There’s been a great deal of research on the ways different sized Episcopal Churches function, and on the distribution of parish sizes. We know that most (more than half?) of the Episcopal Church congregations can be considered small or “family” sized congregations. And a small percentage of Episcopal congregations are considered large or “resource” congregations. And interestingly enough, most Episcopalians belong to large congregations even though there aren’t many large ones.
But to this point I’ve not seen any research on where the congregations of the Episcopal church are located in terms of community size. My guess has been that our congregations are in the city centers of historic communities – and rarely found in the middle of “metro-forms” (those loose suburban population centers that have no identifiable community core).
Someone along the line though must have done the research and the graphical results are posted on Facebook.
Take a look at the data – it turns out sort of like I expected. Most of our congregations are found in very large or large cities. I imagine that since 72% of our congregations are in metropolitan communities, our denomination is going to focus most of it’s attention and resources on issues that are common to large urban cores. And since only 13% or so are in rural areas, the rural congregations are going to take second or third place in our attention.
I don’t have much more to say about this than that at the moment. But it does help to explain why the topics that keep coming up in the Episcopal Church’s common life tend to be of the type that make sense in a place like downtown Phoenix and less like the ones that would make sense in a very small community like Benson AZ.
Any thoughts occur to you?
Sounds like normal politics. Illinois, for example, has half the population in the greater Chicago area, maybe 8% of the state surface. All the laws in the state are derived to serve Chicago’s needs. Farmers suffer, people’s rights suffer throughout the remaining 92% of the land. It’s about the same in any state, which is why some states are considering internal regionalizing of the territory that their laws apply to/are voted for. Not sure it would help the church.
Perhaps small churches and areas with low Episcopal density may very well be the salvation of TEC! But we need to “get” the realities of these folks and places…this means setting up shop in homes and building chapels/community spaces and finding a best fit with the local culture, developing priorities that are meaningful to the local community, and focusing on sharing the BCP, the Bible, and living into the Baptismal Covenant.
In some places a monastic community around an old farm might make more sense than erecting the usual parish/diocese model to provide local spiritual support. In other places, offering a tutoring center in an empty small town store backstopping the local schools or providing ESL for immigrant adults, or providing a weekly wellness clinic and developing/promoting a community garden could make our witness meaningful and welcoming in many places where Episcopalians are scarce or unknown.
We can’t afford to staff such expressions of evangelism only with clergy – we have to have engaged, knowledgeable, missionary Laity to make it work. We need folks like the Rivendell Community and DOK and BrStA and EYE out in the field – and for that matter having a resurrected Church Army wouldn’t hurt either.
Yet for many folks our current eccclesial model (mission station/mission/parish/diocese) IS being Episcopalian even though it often misses more folks than it catches – I wonder if the existing organization of our church is necessarily our only or best offering for small/rural/inner city communities….
I think you’re interpreting this graph incorrectly: it refers to metro areas, which are hugely larger than cities. If they are using the OMB Statistical Areas, well, the Baltimore area includes Queen Annes County on the Maryland eastern shore, which is almost entirely rural. I would imagine that of the metro are parishes, maybe a third are actually in urban areas, another third are in the suburbs, and the remainder are in semi-rural or fully rural areas. In our case twenty-five of the hundred-odd parishes in the Diocese of Maryland are in Baltimore City, and after that it starts to be a game of “what exactly is a city?” with Cumberland (two parishes) Hagerstown, Frederick and Westminster (one parish each) probably counting. My own parish is “metropolitan” but is actually at a semi-rural crossroads a mile or so away from the tiny village that gives it its name; probably two-thirds of the membership could be described as suburban commuters of one sort or another with the rest either retirees, farmer/agricultural or rural professionals (e.g. doctors and private practice lawyers).
Some of Kirk Hadaway’s old material does divide up churches by community size; possibly he could be prevailed upon to join that with the membership data to give proportions of membership by his categories, which are quite a bit finer-grained than these BTW.