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Average Sunday Attendance, Easter Attendance, Child Baptisms all down

By David W. Virtue

A Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Church Insurance Companies of The Episcopal Church says that TEC has 6,900 parishes and missions worth $20 billion, but average Sunday Attendance (ASA) and all other indicators are down. Church leaders will need to close entities to make the church more mission viable in the future.

Rod Webster said in a video on the state of the state of the church that while TEC’s properties are sometimes as large as denominations twice TEC’s size, to stay efficient an organization needs to build new sites and close ones that are not working.

“The issue we have is the shrinking size of the church, and the fact that closing churches outnumber new churches by two point five to one (2.5 to 1). For every new church that has opened over the last 10 years 2.5 of them have closed. Just over 40 churches each year are closing, based on the data we collect and the data we have managed very carefully over the last 39 months. The number of churches closing are about the size of a very small – admittedly – Episcopal diocese each year.”

Webster said the large number of closings was going on everywhere in all regions of the country. “We’re talking about 40 to 50 closings in a year, averaged over a 10 year period, continuing into the current time.”

Webster noted the weak economy has put economic pressure on parishes. He anticipates a large number of closings in the near future.

“Average Sunday Attendance is down over these time periods. On an annual basis there is a decline of 2% ASA year-by-year over the 10 year period.” From 2001-2009 ASA declined by 20%, an average decline of 2% a year. Easter attendance is down 4% a year over the 10-year period – a decline of 37% from 2001 – 2009 – a decline of 2% a year. Child baptisms are down 3% a year over the same period, between 2001 – 2009 child baptisms declined by 30%.

Webster opined that closing parishes is very time consuming for bishops and diocesan staff.

“Churches get a huge amount of attention from diocesan staff and bishops during the last years as they struggle to stay alive.

“The opposition by the remaining members of the churches is very strong. It’s not a rational response; it’s an emotional response. They are a part of that church. We have seem many cases where the church is populated by two or three families essentially who have been there, at least it seems, forever, and they have no intension of leaving.”

Webster stated that all organizations should open and close entities periodically. Even the healthiest of organizations need to do that. Otherwise, they are not efficient and effective at using their capital effectively.

“A basic element of business is you have to reallocate your resources periodically to achieve your mission. We’ll have to do much more because of this closing issue. We need to get really good at this.”

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