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Friday, January 18, 2013

Troubles in the Land of TEC

From Virtue Online 1/17/2013 

Many, perhaps most, Christian congregations in the United States are approaching an ecclesial fiscal cliff, says George Clifford an ethicist and Priest Associate at the Church of the Nativity, Raleigh, NC. "For specifics, consider The Episcopal Church (TEC). From 2007 through 2011 (the last year for which data is available), the number of parishes declined from 7055 to 6736 (6.5%), the number of Episcopalians declined from 2.1 to 1.9 million (9.1%), and average Sunday attendance declined from 727,822 to 657,887 (9.6%). The 2011 mean average Sunday attendance was 97; median average Sunday attendance was 65 (half of all congregations were above 65 and half below); and 68% of our congregations reported an average Sunday attendance of fewer than 100.

"If those numbers are insufficiently grim, consider attendance in the context of finances.

"The average pledge in 2011 was $2410. Optimistically assuming that a congregation's number of pledging units equals its average Sunday attendance, then the average income for Episcopal congregations in 2011 was $233,770. (Surprisingly, that assumption is not too far off the mark in terms of total income per congregation. In 2010 (last available year), average income per TEC congregation was $244,719.) For an Episcopal congregation whose average Sunday attendance was 67 (the median for TEC, with half of our congregations being larger and half-smaller), income from 67 pledgers who gave the denominational average would be $161,470. (All data from the TEC research office's website.)

"What can $162,000 - or even $244,000 - in revenue support for an Episcopal congregation in 2012 or 2013? The diocesan asking is generally 10% or more of pledge income. A full-time priest can easily cost a congregation $100,000 in stipend, housing, pension, healthcare coverage, and any other benefits. Operating a building (utilities, insurance, cleaning, perhaps a mortgage) probably runs upward, and perhaps substantially upwards, of $30,000. Allowing for other items deemed essential (audits, music, religious education materials, etc.), an average sized congregation can quickly find itself in a position of having insufficient funds to operate in accordance with members' expectations.

"A growing number of congregations, perhaps already a plurality within TEC, are insufficient to pay the diocesan asking, fund a full-time priest, and properly maintain their physical plant. Deferred maintenance on the physical plant is perhaps the most common means of covering a revenue shortfall. Other options include spending endowment funds' principal, reneging on the diocesan asking, and eliminating perceived "essentials" (such as a paid musician, fresh religious education materials, etc.). Many congregations rely on several of these strategies.

"Each year, the speed with which this ecclesial fiscal cliff approaches accelerates. Attendance declines, expenses increase, and options for covering financial shortfalls diminish. Episcopalians' average age, perhaps somewhere between 50 and 60, which portends growing numbers of losses from death, seems likely to compound the speed with which the ecclesial fiscal cliff draws near because TEC membership gains widely lag losses due to death and other causes."

Also from Virtue Online 

The irony should not be missed. The Episcopal News Service has launched a new section for obituaries. In response to readers' requests, Episcopal News Service is expanding its offerings and now provides a special area of reader-submitted obituaries. "The new section of the Episcopal News Service website has been designed to allow people to submit their own Episcopal-related obituaries in an easy, user-friendly manner."

Meanwhile VOL announces a new link at its website for dying and for sale parishes across North America. Please don't hesitate to send us stories of closing churches. We will publish them promptly.

From here 


  1. I suspect that the numbers are even worse than reported. Membership numbers are notoriously over stated and many of the ASA numbers have been questioned. When a church has no gospel to preach, it is hard to attract and hold a committed congregation. The UN MDG are not a gospel. Reciting a Creed that few, including clergy, believe is well short of inspiring. Spending millions upon millions of dollars on litigation isn't exactly what Matthew 28 demands. A continuing stream of increasingly heretical statements from Queen Katie are certainly not divinely inspired teaching. Look for a steady stream of empty buildings and declining numbers.