Kirk Hadaway’s most recent analysis of the parochial reports submitted by Episcopal congregations reveals that only 28 percent of our congregations describe their financial situations as good or excellent, while the same percentage says they are having at least some financial difficulty.
Even if one assumes that some parishes will fare better when the economy improves, these numbers raise a difficult issue. Should Episcopal bishops be more aggressive about closing struggling churches?
On the one hand, there are economies of scale to be realized in merging small churches into somewhat larger ones, or merging two struggling congregations in the hopes of creating one healthy one. The new church’s capacity for forming the faithful and and engaging in meaningful mission should, theoretically, increase as well.
On the other hand, we encourage people to “grow where they are planted,” profess that “wherever two or more are gathered” in his name, Christ is among them, and preach that a church with big numbers is no match for a church with a big heart. And anyone who has ever been a member of a smallish floundering church knows that giving often ticks up even as membership declines.
So how does the church confront the fact that by any worldly calculus it has too many units, and this surplus appears to be driving up overhead and diminishing its capacity to spread the gospel, while at the same time working within the constraints of our intensely localized polity, and people’s abiding commitment to their small churches?