ECUSA is winning…the race of decline
From the Washington Post Belief Blog, this just in:
It’s always intriguing to see which churches have grown and which denominations have faded in the past year. According to the 2008 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches (a Bible of sorts for us religion writers), the fastest-growing religious body in 2007 was the Jehovah’s Witnesses at 2.25 percent.
Following them were the Mormons at 1.56 percent and the Roman Catholics at .87 percent. Compare this to last year’s states that had the Catholics out front at 1.94 percent, followed by the Assemblies of God at 1.86 and the Mormons at 1.63.
The denomination with the biggest decrease is the Episcopalians at 4.15 percent.
Here’s what I’ve noticed. Most conservatives in blogospheria Anglicana like to describe ECUSA as crisis terms, doomed to near-certain extinction at any moment. Most progressives like to say that everything is just fine in Episcopal-land. Nothing to worry about here! Move along, move along.
I think both sides are right, and wrong. Mostly, the church is doing OK. Except for a few parishes (led by a particular type of grumpy clergy), people don’t seem to care about the current crisis. They just want to do the things the church does. In fact, in many congregations, one would experience a sense of deep vitality in faith, mission, and action. On the other hand, we cannot deny the fact that there is a very real problem.
We are in numerical decline. If this does not change, things will not be fine. Why are we declining? I think there are lots of reasons, and even more excuses. Here’s my take (at least today, and this will be the subject of future posts, no doubt). We are declining because we have forgotten why we are here. We are not in the world to bring justice to the world. We are not here to preserve the past. We are not here as a social gathering. We are not here to make people feel good. We are not here to make people feel bad.
We are here to bring people to God, and God to people. We are here as an icon of the kingdom of God. We’re in the salvation biz, not the justice biz. We had better get more serious about God’s love than about institutions.
Here’s the test. Next Sunday, ask people at your church why they got out of bed to come to church. Better yet, ask people who didn’t go to church what it would take to get them there. Ask these questions. I’ll bet the answers will be illuminating.