Reversing Decline in the Episcopal Church and Other Denominations
Most dioceses of the Episcopal Church are declining in membership, struggle to meet operations, and do not have sufficient funds to make significant investments in growth.
How can dioceses make an immediate headway toward reversing their rate of decline while making available additional funds to invest in growth?
A Possible Solution
Let’s assume that a typical healthy diocese looks like this.
Because even in a healthy diocese, at any point in time,
16–17% of the congregations will be in rapid-to-moderate decline.
Because all congregations have a natural life cycle:
from birth, to growth, to stability, to decline, to death.
Churches are living things, and ultimately, all living things die.
that even relatively healthy dioceses have to grapple with the issue
of how to deal with declining congregations
But the reality in most dioceses is worse.
The tail on the declining end
is significantly shorter
than the tail on the growth end.
Which means that the percentage of congregations experiencing decline
is significantly higher than the percentage experiencing growth.
So what steps can we take to address this problem?
Step 1 – Transfer Dollars
parishes that are in moderate to rapid decline
and have reached unsustainable membership levels, then…
Pastorally help the people come to terms
with the death of their congregation,
and find new worshiping communities, and…
SELL & REINVEST
Sell property and invest the proceeds and endowments into:
–Researching why some parishes are growing
(especially, how they engage their neighborhoods)
–Redeveloping at-risk congregations
–Starting new congregations and ministries
Step 2 – Transfer Knowledge
What makes your vital and growing parishes
vital and growing
Invest that knowledge into:
–Redeveloping at-risk congregations and revitalizing stagnant ministries
I anticipate there will be some objections to this modest proposal.
to close parishes in which people still worship
is allowing congregations
to sink deeper and deeper into ineffective unsustainability
is helping members come to terms
with the fact that their congregation is dying
and that it’s not their fault
(and perhaps helping them find a new place to worship with a more vital congregation)
to close parishes which serve the community
BUILDING ≠ MINISTRY
does not require a building
(a building may even hinder it)
to sell a kingdom resource
is putting money into building maintenance
at the expense of ministry
is putting money where it will do the most good
in support of God’s ministry
How this modest proposal be received?
Hard to say.
It’s quite possible that my “modest proposal”
may receive no better a reception
than Jonathan Swift’s original satirical tracts of the same name,
because many bishop’s view the churches of their dioceses as their babies,
so many may view closing church buildings
with the same distaste as Swift’s proposal
to fight hunger by eating the babies of poor people.
For those who do, this post describes
But for those who choose the harder yet more faithful road, this post describes