Facing church decline (post 1)
The first article, “Facing Episcopal Church Decline,” by David Goodhew, is a sobering look at the dwindling of the Episcopal Church today. Some will read this article and say, “Egad! We’re doomed!” Others will say, “Wow! We have work to do, but what a time of opportunity!” I’m firmly in the latter camp.
As you read through this article, it might be tempting to get caught up in the figures, looking at how your friends’ denominations are doing compared to yours, or perhaps wondering, “How did they calculate these numbers, anyway? Something seems wrong here.” In fact, some of the numbers might reflect changing ways of counting membership in the church, and it is very tricky to analyze why certain churches are declining so dramatically. Some people use the numbers to justify their pet theories about church and society. But whatever the actual numbers are, and whatever the reasons for them, the overall arc is undeniable – the Episcopal Church is shrinking.
Still, I am upbeat about the future, and I suggest you spend time on the author’s very brief, final section, “Lessons for the wider church.” Goodhew’s three main points are excellent, and the second and third points are particularly important: denominations need to place more value on the local church, emphasizing its central importance; and, although today’s environment in the West is a tough climate for sustaining congregational health, strong churches are desperately needed today for the well-being of individuals and the larger society.
Goodhew’s article presents a situation that is initially upsetting, but it might in fact be pointing to a great opportunity for the church to rise, flourish, and tend to the world’s greatest needs. As a noted archbishop of Canterbury once said, “Every church must die, in order to rise again in a more splendid form.” The hope, of course, is that the Episcopal Church can “die before we die,” so that we can begin to rise in a more splendid form today.