How do we presently deal with the aging and declining Town Parish in TEC?
We send them a part-time or bi-vocational or retired clergy person. What are the odds that such a strategy will actually grow the congregation? I would say less than 10%. This means that such models of ministry may be good at maintaining the congregation for a season, but not very good at growing it.
What would happen if a diocese used the following strategy in the redevelopment of a Town Parish?
1. Reduce the assessment/mission asking to 10% during a stated time of “re-development”
2. Then train and provide clergy who are willing to make a long-term commitment (at least 5 years)to the parish and community and who are trained in family systems
3. Create an incentive for the lay members in recruiting new members
4. Create an incentive for the clergy (in salary and benefits) based on the development and growth of the congregation, this would include outreach ministries (In today’s world. Most clergy in growing congregations pay the price for much of the growth by not receiving increases in compensation. Most clergy can only get an increase in salary when they move to another parish.
This last of these points to a critical issue about many current clergy who are graduates of Episcopal Seminaries who often share some of the following:
1. They have been trained in self-care, taking their day off, and considering themselves to be a professional person rather than developing a pastoral heart for people.
2. They expect “church” to be given to them, they do not believe that they must build up a community and know how to recruit people to it.
3. They see no relationship between their ability to recruit and evangelize others and their financial remuneration. They believe they should be rewarded for tenure alone
4. They expect to move every 4 to 5 years
5. They tend to devalue the older/long-tenured members of the congregation
I once asked the Bishop of Oklahoma, who revitalized and grew three Episcopal Congregations in Town/Small Cities, what he would do if he found himself serving a congregation with an average attendance of 30 people. He said, “I would go out and find other people who did not have a church and recruit them to join our congregation.” Then he added, “That is what I did in each of the churches I served although they had more than 30 people in them when I started. “
The bottom line to all this is simply that to reverse the trends in our current Town Parishes, TEC needs to radical rethink our strategies and the recruitment and training of clergy to serve them.
Or we can continue to do what we have always done and continue to get the results we presently get!
In my next blog, I will discuss the training needed for such developmental clergy.