Monday, October 7, 2019


On 25 September, I posted the entry below on the new membership data from the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina.

With all the interest in recent legal news, this information may have been overlooked by some readers. It is worth a second read, especially in light of the Episcopal diocese's move to repossess the 29 parishes and Camp. It is just a matter of time before the Episcopal bishop returns to the 29 and the Camp. This means the people in these 29 parishes will have a choice between staying at home, with the properties, or leaving home.

The data below speak to the credibility of the ADSC leadership. Before, during, and after the schism, the handful of people who made the schism promoted certain claims that have since been disproven. The major one was that the diocese and the parishes could leave the Episcopal Church intact and take the property with them. After spending millions of dollars of the people's money, this claim has been demolished by the courts. 

Another assertion concerned membership. The diocesan leadership reinterated the notion that "liberal" religion (TEC) would decline and "orthodox" churches would swell in membership. The data below show this to be untrue. Now, nearly seven years after the schism, the communicants of the ADSC have clear evidence questioning the credibility of their diocesan leadership. This is important to bear in mind as they face the choice of staying or leaving.   

Original posting of 25 September 2019:


The newly named Anglican Diocese of South Carolina has just released its parochial statistics for the years 2017 and 2018. Find them here . These figures will help us get a better picture of the growth and decline of the ADSC since its formation in the schism of 2012. We now have the parochial membership numbers for six years after the schism, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018. So the overall question is, How is the breakaway diocese doing since the schism?

In terms of budget, the total revenue of ADSC went from $25.6m in 2013 to $27.8m in 2018. This reached a peak in 2016 and has declined since. We do not know how the revenues and expenditures for legal costs are being handled in the budget. We do know that in the last couple of years, ADSC has allocated around $1m/yr for legal expenses.


The annual membership statistics show decline in every category of quantification. The claim of "baptized members" went from 23,181 in 2013 to 20,763 in 2018, a decline of 10%. However, the numbers for "baptized membership" are not reliable indicators as some local churches have continued to keep on their rolls of baptized members people who have left. As we will see, there is a vast gap between the numbers of baptized members and communicants (communicant is a person who attends church at least once a year). The most important point about "baptized membership" was its trajectory. It fell every year from 2013 to 2018.

A good measure of church activity is Average Sunday Attendance (ASA). These numbers show virtually the same trajectory as baptized membership in ADSC. ASA of the ADSC:

2013 --- 9,292

2014 --- 9,325

2015 --- 9,085

2016 --- 9,014

2017 --- 8,905

2018 --- 8,875

This is an overall decline of 4% in 6 years.

The best measure of local church membership is the category of "communicant" numbers. These are the people who are actually active in the parishes and missions, even if marginally.
Here the numbers show an alarming decline in the diocese. In 2013, ADSC listed 17,798 communicants. In 2018, it listed 12,126 confirmed communicants. This is a decline of 32% in just six years. In other words, the secessionist diocese has lost a third of its active membership since the schism.

However, there is a problem in the statistics of this category. Starting in the year 2014, ADSC changed the classification in its annual parochial report from "Communicants" to "Confirmed Communicants," not exactly the same. So, if we take the figures of just the "Confirmed Communicants" in ADSC for the years of 2014-2018 what do we find? 

2014 --- 16,361

2015 --- 15,556

2016 --- 14,694

2017 --- 13,291

2018 --- 12,126

Thus, in Confirmed Communicants, ADSC declined steadily, losing 26% in 5 years. This is the same downward trajectory as baptized membership and ASA.

The statistics of baptized membership, ASA, and communicants all show a relentless and significant decline in ADSC in the years since the schism.


How about individual local churches? How have they fared in terms of membership since the schism? There were 50 parishes and missions of the old diocese that went along with the secession. ADSC has established several missions since then.

Here we find the same picture as the diocesan statistics revealed with a few exceptions. By far the brightest spot for ADSC has been the Church of the Cross, in Bluffton, a booming area near Hilton Head. In fact, it is the only parish in ADSC that has shown significant growth. Its ASA from 2013 to 2018 shot up from 987 to 1,354, a whopping 37%. Actually, in the last decade (2008-2018) its ASA soared from 784 to 1,354, an impressive 74%. Unfortunately for ADSC, Church of the Cross's rate of growth has not been been replicated, even remotely, in any of the other 52 local churches.

In fact, the story is the opposite in many of the parishes and missions of ADSC. Most parishes have remained about the same in membership and attendance, but numerous well-known places have experienced significant decline. 


Looking at the Average Sunday Attendance of large parishes in the six years after the schism (2013-18) we find:

St. Philip's, Charleston --- 582-442 (-24%)

Holy Cross, Sullivans Island --- 925-744 (-20%)

Trinity, Myrtle Beach --- 316-227 (-28%)

St. Johns, Johns Island --- 263-232 (-12%)

St. Paul's, Summerville --- 464-376 (-19%)

St. James, James Island --- 289-232 (-20%)

Resurrection, Surfside --- 294-253 (-14%)

Prince George Winyah, Georgetown --- 245-212 (-13%)

St. Luke's, Hilton Head --- 359-298 (-17%)

St. John's, Florence --- 182-166 (-9%)

Most of the other large parishes stayed about the same in the average number of people attending church. St. Michael's, of Charleston went from 478 to 452 (-5%). St. Helena's, of Beaufort, went from 638 to 614 (-4%).

Among the small parishes and missions, Good Shepherd, in Charleston fell from 168 ASA in 2013 to 114 in 2018, a decline of 32%. St. Jude's, in Walterboro declined in ASA from 85 to 64, down 25%. Trinity in Pinopolis decreased from 92 to 68 (-26%). St. Matthias, in Summerton, went from 72 to 54 (-29%). Trinity, on Edisto, declined from 148 to 125 (-16%) people on an average Sunday.


In terms of Confirmed Communicants, most local churches did not experience significant changes between 2014 and 2018, but many did. Among the large parishes, some of the most famous saw serious, even shocking, reductions:

St. Philip's, Charleston --- 2,135 to 1,092 (-49%)

Christ Church, Mt. Pleasant --- 775-338 (-56%)

St. Luke's, Hilton Head --- 664-338 (-49%)

St. Helena's, Beaufort --- 964-808 (-16%)

Resurrection, Surfside --- 360-200 (-44%)

St. Paul's, Summerville --- 750-488 (-35%)

Trinity, Myrtle Beach --- 338-247 (-27%)

Prince George Winyah, Georgetown --- 625-445 (-29%)

St. John's, Johns Island --- 620-541 (-13%)

St. Michael's, Charleston --- 1,015 to 976 (-4%)

Many small parishes and missions also experienced serious declines in numbers of Confirmed Communicants:

St. David's, Cheraw --- 106-51 (-52%)

Holy Cross, Stateburg -- 81-52 (-36%)

Good Shepherd, Charleston --- 256-152 (-41%)

Trinity, Pinopolis --- 166-99 (-40%)

Trinity, Edisto --- 145-119 (-18%)


The overall picture of the membership movement in the ADSC is clear. The diocese is declining in its numbers relentlessly and significantly. It has lost about a third of its membership since the schism and continues to spiral downward. 

My first observation is that the statistics disprove the myth that conservative religion is bound to grow while liberal will certainly decline. Since the schism of 2012 in South Carolina, this has not been true. The Episcopal diocese has grown significantly, about 20% while the Anglican diocese has declined precipitously. The largest parish now among all of the local churches of the pre-schism diocese is Grace Church Cathedral which has replaced St. Philip's in numbers of parishioners.

Will the ADSC turn around the numbers and begin to grow? This is most doubtful. This diocese was founded to keep homosexuals and women from having full equality and inclusion in the life of the church. These issues are generational, even in a relatively conservative place as South Carolina. Surveys show that Americans under the age of 30 are nearly unanimous in favor of rights and equality for all people. The likelihood that a socially reactionary institution as ADSC will attract young people now and in the future is extremely remote.

Moreover, the recent events in the legal war will multiply problems for the separate diocese. In fact, with just a handful of local churches and no diocesan infrastructure left, it faces a highly daunting task of recovery and rebuilding.   

The decline of many of the local churches in South Carolina is not good news for either the Episcopal or the Anglican dioceses. Before the schism there were approximately 27,000 communicants in the diocese. Now the combined number of  active members of the two dioceses is around 20,000. That means around 7,000 people fled from the churches involved in this schism and ensuing legal war. Why did they flee? Why did so many thousands leave the breakaway churches? The statistics do not reveal the reasons for the changes so we can only speculate and consider anecdotal evidence. But, it just makes common sense that people are not drawn to churches in turmoil and conflict. People go to church for peace, not for war.

Now that the basic structure of the settlement in the litigation has appeared, the two sides can prepare in earnest for a vast transfer of property. The 29 parishes listed by the South Carolina Supreme Court as property of the Episcopal Church will be returning to the care of the Episcopal bishop. Presumably, the Anglican diocesan leadership will try to move congregations out of at least the large parishes to form Anglican churches somewhere else. Parishioners will have to choose between staying in their buildings and leaving to join the departing congregations. In divided groups of already diminished numbers of parishioners, both sides will be pressed to make viable, self-sufficient congregations once the dust has settled. 

There are great challenges ahead for both dioceses involved in this sad story, and they are made only worse by the decline in membership of the local secessionist diocese.