The Episcopal Church is doing just fine (sort-of)

Despite what the title of this post may imply, I am not a fact-denier and I do not have my head buried in the sand. I know all of the talk and blogs and tweets that are circulating about the decline of the Episcopal Church and the decline of the “mainline” denominations across the board. I do not deny that the numbers show a steady decline. I do not deny that the numbers are alarming for people who judge the church by attendance numbers. I do not deny any of this.

Did you catch what I did there?

The decline in attendance numbers are alarming for people who judge the church by attendance numbers. That’s it.

When did church become about how many people show up?

My reading of the New Testament tells me that church is much more about a group of people (two-two billion, the numbers are not whats important) that come together to share a meal, praise God, and then go out into the world, take care of the folks that can’t take care of themselves, and spread the Good News that death and the slavery of sin have been defeated.

Instead, for some reason, we only understand church as a building in which, for a healthy church, 100-500 people gather on Sunday mornings to do “the service”. If this truly is the meaning of the church then the Chicken Little’s throughout the church are right: the sky if falling!

But what if we let that image of the church die?

What if we let go of our need to be “successful” in the eyes of church growth experts and ecclesiological  abacus movers?

What if we found our success in the strength of the relationships formed within our church communities? What if the sign of a healthy church was the service that happened apart from Sunday mornings?

My last post was on the “Doomsday Preppers” of the church. With this new post it seems that I am holding the bludger and preparing to beat the poor, deceased horse.

I’m sorry if you are tired of hearing about church decline.

I am going to keep writing on it until we finally stop looking at the declining numbers and then immediately to our navels for the solution. There is no secret fix or ten step blog post that is going to “save” the church. (*Full disclosure: my last post contained a list. So did the one before that. I am not averse to blog lists in general, only when the list proposes a solution to an imaginary or misconstrued problem.)

The church has never been about success or numbers or strategic growth.

Unless I have greatly misunderstood my professors in my time so far in seminary it would appear that the church is all about failures, small numbers, and inefficient growth. If we really want the church to stop shrinking and to grow we should start living like the church. We should join people who are radically different from ourselves to worship, share, and serve. We should get out of our cells of individual convenience and into the untidy, complicated mess of community.

For all of the talk of decline, there are so many wonderful Episcopal churches that are doing amazing things. Big churches, small churches, urban, rural, “missional” (whatever that word means) ministries of all shapes and sizes.

The Episcopal Church has got it all. If we showed off what we have and refused to add another voice to the never ending waterfall of pessimism and cynicism about church numbers, maybe we would see our churches grow.

The Episcopal Church is doing just fine, as long as you judge the success of a church based on lives changed and good work done in the name of Christ.

For those still hung up on attendance numbers, I pray that God would so enlarge your heart that you would see the people in front of you. If there is no one in your church on a Sunday I have good news for you – there are a ton of folks out in the world who could use your help (yes you), so lets get to work.

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2 Comments

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  1. I agree wholeheartedly about the way we need to change our success measures and our intent in membership. Bums in the pew cannot be the goal of living out our faith. Changing the world, doing Kingdom work and walking in faith, all through the lens of love; that should be our purpose as called by God.

  2. Why make an artificial distinction between numbers and people? We don’t count “numbers,” we count human beings who worship in community. Unless I’m mistaken, God has called us to care for and engage with human beings. I could go on… and I have, elsewhere: http://www.churchwork.com/the-gift-of-data-part-2/

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