Budgets, Decline, and Mission–The current meeting of the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church

Word came yesterday that Executive Council was presented with two competing proposals for the budget for the next three years (Triennium). One used 19% asking from the dioceses; the other 15%. Today, via twitter, I followed the debate at a distance. It’s similar to the debate that has been going on on the diocesan level as well as in parishes. As membership and attendance decline, how do we maintain our buildings, ministry, and mission?

There was a stark portrayal of the extent of decline by Kirk Hadaway. The full presentation is available here: ExecCncl_012712_FINAL

There’s a great deal to digest in this report, including a decline in membership from over 2.4 million in 1992 to under 2 million today. And this, between 2002 and 2010:

• Change in church school enrollment: -33%
• Change in number of marriages performed: -41%
• Change in number of burials/funerals: -21%
• Change in the number of child baptisms: -36%
• Change in the number of adult baptisms: -40%
• Change in the number of confirmations: -32%

Even more scary, for every church that was started between 1999 and 2009, 2.5 closed. There are maps of the country that show the relative growth and decline among dioceses, comparisons with other mainline denominations (and even the Southern Baptist Convention, which has seen membership decline for the first time in recent years).

But there are other ways to parse that data, and larger issues, as well. I read an article yesterday about America’s permanent dead zones, defined by the authors as areas where the unemployment rate has been at least 2% above the national average for the last 5, 10, or 20 years. It’s a fascinating read, and it would be interesting to compare the geography of the dead zones with the areas of decline in the Episcopal Church. For example, among the towns listed as dead zones are a series of towns in the Diocese of Upper South Carolina–Gaffney, Greenwood, Union, Chester, Lancaster, Seneca, Sumter. Some of these towns have thriving Episcopal churches; others don’t. By contrast, not a single city in that diocese is included in the list of prosperous zones. The diocese of Milwaukee seems not to have any dead zones, and Madison is listed as a prosperous zone. My question is: to what extent is growth in the Episcopal Church linked to those “prosperous zones”?

Here’s today’s report from Executive Council, contributed by Episcopal News Service.

If this is any indication, it’s going to be an interesting few months leading up to General Convention.

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