Over on Episcopal Café, blogger Jim Naughton recently asked the question: “Why doesn’t the Episcopal Church plant more churches?”
Arizona Episcopal Priest Susan Brown Snook sparked the conversation by pointing out that in 2012, the entire Episcopal Church planted just three congregations. To place that into perspective, since its formation in 2009, the relatively small Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) — which reports one-eighth the attendance of the Episcopal Church — has planted 488 new congregations. My understanding is that most of the other oldline churches are in a similar state – the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) planted a total of four congregations in its most recent reporting year.
Walton assures us that “It isn’t too surprising that an oldline church would plant less than a newer denomination: oldine churches often have established congregations in most communities…” But he overlooks a little recent history in his analysis.
Since the Anglican Revolt really got into high gear in 2003, the Episcopal Church has, in round figures, spent around USD 40,000,000 in litigation to keep their property. And that process in ongoing, as the current trial in South Carolina will attest. Why is this?
- Because they could.
- Because Americans attach a special pastiche to “getting justice” in court.
- Because the current Presiding Bishop is mean and vindictive.
- Because they thought the existing properties were a major draw for the church.
But, if priorities had been different, those funds could have been spent on church planting and other similar activities. That was one of the hues and cries in my church a little while back: that the central church should support more church planting, although local churches are really better at it. (It’s possible for the centre to subsidise local church activity, but that’s another post). And that money could have been supplemented by funds obtained when selling property to seceding congregations.
Successful people and institutions prioritise, and commit their resources to what’s important for them. Since the Episcopal Church has traditionally had successful people in its naves, you’d think that they’d understand this. Or perhaps they do; evidently grinding down congregations and dioceses which want to leave the church is a priority for them. That strategy, however, isn’t one to foster the growth of the church.
So my message to Naughton and people of his style of mind is simple: stop complaining about the lack of church plants and look at where your church is committing its resources.