In 2001, the Rev. Charles Fulton, the evangelism officer for TEC, wrote an article in which he mentioned that the average age of an Episcopalian was 57 years of age.
Specifically, he said:
The average age of a person in the United States is estimated to be 34.6 years old. The average age of an Episcopalian is estimated to be 57 years old. In twenty years many of the “average Episcopalians” won’t be around to know if “2020, A Clear Vision” succeeded. The gap between 34.6 and 57 is often our own children. A big part of the real high-risk challenge is to reach out and negotiate how we worship with other generations who aren’t going to grow up to be like us.
If the average life expectancy is just over 77 years, then the average Episcopalian living at the time Fr. Fulton wrote his article will be dead 20 years later. In other words, roughly 50% of the members of the Episcopal Church will die in that 20 year period; and, to the extent that TEC has not replaced these members through evangelism and retention of its own children, TEC will decline by that same percentage.
Given that families of childbearing age are only a portion of TEC’s membership, and that those families that do have children have a birthrate of 1.3 children per couple, even if TEC succeeded in retaining 100% of its own children, it would still decline substantially. Coupled with the lack of evangelism among Episcopal congregations, one is left with looking at a patient who is quickly becoming terminal.
The latest set of statistics from TEC merely illustrate this demographic decline. It is not so much that the numbers reflect an exodus from the Episcopal Church (although that is the case where individuals and congregations have, in fact, left), the numbers primarily reflect the inability of TEC to replace its members who are dying by retaining its own future generations and evangelizing the unchurched so that they become members.
Thus, the decline is greatest in the North and Midwestern US, where younger generations have moved away. It is not the case, for instance, that Episcopalians left TEC in Springfield or Quincy (to cite two dioceses with which I am most familiar); the children of Episcopalians in Springfield or Quincy either did not remain Episcopalians or else moved away, and the congregations were not capable of evangelizing to the extent necessary to reverse the demographic decline as the older remaining members have died. “2020, A Clear Vision” was intended to promote strategies what would result in growth. But (in a nutshell) the whole program was diverted from evangelism to “inclusion,” and the result is becoming obvious.
Given the trajectory away from a theology that believes that all people need to be converted to faith in Christ, and the lack of a compelling message that will retain young people, it is difficult to see the trend toward decline being reversed.
and this is not our fate.
So let us not talk falsely now,
the hour is getting late.
~~ Bob Dylan, All Along the Watchtower
(Just thought I’d toss in a fitting Dylan quote to make Baby Blue happy.)