I attended a clericus meeting in Arizona today. One of the topics that came up in our free ranging discussion was the changes that have happened to small to medium size churches that used to be able to employ a full time seminary trained priest. What used to be the most common model of parish ministry has become almost a rarity.
We’re not the only people asking such questions apparently. The Rev. Gary Gilbertson has a blog post reporting on a conversation he had with his peers on the same topic, and his has data!
“As one older priest lamented, ‘we used to have a lot of rectors in our diocese but now — not so many.’ National Church statistics prove his point: collectively the three contiguous dioceses represented in our group report information on 124 congregations with 80 (65%) being too small both in membership and dollars to have a rector; they are usually termed ‘family size’ and have average Sunday attendance (ASA) under 50. Eleven of these congregations have an average Sunday attendance of fewer than 10 persons and twenty-five more congregations have ASA at 20 or less. God love the people in these tiny congregations for their loyalty and their devotion. But no rectors here anymore!
Above ‘family size’ are ‘pastoral size’ congregations with an ASA between 50 and 150. The three dioceses have 33 (27 %) churches this size with several of them being very fragile. Some are joined with family size congregations to be served in cluster ministries, or are yoked with another congregation to cut costs. Many are forced to provide only minimum compensation and then call older clergy to avoid having to pay for family level medical insurance.
Not a bright picture, 92% of the congregations in these three dioceses are not able to call a rector or can only obtain the services of a rector on a minimum or reduced cost basis. We have always hoped that with the right leadership (priest and bishop) and hard work by the membership, these congregations could grow. So what has happened under a half a dozen dedicated bishops and scores of committed clergy? Not one of these congregations has moved up a category in the past 10 years; several have moved down. At best our strategies are a holding action and not a posture for meaningful growth. “
It’s a tough question and there are no simple answers. Anyone have any suggestions?