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Episcopal parish-growth expert: ‘Get you some more big parking lots !’

11 March 2010

This is a follow-up article to the event I highlighted regarding the Episcopal church-growth “expert” (dated 18 Jan 2010). 

The latest Interchange (pp 1 & 5) talks about Rev. Ehrich’s speaking engagement.  There are many areas ripe for fisking, but I thought I’d focus on one rather than the entire plethora of sorry assertions (of course, I may return to the rest of this, at a later date):

Already the Episcopal Church’s market share – or percentage of the population – has shrunk from about 1.6 percent in the 1950s to 1960s (or about 3.6 million) to .68 percent (2.1 million).
Naysayers within the Episcopal Church blame the decline on the 2003 election of New Hampshire’s Bishop Gene Robinson, a partnered gay man. Or they cite the ordi­nation of women. The adoption of a new prayer book. Or an increased focus on social justice.
But Ehrich contends that the seeds for stagnation were sown in the 1950s.
And he argued that every mainline denomination shows exactly the same curve of decline, indicating that the problem is not about a singular issue but a massive cultural shift.
In 1954, planting a new church was like “throwing seed on magic ground,” Ehrich said. “You had but to build a building, paint the doors red and you had an Episcopal church.”  Suburbs began to boom in the 1950s, and church growth followed. But in hindsight, said Ehrich, the Episcopal Church made some critical errors.

(emphasis mine)

Okay, so here’s the deal… I went out and found some data that a TEC specialist put together for TEC membership from 1930 to 2002.  I also found some more recent TEC data for the years 2004-2008, and put that on the same graph.  I also superimposed the episcopates of Bp. Pike, Bp. Spong, and Bp. Robinson.  Here is the result of this exercise:

And here is the same graph with Rev. Ehrich’s period of poor church planning highlighted:

Okay… ( * ).. where to start?

1)  I appreciate that Rev. Ehrich knows that trends do not occur in a vacuum, as he points back to the 50’s for what is happening today.  I presuppose as much. 

2)  The assertion that “naysayers within the Episcopal Church blame the decline on the 2003 election of New Hampshire’s Bishop Gene Robinson,” is a straw-man, plain and simple.  Many “naysayers” (like Yours-Truly) have been saying for a long time that the troubles are theological, and began well before the election of VGR, and well before our culture became fascinated with homosexuality. 

3)  From either graph, we see the rate of TEC membership growth begin to decline with the beginning of Bp. Pike’s episcopate, and TEC membership reaching its all-time peak at the end of his episcopate.  This suggests that many TEC’rs were irked at TEC’s inability to excommunicate a known heretic. 

4)  Spong’s episcopate occurs over a long period of steady membership decline in TEC;

5)  As a matter of fact, right at the beginning of Robinson’s enthronement, the rate of TEC membership decline accelerates.  So much for Rev. Ehrich’s whitewashing of TEC’s turpitude with his theories of parking and accessibility. 

6)  There is a strong correlation between the acceleration of membership decline and the beginning of Pike’s and Robinson’s respective episcopates.

7)  There is a not-as-strong correlation between the rate of decline for Bp. Spong’s episcopate.  The reason the correlation is not as strong is because the rate of decline is steady during this period.

8)  No correlation may be inferred from Ehrich’s supposed “Poor Church Planning Era.”  Neither the rate of decline, nor the change of the rate of growth correlates to this period.

9)  Even if (and here, I’m granting Ehrich’s assertions, purely for the sake of argument) Ehrich’s assertions about parish location, parish parking, and parish “entrepreneurship” are true and correct, are the leaders within the parishes that suffer from the Era of Poor Church Planning so dense, as to not correct the mistakes of the 1950’s, over the past half a century ?? 

Frankly, I don’t think anyone could be that dense.

Oh yeah – and speaking of parking and accessibility, I encourage any skeptical reader to worship at St. Matthew’s Westerville, on any given Sunday.  Let your trip around the parking lot, observations regarding the parish’s accessibility to the Public, and worship experience there, inform your opinion regarding Rev. Ehrich’s advice. 

But hey – I’m not complaining

..His will be done. 

– Elder

PS – Additional timeline data can be found here.  I plan on incorporating all of this into a master chart, but not right now.

Oh, and the additional data supports my argument.  😉

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  1. 11 March 2010 at 12:43 PM

    If those in power accept what you are saying they will have to reconsider their theology. That might make them unpopular at cocktail parties. The where would they be?

    On the other hand, if the decline is due to demographics and insufficient parking, then there is hope. The leadership is not responsible for the demography. That’s the responsibility of the membership. So that’s not their fault, it’s our fault.

    The inadequate parking is also not the fault of the leadership. If the membership would just be more environmentally conscious and use mass transit, then there wouldn’t be a parking issue. Further, if the laity would just cough up more money for better facilities, then there really wouldn’t be a parking issue. Once again, it’s not the leadership’s fault.

    Which set of explanations is more appealing to the priests and bishops?

  2. Elder Oyster
    12 March 2010 at 12:33 PM

    Hi Matthew,

    I think the real question is much darker than that. On the surface of things, yes, it’s much easier to look at the chart and correlate it to times of controversy. Problem is, the conclusions of that exercise are unacceptable, and will (in the Romans 1 sense – and I think there is more than one point Paul is making in Romans 1) be “suppressed in unrighteousness.”

    My question would be, “what if the leadership of TEC looks at the data, and they are spiritually unable to believe that they have needed to repent, all along?”
    They would be forced into a different set of conclusions. Thus, we have the theories about not enough public accessibility, or parking, or the right program(s).

    What if they couldn’t change?

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