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Managing decline

Managing decline

Over on the video blog, Rod Webster, vice president and general manager of the Church Insurance Companies, lays out some depressing statistics about the decline of the Episcopal Church. Have a look, and let us know how you think the church should respond.

John Chilton, in a comment on the video blog, calls attention to the excellent point that Webster makes about the energy that declining parishes require from their bishop and his or her staff:

At the 2:30 mark he speaks about the time and resources that go into churches in the last years of their existence. (In particular the drain on bishops and diocesan staffs that alternatively could be spending time focused on growing healthy parishes.) It struck me that it’s very much like the problem of the US health care system where so much is spent on keeping people alive in the last months of their lives (and add to that the poor quality of life).

We’re are rich denomination, but we can no longer afford to be soft hearted without also being hard headed when it comes to good use of resources.

Should we be closing more parishes, spinning of smaller ones. What is the best way forward?


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(P.S.: Which sounds like the more exciting prospect: coming to church with all the answers, being absolutely sure of being right – or coming with nothing at all, and seeking a way to live?

I know which one sounds more full of possibilities, to me. The second path is the way of Alcoholics Anonymous, where people have hit rock bottom trying to do it their way – and have given up that idea completely. No more judgement of others; it doesn’t work and has no meaning. No more grasping at control; there’s nothing there. People are there to save each others’ lives, that’s all.

There is no more exciting journey than that which follows, believe me. There is no path more full of thrills and chills, no bumpier, more exciting ride. Doesn’t that sound fantastic? And wouldn’t that be a great thing to offer to the world, even if we had to give up all the buildings and everything else?

A.A. meets in the basement – where great things happen….)


I like Clint’s idea, too – but I’d miss Communion, I think. There must be a way to do that, too. Deacon’s masses, maybe?

To me, though, the main thing is for the church to offer a lifeline to people, the same way that A.A. offers an irreplaceable one to alcoholics. That’s really the reason the church exists to begin with – and its only possible means of survival going forward, IMO. That’s what “the Gospel” is about, in fact: people recognizing their own weakness and distress, and coming to see that God Alone is the way forward.

People find health and spiritual sustenance – the lifeline – in A.A. that they cannot find anyplace else. It’s not on offer anyplace else, in fact – and neither is what the church brings to the world on offer anyplace else. A.A. meetings are perfect examples of “the theology of the Cross” – the place where weakness and pain are transformed into salvation. Well, that sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

These things can’t be merely talking points; they must to be real and living. We are all members of the church in our weak selves; all other people must be welcome in their weak selves, too. If we had that, we wouldn’t need to worry about numbers anymore, I don’t think.

I think we’re kind of grasping at the wrong end of the stick, IOW. Preach the Gospel first, and the rest will follow – or so I believe, these days. We MUST offer something that’s not found elsewhere.

Well, sorry – I’m just riding that particular horse these days.

(I do, BTW, very much agree that saddling priests with debt is hugely counterproductive. Train priests at the Cathedrals and at least eliminate the overhead….)

Roberta Karstetter

I wonder… was there ever a poll on how the Bishop or his staff has increased the attendance at your own parish? Not that they don’t do things and that their ministry isn’t important, and that we haven’t benefitted from Diocesan things …but, at a local level, for regular church goers (as a parish administrator and treasurer for over 27 years), I just don’t see the Diocesan link with Bishop and staff as something that will bring people to the local Churches… or, even better…to a lifesaving life with Jesus Christ as experienced in local parishes. I’m sorry if this offends some, not at all my intention, just speaking as a lay person in the trenches.

Derek Olsen

I see several different issues here–one on how we manage declining congregations, one on how we form parish leadership in an effective manner, and one on the importance or not of Episcopal identity. All three need discussion…

And yes, Clint, Evensong is definitely a live option!

Tim Sean

I think everybody above is dead-on here, especially with lay-educated bi-vocational leadership. And Clint’s ideas are definitely fomenting with possibility. With Christianity slowly returning to a position outside the popular culture, we will need to be more organic in our approach, similar to the early Christian communities when they were counter-cultural.

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