disappears. I assume you are not suggesting that there are NO cases where this has occurred?

Thirdly, I wrote that it was encouraging to hear that Anglicans are discipling and making churches in areas where the TEC witness has disappeared. 

Your post at #9 doesn’t really seem to be responding to my post at all.

May 23, 8:57 pm | [comment link]
23. MichaelA wrote:

mbgentsch, further to your #9, I am reluctant to respond to your comment: “From my personal experience, the emergent neo-Anglicanism is theologically incoherent as well.” as your post (whether by accident or design) has ended up distracting from Luke’s good news about an ACNA church planting in an area of Kentucky which seems to have been largely vacated by TEC. 

Why TEC would have any objection to ACNA (or Continuum churches for that matter) moving into an area which TEC has essentially vactated is not clear to me. If TEC does have a problem with it, surely the answer is obvious: establish your own churches there! Or better yet, support and maintain your churches that are already there BEFORE they die out.

But, since you have raised the issue, on what basis do you assert that ACNA is “theologically incoherent” (and do please ensure that your answer is not some observation that would apply equally to any other church, e.g. ‘I went into an ACNA church and found someone who believed differently to their theological statement’, or, ‘ACNA contains both evangelicals and anglo-catholics’!)

Over to you.

May 23, 9:29 pm | [comment link]
24. Karen B. wrote:

#20 in what almost feels like a former life, I was a bit renowned here as a TEC data geek.  Up until mid-2009 (when my work circumstances changed significantly meaning many many fewer hours online and on the computer in general), I maintained some very detailed spreadsheets, graphs and analyses of TEC data.

In case you’re interested in further historical perspective on annual ASA change in the dioceses of Lexington vs. South Carolina, here you go.  My data series unfortunately stops at 2007 since my spreadsheet was last updated in June 2009.

I have detailed stats on ASA change by year in every diocese from 1992 - 2007 (all taken from TEC’s websites & official reports).

When you see people talking about South Carolina being the only diocese to grow in recent years, in particular, it was the only domestic diocese to show overall growth in ASA from 2002 - 2007.  The ONLY diocese out of 100.  That’s what got people talking.

Here is a quick comparative look.

period:  ASA change SC ....  Lexington   .... TEC Avg.*
92-97     ......  16.2%  .....    4.7% .........  - 1.0%
97-02   .......  13.1%  ......  -2.5%  ........    0%
02-07   ........ 1.2%    .......  -21.9% .......  - 14%

*TEC average is per diocese not for TEC as a whole.

South Carolina ASA grew in 11 of the 15 years from 1992 - 2007.
Lexington grew 8 years out of the 15 (7 of those 8 years prior to 2002).  [Note there can be big swings in ASA in certain years due to “the Christmas effect.” [Christmas Eve services getting counted in the data if Christmas falls on a Sunday or Monday.]  2004 and 2005 were both Christmas effect years, so year - to - year comparisons from 2003 - 2004 or 2005 - 2006 are not straightforward.  Much better to look at trends over 3 - 5 year periods.

In any case, one more set of comparison data:

1992 - 1997 growth rank:  SC # 2 / Lex #24
1997 - 2002 growth rank:  SC #5 / Lex #66
2002 - 2007 growth rank:  SC #1 / Lex #90

1992 - 2007 growth rate:  SC #1 / Lex #66
(this is the rank in terms of the 100 TEC domestic dioceses)

May 23, 9:50 pm | [comment link]
25. MichaelA wrote:

Wow. Thanks Karen B.

May 23, 10:09 pm | [comment link]
26. Karen B. wrote:

Nuts.  I just wrote a follow up comment and lost it.  Let me include just a bit more context.

# TEC dioceses with ASA growth over the following periods:
1992 - 1997 44
1997 - 2002 43
2002 - 2007 1 (South Carolina)

Dioceses with ASA growth 1992 - 2007:  9
South Carolina = 32.9%
Tennessee = 22.8%
Western North Carolina = 9.8%
North Carolina = 9.7%
Texas = 8.5%
Atlanta = 6.6%
East Carolina = 6.5%
Alaska = 3.9%
Utah = 1.1%
[Lexington = -20.3%]

So, that gives a bit of background as to why South Carolina’s growth really was exceptional, at least up until 2007.  Perhaps the last few years have been tougher with St. Andrew’s departure, but for the 15 years from 1992 - 2007, South Carolina is in a whole different league from pretty much all of the rest of TEC, though at least Tennessee had some decent growth too.

May 23, 10:18 pm | [comment link]
27. Karen B. wrote:

Ok, I couldn’t resist a look at the more recent data.  Even with a LARGE loss in 2009 - 2010 (13.6%), SC still fares pretty well if you look at the data from 2000 - 2010.
See here:

Based on a quick eyeballing of the data (i’ve not put this in Excel, so this is just based on a quick glance), for the 2000 - 2010 period, South Carolina ranks #3 or #4 in “growth” - though in fact NO DOMESTIC DIOCESE GREW in 2000 - 2010!!!!!!

1) East Carolina is “best” with -1.3% ASA decline
2) Tennessee is next with -3.9%
3) South Carolina follows at -5.0%

[Note: Navajo Mission is theoretically #2 on this list at -2.5%, but given that they only have somethling like 190-200 ASA for the diocese, it’s pretty ridiculous to talk about % change for this diocese.  10 people show up or drop out and it totally skews the data!!]

So, the large loss in 2009 - 2010 has hurt SC’s standing as TEC’s only growing diocese.  But NO DOMESTIC diocese grew in the last decade!  The overseas dioceses are another story entirely.

May 23, 11:00 pm | [comment link]
28. Sarah wrote:

Besides being utterly devastating . . . your comments, Karen B, are Divisive, Unloving, and Hateful, just as this entire post by Canon Harmon was!

May 24, 5:25 am | [comment link]
29. wildfire wrote:

One thing that has struck me recently looking at the 2010 numbers Karen links in #27 is that Province 4 is the only province among TEC’s domestic dioceses that performs above average.  It’s decline for the decade was minus 16.2% in ASA.  The average for TEC domestically was minus 23.2%.

Province 4 comprises the southeast US, the most religious and conservatively religious part of the country.  All of the dioceses Karen mentions in #27 and six of the nine growing dioceses she identifies in #26 are in Province 4—as is Lexington.

If you take out Province 4, the rest of TEC domestically lost 25.4% of ASA during this decade.  (And that one province constitutes a quarter of TEC’s domestic ASA.)

May 24, 1:39 pm | [comment link]

© 2014 Kendall S. Harmon. All rights reserved.

For original material from Titusonenine (such as articles and commentary by Dr. Harmon) permission to copy and distribute free of charge is granted, provided this notice, the logo, and the web site address are visible on all copies. For permission for use in for-profit publications, please email KSHarmon[at]mindspring[dot]com

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