Facing Episcopal Church Decline [LivingChurch]

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  1. World Press

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    Facing Episcopal Church Decline
    Guest Contributor July 24, 2017 Church of England, Commentary, The Episcopal Church

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    By David Goodhew

    Editor’s note: This article examines data from the Episcopal Church’s dioceses in the United States. It does not include overseas dioceses, such as those in Province IX, where the situation is quite different.

    For viewing on some smaller mobile phones or tablets, it may be best to orientate the screen horizontally, to view the charts below. Otherwise, the paper is embedded as a .pdf below the main post.



    New analysis by Dr. Jeremy Bonner, a Durham-based researcher, offers clarity on the numerical fortunes of the Episcopal Church (TEC) in the USA in recent decades. Discussions of TEC’s numerical fortunes usually take place within the context of its divisions, with the result that clarity is often the first casualty. Using a range of measures, looking across a long period of time, and supplemented by the latest data from TEC, Bonner’s work offers an academically robust picture of what has been happening to the main Anglican church in the United States. This is highly significant for American Anglicans, but also for the wider Communion.

    Numbers are not the be-all and end-all, but they do matter. If we believe Christian faith is good news, we should be seeking its proliferation, and be worried when it shrinks. Ignoring uncomfortable numbers does no good. Indeed, it only means the problems will have increased by the time we face the true state of affairs.

    This article examines TEC using a range of measures, then explores how TEC compares with other denominations. Finally, it offers comments on the causes of these shifts and their wider significance.


    Which numbers?

    TEC deserves commendation for the accuracy of its data (some of the most accurate data of any member of the Anglican Communion), and its frankness in publishing such data. This article relies on the material from Bonner’s important chapter in a new work, Growth and Decline in the Anglican Communion, 1980 to the Present (Routledge, 2016), which I had the privilege of editing. This chapter is supplemented here by the latest TEC data. There are four key metrics: members, average Sunday attendance, baptisms, and marriages.


    Membership

    The chart below shows how TEC lost almost a quarter of its members, 1986 to 2010, within the context of a rapidly rising population. Between 2010 and 2015, TEC’s baptized membership dropped further by 172,000 to 1,779,335, meaning the overall drop in membership from 1980 to 2015 was on the order of 30%.

    Membership decline was slower in the 1980s and 1990s and became marked since 2000. There were significant regional differences, with decline worst in the East and Midwest and some growth in the West and the South (up to 2000), though all regions have been shrinking since around 2000. Decline between 2010 and 2015 is slightly slower than in 2005 to 2010, but continues to be pronounced.


    Average Sunday attendance

    Membership is an imprecise measure, since it includes many who may have limited involvement in congregational life. Figures for average Sunday attendance offer a harder metric and a more striking message.


    Click here for the rest of the article:
    http://livingchurch.org/covenant/2017/07/24/facing-episcopal-church-decline/
     

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