Hidden in Plain Sight

by Steve Matthews
Senior Associate Consultant, FaithX

I was recently talking to a group of churches in an online coaching session.  One church was trying to honestly consider the real impact their church was having in the community.  A woman on the call from this church (let’s call her “Margie”) recalled a recent conversation she had with a bank teller while making an in-person deposit at the local branch.  It just so happened that this branch was only ¼ mile from Margie’s church.  Margie had been working in her yard and was wearing a t-shirt with the church’s name and logo on it.  The teller asked her what an “episcopal” church was, and Margie gave her a quick response.  Then the teller asked Margie, “Where is your church?,” and when Margie pointed out the church’s location, the teller answered with a chuckle and said, “I’ve driven by that church on my way to work for 10 years and never even noticed it was there.”  

I wonder how many churches across the country are hidden in plain sight. It’s easy to enter and exit the doors for worship on Sunday. Perhaps people return for choir practice or for outreach ministries.  Maybe some churches are still offering some outdoor worship opportunities, but are our churches known in our communities?  What is our reputation for hospitality or for the work of justice?  Do people see us as being a trusted neighbor and advocate for the larger community?   Where do we show up as church… outside of “church” on Sunday?  

In a recent Episcopal Pulse poll this statement was offered for response: “Our congregation makes such a difference in the neighborhoods around it that if it closed tomorrow, the community would immediately notice.”  Here are the results:

Survey 27 Results

By the numbers (N=409):

  • Strongly Disagree: 39 (9.5%)
  • Disagree: 82 (20%)
  • Agree: 156 (38.1%)
  • Strongly Agree: 132 (32.3%)

Key Insights:

  • Roughly two-thirds of respondents answered Agree (38.1%) or Strongly Agree (32.3%).
  • Roughly one-third of respondents answered Disagree (20%) or Strongly Disagree (9.5%).

For Reflection

Assuming these numbers accurately represent the state of The Episcopal Church…

It is not a good sign that a third of Episcopal congregations could close without anyone in the neighborhood around them noticing.

It is also concerning that only a third of the congregations could state with certainty that the neighborhood would notice if they closed.

If you were triaging the congregations of The Episcopal Church, how would you sort them out in terms of the likelihood that missional interventions could help them survive and thrive?

Which of these results surprise you, which confirm what you thought you knew, and what do you make of these results?

As you review this data, contemplate your church’s presence in the community.  You may wish to use this question and data as a conversation starter with church leaders or in small groups.  What nudges result from these conversations?

If you would like to participate in future Episcopal Pulse polls, sign up here.