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What Happens When Your Church Sides with the World Over God’s Word?

Over the past few years, we’ve seen churches increasingly compromise with the world on doctrine, particularly when it comes to gay marriage. The Episcopal Church is one denomination that has sided with the world on both gay marriage and clergy, and now we’re beginning to see the results of that stand.

According to statistics from the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, the denomination lost just over 36,000 members between 2017 and 2018. There are some other telling stats in this report:

  • Forty-two percent of Episcopal congregations have seen a 10% decline in membership, while 59% of churches have seen a 10% decrease in average Sunday attendance over the past five years.
  • Sixty-two percent of congregations have 200 members or less, and three-fourths of Episcopal churches have an average Sunday attendance of less than 100 people.
  • A whopping 383 Episcopal congregations have an average Sunday attendance of ten or fewer.
  • The median average Sunday attendance at Episcopal churches is 53.

What do all of these numbers point to? One denomination that has taken a stand in favor of theological and political liberalism is in decline, and 2017-2018 isn’t the only period of decline for the Episcopal church.

The Christian Post reports:

The 36,000-member drop is larger than the previous two years, when the denomination declined by about 32,500 members in 2017 and a little more than 34,000 members in 2016.

In 2018, the average Sunday worship attendance declined by about 23,500 people, making it the largest drop the church body has seen since at least 2014.

In previous years, 2017 saw an average worship attendance decline of around 13,700, 2016 saw a decline of 9,300, 2015 saw a decline of 20,600, and 2014 saw a near equal decline of 23,200.

Jeffrey Walton of the Institute of Religion and Democracy has unpacked these stats even further.

The Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire that first elected an openly partnered gay bishop in 2003 reported a 2018 attendance decline of 19.9%. The relatively traditionalist dioceses of Florida and Springfield (Illinois) reported declines of 0.7% and 0.8%, respectively. Excepting Navajo Missions, the smallest diocese by attendance continues to be Northern Michigan, which dropped 4.4% to 393 attendees and was the only diocese to record zero adult baptisms and zero confirmations in 2018…

Formerly traditionalist dioceses now under progressive leadership seem to be faring especially badly. The Episcopal Diocese of Northern Indiana, where Democratic Presidential Candidate Pete Buttigieg was married and is a parishioner, shed 9.5% of attendees in a single year.

And it’s not just gay marriage that has led parishoners to flee the Episcopal Church, as Walton notes:

Across the Potomac River, the historic Christ Church in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, has struggled with departures after church officials announced plans to remove plaques commemorating historic church members President George Washington and General Robert E. Lee. In the past decade, Christ Church has dropped from approximately 700 Sunday attendees down to 400, while losing a quarter million dollars from it’s annual plate-and-pledge income. Membership has dropped from more than 2,500 down to approximately 1,500.

As the Episcopal Church doubles down on both theological and cultural liberalism, it’s bleeding members and attendees. So much (thought not all) of these left-leaning policies involve compromise with the world over the Word of God.

The Apostle John called us to avoid aligning ourselves with the world:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. —1 John 2:15 (ESV)

If our churches choose the world over the Word of God, they will decline. They will lose members because they’re not making disciples who follow the commands and exhortations from the Bible. We’re seeing this in the Episcopal church, and it’s sad.

Our churches won’t grow unless they preach a message that goes against the world. True Christianity is countercultural, and we believers who refuse to choose the world over Jesus will stand out and hopefully make an impact.

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