Wednesday, December 08, 2004

More about numbers

Last week (the December 2nd entry), I mentioned the decline in ECUSA membership for 2003 and the denial exhibited about it.

Something I didn’t mention is that the real declines are probably worse, perhaps much worse, than the reported numbers. Here’s some simple churchly bureaucratic reasons why:

1. Bureaucratic lag in taking people off the membership rolls. When someone transfers or discontinues their membership, the recognition of that in church rolls is usually far from instantaneous. Nothing nefarious here. That’s just the way the world works.

2. Church reluctance in recognizing loss of membership. Whatever the motives, which may or may not be good, churches are sometimes reluctant to officially recognize the loss of a member. One lady has posted that she clearly told an ECUSA church she was leaving to remove her from the rolls. Instead, they placed her on the inactive membership roll. (Sorry, I’ve lost the link to her post.)

3. Some just leave. Many fed-up or discouraged members may just leave without asking the church to remove them from the rolls. Such people may remain on membership rolls for years.

4. The consecration of Gene Robinson occurred late in the year on All-Saints Day. This and the above reasons make it likely that most resulting membership losses were not officially recognized in 2003.

Granted, the controversy around that consecration did attract interest. It played a role in even me paying more attention to Anglicanism. But churches tend to recognize membership gains faster than membership losses. And I seriously doubt any membership gains came close to offsetting losses. So I’ll stick with saying the real declines are much worse that the reported ones. But time will tell. The 2004 numbers will be interesting.

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