Skip to comments.Ghosts in the Church: statistical apparitions in the Diocese of Florida
Posted on 02/06/2006 8:07:21 AM PST by sionnsar
Statistics are fun things to play with, especially parish statistics. Did you know, for example, that I lead a church of 120 people? Of course on Sunday mornings I only see about 70 of them. This is great considering the fact that when I arrived three years ago only 42 showed up for worship on any given Sunday.
In fact, Ive never actually met almost half of the parishioners listed on my books. Most of them, excepting Christmas and Easter services, haven't come to Good Shepherd in over ten years. Some of them have probably passed away. Others have moved out of town. Many likely attend other churches; some probably dont worship at all.
If all 70 regular worshipers and I decided to abandon the parish leaving the building absolutely empty for the next year, there would still, technically speaking, be about 50 members of Good Shepherd.
But not really. They dont really exist. Theyre ghost members.
My parish is not unique. The wide disparity between parish membership numbers and actual attendance is almost universal in the Episcopal Church. This is not so much a sign of pastoral dereliction as it is an indicator of the utter uselessness of some statistical information. Anyone baptized in any given parish is logged into the parishs membership rolls. Whether they ever darken the door again, their name will likely remain there. Parish priests generally, hopefully, have better and more important things to do with their time than sweep through their membership lists to remove inactive names.
The more important statistic, the real statistic, is Average Sunday Attendance (ASA). While I pay little attention to my membership numbers, I, along with most pastors, pay very careful attention to my ASA. A sudden dip in ASA is a cause for concern. A consistent and increasingly sharp dip is a sign of crisis. Thats why the recently released national Episcopal Church statistics showing a consistent and increasingly steep decline in ASA caused such a stir.
So, knowing what every Episcopal priest knows about the difference between ASA and membership statistics, I was surprised to read in this Living Church article the following quote from Canon Dunkle of the diocese of Florida with regard to the departure of St. Johns (Tallahassee, FL):
...although the rector and bulk of the vestry at St Johns, Tallahassee, had left the diocese, only "35 percent of the congregation had followed. There were still 1,100 people" at St Johns, Canon Dunkle said.Canon Dunkle claims that the majority of the members of St. Johns have decided to remain in the Diocese of Florida and the Episcopal Church USA.
I expect that the "C&E"'s will be surprised the next time they show up.....
I disagree. I think it would be important to know who really is a member of your church. I think it would be important to know who has stopped coming to your church because they no longer reside in the area, and who is still in the area but no longer attends for one reason or another. It would very likely be worthwhile to talk to some of those people and find out why they stopped attending. Maybe you could find a way to get them to come back!
Quite a few of these bishops would not even have their jobs were the numbers accurately calculated on the basis of ASA instead of being tied to the somewhat murky "overall" membership numbers. The number of delegates a parish is allowed to have at diocesan convention is tied to membership figures.
$Howard made the "1100 stayed" assertion in the diocesan newsletter, which is read by a pastors and lay leaders who know full well the difference between membership and actual attendance. Surely $Howard would know this, which makes me wonder if he's really trying to dilude himself into thinking to situation isn't as bad as it really is.
Because, even though I have written several times to them to remove our names from the rolls, we STILL get the diocesan newsletter, addressed to us as members of our former parish.
You beat me to it. Perhaps this guy needs to find another line of work. When a sheep disappears from the fold, a good shepherd will at least look for it. I'm not sure what this guy thinks is more important that keeping track of the spiritual well being of his flock, but with under 100 active members - 40 or so families - he ought to be able to personally touch base with each one at least once a month.
I think those days are long gone, at least in larger Churches. Large Churches are impersonal, no matter what, IMO. Small Churches are best, both for Pastor and Congregation.
One knows for sure that one's Church knows he or she is 'gone' when the contribution envelopes stop coming.
IN THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH? Please tell me you were kidding?
I left a Church after being left-handedly insulted from the pulpit by the new Rector who wanted to get the point across that "we", the congregation should not continue to invite the former Rector back. I had not. I had merely requested that he do something "else", like Commission the Communion Rail Kneelers in memory of my Mom who actually knew him and not the new guy.
I did not know at the time that the "new" guy had already given the former Rector the pulpit because he thought HE was going to do the Commissioning!
My Mom died before he ever showed up and she loved the former Rector dearly. But apparently, without telling me that he was insulted, he (new guy) was HIGHLY insulted.
But that didn't stop the new guy from getting all huffy and few people didn't get the inference since the Commissioning service had been the previous Sunday.
I never went back. I had just given a 5-digit gift in memory of my Mom, and I didn't even get the chance to see them at the Communion Rail for more than 2 Sundays.
I had been a member at that Church for 13 years. My Mom had been a member with me, for 8 of those years.
NOT ONE person called me. Not one.
OTOH, I left a small parish, to go back to a previous Church (which "previous" 2000-person Church had also never wanted to find out why I left) and someone called me to find out if I was all right. I nearly fainted when I asked her to repeat her question because I was positive I was hallucinating! Note, it was NOT the Rector but a loving, caring parishioner who I had worked with on many Alpha classes, who wanted to make sure I wasn't ill or something.
Shoot, they don't do "Every Member Canvass" where every member on the roster was visited, with the idea of adding/deleting/correcting the roster for the family, as well as being a visible hint for a weekly/monthly/annual donation to the Church.
If ever there was a time when the "official roster" could have been corrected, it was when they did those. But to my knowledge they gave up on them some time in the late 70's.
There could be a hang-up in the transfer of membership information between the parish and the diocese.
When we called our old ECUSA parish to request that they please drop our names from the rolls, we were told in no uncertain terms the only way we could get our names off would be to officially request a transfer to another Episcopal Church. We are not the only ones reporting this experience from this particular parish. BTW this particular church constantly goes around the diocese 'bragging' about how large they are, and about how THEY have not lost members as a result of Gene. They also have a huge delegation to the diocesan convention, and this allows the activists in that parish to continually push that diocese further and further to the left.
I like the Catholics a lot better. And they still do the "Every Member Canvass". . . . even a large parish like ours (1600 households).
Could be . . . but I doubt it. Other parishes are having the same problem . . . how else is the diocese going to keep its numbers up? < g >
Guys, I'm a freeper and I'm not derelict.
When I first got to GS I made calls to everyone on the rolls for whom I could find contact info in order to greet them. Im not sure exactly, but I would say about 90% of those were unreachable (their info had changed etc. Those I could reach I left contact info and never heard back.
Should I then have swept them off the rolls? Undoubtedly. But in my first months I was not about to do that nor did I know why I should. They had been there long before me.
Should I sweep the rolls tomorrow? Perhaps. But I teach 5 bible studies one Christian Ed class a week aside from leading services etc. So, I do indeed have more important things to do.
Moreover, and Ill be frank here, the last thing you want to do (and this is not something Im making up) is spend time and energy getting old long departed members back. They left and stayed away for a reason. If they know leadership has changed and they still do not come, then spending energy trying to change there mind is more effort than its worth.
My responsibility is NOT primarily to reach out to those who have heard the gospel and for one reason or another decided to leave the parish long ago. My primary responsibility is to carry out the great commission. That is done by seeking those who have yet to hear the message and proclaim it.
here's a link to some further discussion:
Yes, but I don't think you can streach 70 smiling faces into be a 'large' church. That should be about 20 families (perhaps twice that if it is a dying congregation of older folks, which would be even more reason to keep track of folks.)
actually we're growing. When I arrived there were only 42 on any given Sunday, now there are 70. Our median age is 34.
Moreover, the ASA does not tell the whole story. After VGR was consecrated, I took a stand against the diocese (the bishop and delegation voted to confirm his election), asked the bishop not to preach from our pulpit, ended table fellowship with him and the vestry voted to join the ACN.
At that time, 2003, we were pushing 80 per Sunday after a phenomenal period of growth. But when I took the stand I did about 30 original liberal parishioners left.
Our attendance was very low for a while but God blessed us and though we lost 30, we gained about 50 through evangelism, mostly college kids and non-episcopalians.
We are in the middle of a growth curve now and we are pushing 80 again.
Nothing wrong with any of that. You knew when the liberals left and no longer desired pastoral oversight.
It was the philosophy underlying this quote that gave me pause, " Parish priests generally, hopefully, have better and more important things to do with their time than sweep through their membership lists to remove inactive names. "
I submit that knowing who is in the flock and who isn't is integral to pastoral care, and in the smaller church that is going to fall upon the priest or pastor.
Please read my post above. When I arrived I did try to reach these people and my previous post describes what happened.
AS for priorities. Both taking care of the sheep who do come and reaching out to the lost, I submit, take a much higher priority than going after lapsed members from 12 years ago.
When you come into a church you have no idea why people left years ago. Just because they stopped coming does not mean they are lost; they very well could be attending another solid, believing church. In my case, I couldn't even find 90% of the people.
Second, as for those you do reach, once you have let them know leadership has changed and invite them to return, there is little else you can do.
Third, sometimes people come back at a price. This actually happened to my predecessor. Ill come back but only if this or that or the other thing has changed These types are not really willing to commit to the church, they are committed to a church reshaped in their image. If you bow to that youve sold yourself and the direction of the church to the most dysfunctional of members.
Fourth. Ill repeat this because it bears repeating, the first priorty is sharing the gospel with people whove never heard it, making disciples and teaching them to obey the teachings of Christ. If you spend more effort trying to find lapsed members than reaching out to non-believers, you are failing to keep the primary charge youve been given.
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