Tuesday, May 03, 2005

why are (episcopal) churches emptying?

According to Touchstone, the Episcopal Church has 7,220 parishes in this country. About a third of the churches grew last year, and about half declined. The average Sunday attendance in a parish is 77; 247 of the parishes have Sunday attendance of fewer than ten. (A single Roman Catholic parish in Milwaukee I know of serves 7,500 families, and children abound. That is not at all unusual.) The median age of the clergy is 53, and half are between 50 and 60. Long being the church of the upper class, ECUSA parishes hold $3.6 billion in investments. That will assure the survival of many buildings and keep clerical salaries coming, but to what purpose if the pews are empty? The denomination stands on no solid theological base, it demands little or nothing of parishioners, its evangelical outreach is practically nonexistent, and its morality is almost wholly permissive. Why go to church on Sunday morning to listen to what can be heard at home on NPR?

The Church of England, like the other Protestant state churches of Western Europe, is almost dead. A recent study of 14,000 British churchgoers and those who have left the Church show that the trend described in my book is still at work, for the same reasons. Church attendance in 1968 was a mere 1.6 million. By 1998 the figure was 900,000 and is in freefall. Liberal and weak clergy are responsible for empty pews, the study reports. Watered-down theology “has resulted in a growing number of people being left with the false impression that there are no strong reasons for Christian belief.” Silly services contribute to the public malaise. Said one interviewee, “I’ve seen balloons rising from the pulpit, fake moustaches and all manner of audience appeal…but with no real message behind it.” Lack of solid moral teaching plays a role in the decline as well. Churchgoers, the report states, want to be told how to live a Christian life and how to win others to Christ in a world gone mad with materialism. Receiving little or nothing worth having, they drop out. Why go to the State Church on Sunday morning to listen to what can be heard at home on the BBC? (See www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-1511237,00.html.)

Read the whole thing.

Thanks, as often, to Fr. Harmon.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wonderful article, it is a blessing that you posted it.