Why Episcopal Churches are going to be in for a bumpy ride for a long while…

Current Affairs / Religion / World Mission

Episcopal Overview: Findings from the 2005 Faith Communities Today Survey:

“The median seating capacity in parish worship facilities is 175 persons. Only 16% of Episcopal congregations have facilities that seat more than 300 people, while one in four seats 100 or fewer. Half of the reporting churches are able to seat between 101 and 250 persons….”

This is a very important (in a subtle way) piece of information. Congregations in a single worship service will grow until they fill about 2/3rds of the seats in a worship space. After that people start complaining about the crowding and about how there is “no place to sit”. Some congregations have managed to overcome this limitation, but it’s a good rule of thumb for the majority.

The average Sunday attendance of a congregation tends to be very similar to the average number of yearly pledges in a congregation. For example if the average Sunday attendance is 125 people, the congregation tends to have something like 115-135 pledging units. The average pledge (in this part of the world) is something like $1,500. That means total pledge income in a congregation with an average attendance of 125 people per week is roughly $187,000.

A single parish priest paid to Diocesan standards (and including all benefits like pension, housing, etc.) costs a parish something like $80,000. The cost of simply keeping the building open (utility, insurance, yearly maintenance, etc.) is something like $70,000 to $75,000. Together that’s $155,000. Which leaves $30,000 for Diocesan pledge, organist, clerical support, mission etc.

Which means there simply isn’t enough money in a typically large sized pastoral congregation of the Episcopal Church to do things like advertisements, special ministry initiatives etc. And it means that each year people are going to be worried about whether or not fuel cost increases, inflation and/or lost pledges are going push the budget into the red.

All this because our building tend not to have enough seating. We either have to increase stewardship (not a quick fix) or lower clergy costs (not simple) or find some new solution if we want to have vital functioning parishes.

Bishop Paul Marshall reminds us that in liturgical matters “The space always wins.” That seems to be true financially as well. As long as we are worshiping in small buildings, we are going to be finding ourselves financially struggling. I guess that’s why the new evangelical churches tend to have so many seats. The designers understand this economic equation.

(Via titusonenine :: Brought to you by CaNNet Blogs.)

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. Nick Knisely: Why Episcopal Churches are going to be in for a bumpy ride for a long while

    There are so many blogs which are in the blogs I should have linked to before but have not managed to et category. Nick Kniselys is one of themKSH.
    The average Sunday attendance of a congregation tends to be very similar to the average n…

  2. shari says

    The even more obvious solution (assuming that the problem is a seating problem not an attendance problem) is to simply add another service.
    Thus in my (RC) church we began (about 15 years ago) with an 8am and 10am service. With growth, we added a Saturday 5pm service. Then we added a Sunday 12 noon (Spanish) service and simultaneously spun off a church to a neighboring area (which now has 3 services). This gave us a 5 year breathing space, after which we added a Sunday 5pm youth service. Then we added a Saturday 4pm Vietnamese service. Then we added a Saturday 7pm service and we again spun off another church which first had two services and now has added a third. . .
    Currently all our services are about 2/3 full with the exception of the 12 noon Spanish mass which is standing room only, and we are considering spinning off a third church versus focusing our energies into building a Catholic high school.
    The problem in the Episcopal church is that if one adds a Satuday evening service, it will not be populated by new members, but by the folks from the 10am service who find Saturday afternoon more convenient than Sunday. This is an attendance problem, not a seating problem, and the Rev. Knisely need only add a service to realize this sad fact of life.

  3. Fair point shari. We have added two additional services (Sat. and Sunday evenings) – and I pray we can add another on Sunday afternoon. And I do think that a congregation here or there can manage to be a counter-example to what I’ve written above.
    I will add though that many congregations resist adding additional services – the clergy may want them, but the people are worried about changing the nature of the congregation. It’s not that common a thing in the denomination that has the lowest average Sunday attendance in the country to be in a position to add more services.
    But on the whole, a building that only seats 100 people is going to be limited to in how many people it can attract no matter how many services it holds. And that limitation is going to show up in the number of people who financially support the church.
    We have a lot of small buildings in the Episcopal Church here in the United States. If my numbers are right – the majority of those small buildings can not support the services of a full time priest by themselves given the present economics.
    So what do we do? I have some ideas – but I’m not done thinking them through. Look for more to come.

  4. shari says

    What do we do? We stop feeding sheep adulterated low calorie grass substitute in place of the Gospel.
    We could also put those old Episcopalian old geezers to work, in afterschool programs. If an Episcopal church used her army of retired people to run a volunteer/subsidized homework club/Bible study/afterschool program, it would quickly fill up with the families of the desperate working class who struggle to keep their kids safe.
    Such homework clubs would, of course only be available to pledging, families who show up regularly on Sunday.
    But to do that, TEC would need to stop being a place where the “beautiful people” go to network, and feel “spiritual” about themselves, and be a place where Christians go to work for Christ. In addition, TEC would need to be a place where a parent could feel that his/her kids would not be corrupted by the attitudes presented. (In other words, using the homework time to continue to beat the LBGT drum would not work).

  5. Alan says

    I found it very interesting that the local bank which is providing financing for our desperately needed expansion is very aware of the “If you build it, they will come, and worship” factor. They do a lot of church loans, and have seen this over and over. Of course, the fact that our 9:15 service looks like a Christmas service, in terms of chairs in the aisles, does owe a bit to the solid faith being preached.

  6. David Wilson+ says

    You have arrived in evangelical circles! You were featured on Titusonenine. Now if we can just get you to vote the right way at General Convention.

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