Why Episcopalian decline matters


New York Times: How many members of the Episcopal Church are there in this country?

Bishop Schori: About 2.2 million. It used to be larger percentagewise, but Episcopalians tend to be better-educated and tend to reproduce at lower rates than some other denominations. Roman Catholics and Mormons both have theological reasons for producing lots of children.

Times: Episcopalians aren’t interested in replenishing their ranks by having children?

Bishop: No. It’s probably the opposite. We encourage people to pay attention to the stewardship of the earth and not use more than their portion.

Since this 2006 interview, Katharine Jefferts Schori, 26th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, has continued to preside over a "percentagewise" decline.

From 2004-2008 the Episcopalians lost 10% of its active membership, a staggering 190,527 people. Attendance fell by 11% from 795,765 to 705,257, a loss of 90,508 people.

The church is overwhelmingly white (87%) and aging (51% over 50). In the next 10-15 years 27% of Episcopalians will die of old age and they will not be replaced.

Two thirds of parishes have experienced serious conflict in the last five years, A third have been through multiple serious conflicts. Almost half of all serious conflict was over the ordination of gay bishops and clergy (47%). The second most common cause of serious conflict? The priest's leadership style (29%). This is a denomination at odds with its constituency.

No surprises here. The Episcopalian church continues in its free-fall to oblivion. That trend will continue. It's over for the Episcopal Church as a denomination. That's not to say it's the death of a denomination. Asset-rich religious organizations don't die quickly. They linger on life support. Each time a congregation closes, the denomination wins the lottery in the form of asset sales.

Make no mistake, this is the fruit of theological liberalism. There is no other pattern of history.

You may be wondering, "Why the fuss?" On a global scale the decline of the Episcopalians matters very little. All over the world where Anglicans remain true to a biblical faith and gospel faithfulness, the church is growing, especially among the global "South". The poor are choosing which gospel to believe; which Jesus to follow. They are the future of the Anglican tradition.

In that perspective, Episcopalian decline is tragic for the Episcopalians but of marginal importance for world Christianity.

Why the fuss? Because this is not just about Episcopal decline. This drift to a more secular, socially acceptable version of the faith, is a recurring trend of history. Eventually the outcome is decline, decay and collapse.

The Episcopalians represent the last gasp of the old liberalism that accommodated modernity. Today, as Driscoll points out, a new liberalism accommodates postmodernity. It will suffer the same fate as its modernist counterpart.

That's why Episcopalian decline matters.