Recently, The Living Church published my article on “Moving Toward 2010.” They gave it a difference name. (I have learned as an author that until have your first million best seller, you don’t get to choose the name of your books/articles nor do you get to design the cover.) What I set out to do was to tell the story of the 2020 Movement and what happened to this attempt to revitalize the church.
I also used the article as a way of pointing out what the Episcopal Church will look like if current trends continue. The article wasn’t that positive because the numbers are not that positive. For example, attendance is down 14% from 2005 to 2009 and is now on track to go down another 15% by 2014. That is a 29% decrease in regular participation in a ten year time span.
As I have often tried to point out, the reasons for our decline are complex. Last week at the clergy conference for Mississippi, I made a presentation on what I believe are the seven key reasons for our decline. It led to a spirited conversation. My principle point is that if we understand the decline, no matter how complex, we could develop a strategy to change this. I find quite a bit of interest about this on the local and regional level, but almost none on our national level. This blog allows me to add some other comments.
First, when one writes such an article, some people assume that somehow I want these numbers to be this way. I was once called a person with “Chicken Little Theology” on the House of Bishops/ Deputies Listserv. Nothing could be further from the truth! I want the Episcopal Church to be healthy, vibrant and growing. I have worked at this for 39 years as a priest. I love the Episcopal/Anglican expression of faith. I point out the numbers because you can’t talk about where you want to be without talking first about current realities. This is as true for a congregation as a denomination.
Second, I’ve found that talking about decline causes people to react in emotional rather than reasonable ways. For example, one reporter picked up my article and spin it toward saying I was predicting the doomsday of the Episcopal Church. As I commented to a friend, “read my article because it is actually better and more positive.” You see, I believe we can do something about all this.
Usually, I also at least one of what I would call the “Preach Jesus” reaction. This is the person who claims that the Episcopal Church would do well if it “only returned (sic) to simply preaching Jesus.” This is often contradicted by supporters of the present administration that say things like, “we shouldn’t worry about numbers,” or “Episcopalians have low birthrates, (which with an average age of 60 is certainly true!) or “We got over the Prayer Book change and women’s ordination, so we will get over this.”
I find these frustrating because in all honesty one reason that I am an Episcopalian is because I thought we were the Christian Community that was capable of reasonable, intelligent discourse.
So, why did I write such an article? Because I believe our decline has put our very viability at risk and I want to help create a sense of urgency among our leaders. John Kotter says that creating a sense of urgency (not allowing too much complacency) is critical for a leader to make creative change possible. Frankly, I hope younger leaders of our community will read such information and decide to make a difference. Isn’t this what the core of leadership really is?
In my next blog, I will list what I consider to be the seven main reasons for our decline. I hope this will stimulate some discussion. These seven reasons have direct relevance to congregational life.