Over at some conservative Anglican websites (for example, here or here), one of the favorite pastimes is to post statistics of the Episcopal Church or of particular parishes and scoff at the decline in numbers. If you are going to take swipes at someone else, you usually want to have your game on. So I was interested to read that ACNA had posted their annual statistical report recently. Would the numbers live up to the bravado?
The 2011 report data was just posted, and I managed to find a copy of the 2010 data. I was not able to find 2009, but that was a bit of a transitional year for ACNA, so let’s not worry about that. There’s plenty to learn from the 2011 data and a comparison with 2010 numbers. Just for grins, here are a few interesting bits.
Let’s start by noting that the data aren’t completely reliable, because only 499 of 708 congregations submitted reports. I’m not sure why 30% of their congregations are able to ignore their canonical obligations (ACNA Canon 7.8), but there it is. In 2010, they had 659 congregations and 605 submitted reports, so clearly Archbishop Duncan needs to give some rectors a talking-to.
The report boasts of a 15.5% increase in Average Sunday Attendance. If true, that would be a massive improvement over the steady decline of the Episcopal Church. To get that number, ACNA uses something called “Projected ASA”, which is based on extrapolating from the number of reporting congregations. Of course, when only 70% of your congregations turn in a report, the extrapolation’s accuracy is going to depend on which 30% didn’t bother. I think the more useful metric is average ASA per congregation, if we are going to look at ASA trends.
So let’s look at that. This year, 499 congregations reported a total average attendance of 44,029, which yields a congregational average of 88. Last year, 605 congregations reported 49,665, which yields an average of 82. That’s about a 7% increase, which is an impressive number. But it is half the advertised number. Both the 15% number and the 7% assume that the extrapolations are valid; to get the larger number, you have to count the additional 49 congregations that got added to ACNA’s numbers from 2010 to 2011 (more on that in a sec).
So let’s keep looking at congregational numbers. They reported 1,824 baptisms in a year along with 895 “conversions.” Sounds impressive, right? Last year, they reported 3,058 baptisms and did not report conversions. If this report were about the Episcopal Church, the secessionist blog headline would be “baptisms in sharp decline due to heresy!” Well, back to the numbers. This years’ 1,824 baptisms in 499 congregations means that each church had, on average, 3.6 baptisms. Let’s add the 1.8 conversions, and you have 5,4 people added per congregation. Given an ASA of 88, that suggests they are not replacing the likely numbers of funerals and transfers.
For comparison, there were 32,736 baptisms in the Episcopal Church in 2010, the most recent year for which numbers are available. That’s an average of 4.8 baptisms in each of the 6,794 congregations. We do not track “conversions.” The average ASA in an Episcopal Congregation in 2010 was 97 (while the median ASA hovers around 65). Anyway, comparing apples to apples, the Episcopal Church is doing a better job of baptizing people when you compare the number of baptisms to congregational attendance. We’re still not doing enough, but ACNA is worse. We’re baptizing one person for every 20 in attendance, and ACNA is baptizing one for every 24 in attendance. To replace likely loss due to death and transfer, we should be baptizing one person for every 10 in attendance, by the way.
Financial giving provides us another interesting set of numbers. ACNA’s reported operating income for 2011 was $97,326,379. That’s $195,043 per congregation or $2,210 per reported person attending. Let’s compare that with the Episcopal Church. In the 2010 summary, we reported plate & pledge income of $1,273,709,000. That’s $187,475 per congregation or $1,936 per person attending. Looks like ACNA is doing better; HOWEVER, we should probably use the same figure as ACNA used (operating income, not plate & pledge). In that case, the Episcopal Church saw $2,088,030,689 total income. That’s $307,335 per congregation or $3,174 per person attending. I haven’t done a survey of other denominations for comparison, but ACNA compares pretty poorly to the Episcopal Church when it comes to giving, based on the limited data we have.
What puzzles me about all this is how to stack up the reported numbers to what ACNA has been saying. Their website says, “The Anglican Church in North America unites some 100,000 Anglicans in nearly 1,000 congregations across the United States and Canada into a single Church.” To get that 1,000 number, you’d have to include “Ministry Partners,” but then you don’t have “a single Church.”
Archbishop Robert Duncan said just a few days ago, “total membership may be as great as 140,000, but this is based on much conjecture.” Conjecture, indeed.
My point here is not to take a dig at ACNA. Despite my theological and other differences with them, I hope they thrive, as I hope all Christians thrive. To be clear: ACNA folks should not be trumpeting their great success as the Episcopal Church declines, since they cannot say they are in better shape. Take away the transfer of congregations as a factor, and the growth/decline trends might be swapped. When a Christian transfers from one church to another, that is not evangelism, it is a membership transfer. Churches that rely on membership transfers will not prosper long.
At some point, congregations will stop leaving the Episcopal Church (we may have reached that point, for the most part). Once the rage-fueled “growth” from departing congregations ceases, the ACNA folks will be left with just their message.
When I saw that ACNA had issued reports, I expected to see some impressive numbers. After all, at first glance they seem to have a clearer identity and mission. In many cases, they are free of the shackles of buildings ill-suited to 21st century church. But they have not shown much real growth or vitality. Perhaps that’s they’re still filled with too much anger and a fragile sense of self-confidence. If they are going to grow, they need to lose the anger and the persistent schism, and develop a Gospel-based message that is about hope, not fear and division.
This time around, ACNA added 49 congregations (defections from the Episcopal Church and new relationships with existing Anglican groups, of which there are more than you can imagine) which accounts for most of what they report as growth. Depending on the reliability of their reporting, which seems questionable due to low response rates, they may have had some modest growth within congregations. But they won’t keep adding congregations at the same pace, and in fact may start to lose them as the tendency to schism manifests itself. If their baptism and conversion numbers don’t change, shrinkage is inevitable.
And, of course, it is only fair to note that if the Episcopal Church is going to grow, we’ll need to articulate a Gospel-based message of discipleship and life, rather than a watered-down message of “I’m OK, you’re OK.” We’ll need to be ready to make changes, and see our institutional history as a gift, not as the prescription for our future.
Having looked closely at our numbers, I’m more optimistic about our future as a church. If we Episcopalians can set aside some major distractions and get back to the basics of scripture, sound theology, and rich spiritual practices, we could easily reverse our decline. Oh, and we need to learn to practice our slogan and actually welcome people to church. I’ve written about this before, and I’ll write more in the future. I have ranted plenty about the decline of the Episcopal Church and our need to measure and reverse it. It isn’t that hard, and God has equipped us with everything we need.
For now, it is enough to note that we shouldn’t let conservative bloggers beat up on us about our numbers. And more than that, we all have plenty of work to do. Lord, have mercy on us all.