By Kirk Petersen
Statistics are so hard.
I had this great idea for an article — let’s identify the fastest-growing Episcopal churches, interview the rectors, and see if their success stories have anything in common. The story will show that it’s possible to grow a church, even though attendance is falling nationally. And maybe other churches will get ideas that help them grow their own average Sunday attendance (ASA).
With impeccable timing, the article was published on the very same day when two dioceses became the first to suspend public worship. It’s since become clear that nobody’s ASA is going to be growing in the immediate future.
But that wasn’t the biggest mishap with the article.
In the following days I received two emails from rectors who told me, respectfully and with admirable restraint, that their growth exceeded that of some of the churches on the published list.
And they were right.
The short version of how it happened: Episcopal Church Center provided a list, drawn from the database of parochial report responses, of the churches whose ASA had grown the most. The list measured growth on a numerical basis — but I believed it to be a list of churches that had the most growth on a percentage basis. (My bad.) I added a column to the spreadsheet to calculate the percentage growth, identified the top 10, and started calling rectors.
The list that I created overlapped with the list I described in the article, but they were not identical. (Yes, that’s the short version of how it happened. The long version includes lots of excuses.)
In an effort to give due recognition to other churches that had higher percentage growth than those on my list, I asked for data on the highest percentage growth. The resulting list skewed strongly toward very small churches, so I specified that churches must have had an ASA of at least 50 in 2013. The median domestic Episcopal church has an ASA of 53, so setting the cutoff at 50 means slightly more than half of the churches meet the criteria.
So, here are the churches that had percentage growth higher than one or more churches on the published list, starting from a base of at least 50 ASA in 2013:
- La Iglesia de San Pablo, Seaside, California (153%)
- Indian Hill Church, Cincinnati, Ohio (122%)
- Trinity Episcopal Church, Boothwyn, Pennsylvania (103%)
- Paul’s Church, Haymarket, Virginia (100%)
- Cyprians Episcopal Church, Roxbury, Massachusetts (98%)
- Church of the Epiphany, Oak Hill, Virginia (89%)
Congratulations, one and all — you’ve obviously been doing something right. And no, I’m not going to reconstruct a Top 10 list to replace the one that was published, because all those churches are doing something right, too.
In fact, I’m done with Top 10 lists.