Thursday, August 26, 2010

Is St. Paul’s Growing?

Apparently not.

The figure below is from the Web site of The Episcopal Church. (You can generate graphs for St. Paul’s or for other parishes from here. Click on the figure for a larger view.)

The figure shows three measures of parish size over time. I should hasten to add that none of these measures, and probably no combination of them, measures parish health. (For a provocative essay on measuring parish health, see “Measuring productivity in the church.”)

Of the measures shown here, “Worship Attendance,” usually labeled “Average Sunday Attendance” (ASA) is usually cited as the best indication of the effective size of a parish measured in numbers of people. Church “members” who never show up may be indifferent, alienated, relocated, or dead. Who knows? ASA is both more meaningful and more obvious than many other measures, even to those not actually counting heads or poring over statistics. Income measures, on the other hand, reflect the health of the community as much as they do the size or health of the parish.

So what of St. Paul’s? Anyone who has been around for a decade or more will probably say that St. Paul’s is shrinking. From the chart, it is clear that ASA in the recent past peaked in 1999, was stable for two more years, and then began a steady, if not completely monotonic, decline. The ASA for 2009 (not shown on the chart) was 317, down 3 from the year before. Between 2003 and 2009, ASA varied within the range of 316 ±25. I suspect that the figures I am using do not account for the Saturday evening service, but anyone who has been going to that service knows that it is attracting fewer worshipers than it used to.

Interesting though these facts are, they become more significant in light of Lou’s recent message about adding staff. (See “A Response to the Latest Plea for Fulfilling the Vision.”) The size of the staff at St. Paul’s has been growing and is as big as it has been in two decades. At other times we have been without an associate rector, without a youth director, missing other key staff members, or getting by with temporary replacements. We had more people attending services then.

What’s wrong with this picture? In fact, what’s wrong with St. Paul’s? Do we really expect that a $1.8 million fund drive will fix it? I don’t.

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