Friday, October 05, 2007

On blowing it with our "Market Share"

OK ... now it's official. What I've been jumping up and down about for what seems like years now (because it HAS been!) -- TIME Magazine now concurs: what's keeping the church from growing is not the inclusion of LGBT people or those pesky women priests up front (to name the top two items on the "why the church is going to hell in a handbasket" list from the neo-con/"orthodox" playlist) but the outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual bigotry that has spurred the conservative fringe to choose schism over comprehensiveness resulting in the things most people know about the Episcopal Church are [a] we have a gay bishop and [b] we fight a lot.

I am utterly convinced there IS a "market share" for the Good News we have to offer and that it is being utterly, completely ignored as we bend over backwards to placate those who are determined to split the church spending so much time wringing our hands over those threatening to leave that we don't have time to open our arms to welcome those who will come when we pull our heads out of our ecclesiastical orifice and get back to moving the church forward by proclaiming the Gospel instead of dragging the church down by maintaining the status quo.

Case in point: these reflections from Eastern Michigan, shared with permission:

We, The Episcopal Church, have a severe image problem.

My 29-year-old son (a transitional deacon) recently passed me a copy of unChristian, by David Kinnaman, president of The Barna Group. While I'm not a big fan of the book, the study behind it needs to be recognized.

The study shows that 16-29-year-olds exhibit a greater degree of negative opinion toward Christianity than did previous generations in the same stage oflife. For them Christianity, including The Episcopal Church, is The Religious Right. The Evangelicals, the Rightest of the Right, have an approval rating (even including their own kids) of only 3%.

By huge margins (as much as 87%) they see us as judgmental, hypocritical, old-fashioned, and too involved in politics. This is particularly true when it comes the question of sexuality. We are labeled "anti-homosexual" and accused of showing contempt and unloving attitudes toward gays and lesbians, of treating homosexuality as a "bigger sin" than anything else. By wide margins (even among young people who attend church) they have rejected what they perceive to be the churches teaching on the subject.

We know we are not the Religious Right, but we haven't been too effective at differentiating our selves from them.

And we wonder why membership and attendance figures are sliding.

We wonder why we don't have too many 16-29-year-olds on our membership roles.

The answer is complex, but surely these figures point to part of the problem.

Check out The Barna Update for yourself.
And then let's get to work making it yesterday's news and giving TIME some new poll numbers!


Anonymous said...

How often I have thought this very thing! Non-Christian gays and lesbians I have talked with don't see us as advancing on inclusion or on the full appreciation of all our baptized. They merely know that we are fighting over THEM and they don't have much appetite for it. Just as we within the Church don't like being talked "about" rather than talked "with", our sisters and brothers outside don't find the idea of being fought "over" to be equal to being fought "for".

Anonymous said...

Good study.
So, when you have regions or dioceses that are friendly to your take on the "good news", why aren't they growing? Explain New Hampshire, Nevada, and West Virginia. What are the heavily weighted reappraising dioceses waiting for. There's hardly opposition there. What's the excuse for no growth?


doug ... don't know. we're growing in L.A.

Bateau Master said...

Hmmmmm growing LA?????

Looks like the Diocesan staff needs to count better!

cscwallace said...

As for "non-growth", that is the point of the post. Here in the "Windsor" Diocese of Texas, the 4 most liberal, inclusive parishes in Houston have all experienced astounding growth, with 3 of them having completed major additions to their church buildings as a direct result, most recently the Cathedral almost doubling in size (and yes, the Cathedral is one of the two most liberal in town).

Anonymous said...

Odd, it doesn't refer to Catholics or Orthodox at all.

Lost in Texas said...

Look at over all church attendance. The TEC is DYING. It has decided to go after the smallest of the small minorites. One that is dead end not matter how you look at it. epidemiologically, scripturally, evolutinarily. It simply does not work. Another thing, although I doubt this will be printed. I am a conservative. I have no problem with GLBTs coming to church. I have an enormous problem with anyone wanting to be a minister of the Gospel who will even make the attempt to reform his or her life to conform with the gospel.

Anonymous said...

The more TEC differentiates itself from classical Christianity, the deeper and faster the slide. As Yogi Berra put it, people are staying away from the ballpark in droves. The faster you return to the cross, the faster the return to being attractive to people thirsting for spiritual drink.

Anonymous said...

I was raised Catholic, but had left the church for many years. Thanks to the books by Marcus Borg, I was considering returning, and this time to the Episcopal Church instead of the RC church, since they are totally worthless when it comes to GLBT people. I had even attended a few masses at an Ep. church in Philadelphia (St. Mark's) Although I dont accept the entire Creed, the music and ritual was inspiring, and the priest gave good sermons. However, after the North American Episcopal bishops stabbed gay people in the back again to appease the bigots, I see my hopes were premature. I refuse to ride in the back of the spiritual bus and therefore will no longer be returning to any church. I will keep by spirituality personal and private as I have done since the 70s.

Jon said...

NJG, why not just ignore the bishops like 80% of Episcopalians already do. It's not like their actions are likely to have a direct impact on the week to week life of the parish church.


Anonymous said...


spirituality cannot be a merely private matter. That's one of the reasons why support for homosexuality is so wrong. we have to take the entire human enterprise into account, and the rearing of children is central to that. Society, to remain stable, must offer support for the maximum number of children to have the distinctive contribution of a father and the distinctive contribution of a mother. This isn't a subjective or private consideration but a matter that pertains to the good of all humanity. --J

Anonymous said...

Oh here comes an anonymous doing the children thing.

Perhaps anonymous doesn't realize that a vast proporation of children are not raised by a beaver-cleaver family. Single parents, adoptive parents, foster parents, and so on make up a large proportion

Moreover, studies have shown that children raised by gay parents are well -adjusted and distinguished from children in straight families largely by their, er, tolerence.

And unless and untill you prevent infertile and elderly people from marrying, your procreative argument is worth bupkiss.

children should be raised by loving parents.

Unless, of course, you prefer the recent decision in Utah, deciding that a family of 4 children whose mother is an addict should be removed from the loving care of their uncle and separated from one another into foster care (and you know how good that is), simply becuase the uncle is gay?

I wonder how you conservatives can live with yourselves.


Unknown said...

The Pew Foundation and other groups have done surveys of 20-somethings and religious values. The value most often approved is "inclusiveness." Being so, it's the anti-glbt mossbacks, and our bishops, who are killing TEC. Roger

Anonymous said...

I will be "doing the children thing" all the days of my life. I spent three years among inner city teens who were lacking fathers and I could feel that lack in the depths of my being. Society, including the church, should now be increasing its commitment to the father-mother family, not decreasing it by taling about how families are really just all the same no matter how you configure them. Sure love is what counts, but fathers and mother love in different ways, and "vive la difference". Both are crucial to the optimal development of children, and that is what's worthy of the commitment of church and society in general. -- J

Anonymous said...

Ah, the numbers thing.

Only the Romans can get away with tradition and still maintain a captive audience. And even they have started to do folk music masses and the like. They have convinced their believers that only they have ChristianityTm.

Protestants? Most Protestants on a church hunt nowadays seem to want to be entertained. Liturgy just isn't that entertaining, compared with lavish music-and-video shows that the suburban megachurches put out. Fancy preaching is also attractive to many seekers, as is a generic architecture and decoration that is not "too churchy". Gyms, youth facilities, etc - all cater to seekers returning when they have kids. Seekers who choose non-liturgical megachurches tend to move around a lot - there really isn't all that much loyalty to specific denominations anymore.

I'd rephrase that as "non-RCC LITURGICAL churches are having a hard time maintaining numbers".


Anonymous said...

Weeeellll. How about a little support for S-CHIP, for cheap to free high quality daycare (as in France), for other quality resources for poor and lower-middle-class kids.

The sky is not falling because a few lesbian couples go the artificial insemination route. At least they WANT the kids, unlike a lot of the poor girls/ young women who have kids out of wedlock because they don't know or see any other realistic life course and just follow the crowd.

What hurts kids most is knowing that they have a parent who is known/alive but who Just Doesn't Care. A dad who shows up once in a while for a quickie and says hi to the kids before heading to the bedroom. For that matter, a dad in corporate America who doesn't bother to keep up with what the children in his own household are doing.


Anonymous said...

J, men and women don't love all that differently. Sociological studies (real ones!) have shown that children raised by gay and lesbian couples were BETTER adjusted and less prejudiced than their counterparts raised by hetero parents. The people who work on the cruise lines that Rosie O'Donnell uses for Our Families, lesbian and gay parents with their children all commented on how well behaved and pleasant their children were. It doesnt matter if the 'loving' parent(s) are xx or xy, it's the quality of the parenting. And from what I've seen on shows like Dr. Phil, Maury, Springer, Judge Judy etc., you heteros have absolutely NOTHING better to offer children than we gays and lesbians do!