The usual standard for judging size, growth, and decline of a parish in the Episcopal Church is Average Sunday Attendance (ASA). This method is enshrined in our parochial reports which we have to forward to the diocese and to the national church. It’s not without its detractors and the possibility of fudge but no one has offered an adequate alternative. Tom Ehrich points out some of the problems of ASA in an article. He advocates an alternative:
A much better quantitative measure would get at “touches,” that is, how many lives are being touched by contact with the faith community in its various Sunday, weekday, off-site and online ministries and then, for a qualitative measure, asking how those lives are being transformed.
Of course, one ought to demand a qualitative measure for ASA as well. How many lives are being transformed through our worship?
We’re wringing our hands in the Episcopal Church over decline in membership and attendance and many of our detractors argue our decline is directly related to our liberal theology and morality.
Well, apparently statistics to be published next week show a 5.5% decline in baptisms in the Southern Baptist Convention from 2011 to 2012 and a drop in total membership below 16 million (more here). Most Baptist churches still require baptism of new members (whether or not they’ve been baptized before), so this suggests a precipitous drop in numbers. And no one can blame that decline on liberal theology and permissive ethics (except perhaps the Independent Baptists who regard Southern Baptists as apostates).
Maybe we have more in common with Southern Baptists than either they or we could imagine.