Thursday, September 6, 2018


For years now, many conservative Episcopalians, indeed conservative Christians of all denominations, have claimed that church membership decline is caused by the liberalization of religion. They insist that "orthodox" religion is more popular and will cause church growth. A new expression of this myth has just appeared in an online smear of Bishop Andrew Waldo, of Upper South Carolina, by someone under the disguise of "Underground Pewster." Find the remarks here . According to his or her figures, USC has seen a 19% drop in Average Sunday Attendance from 2009 to 2017, the years of Bishop Waldo. Without a shred of evidence, he claims this decline is caused by Waldo's imposing an undefined "false gospel" on the diocese. Interesting to note that Pewster has not given us any other statistics, as baptized membership, or communicants. The blogger goes on to declare boldly:  In the corporate world, a CEO who lost 20-30% of his company's value in nine years would be FIRED!"

So, Pewster, what would you do with Bishop Mark Lawrence? He lost 47% of his communicants (27,670 in 2008 to 14,694 in 2016). Counting just the 50 local churches that adhered to Lawrence in the schism, he lost 33% in the schism (21,993 in 2011 to 14,694 in 2016). The Lawrence diocese has lost members steadily every year since the schism. Should Lawrence be fired? On his recent Last Hurrah tour, he got standing ovations, and from people who for nearly six years have been paying double lawyer fees.

Meanwhile, the Episcopal Church diocese has grown every year since the schism:  
2011---5,781 members

As the Lawrence diocese lost 33% of its communicants, the Episcopal Church diocese gained 22% in membership.

It is entirely clear that the Diocese of South Carolina is a highly evangelical body proclaiming itself "orthodox." In fact, I would rate it at least as fundamentalist-leaning. All one has to do is read the four Marriage Task Force documents of 2015 forced on the diocese to see this. DSC is about as "orthodox" as a self-described "Anglican" body can get. Yet, it has lost communicants at an alarming rate and continues to do so relentlessly. 

The theory that "orthodox" religion leads to church growth while liberalism leads to decline is nonsense. It is not borne out by the facts in South Carolina. "Underground Pewster's" remarks have no substance.  

For the details of the decline of the Lawrence diocese, see my three blog entries on the DSC membership here , here , and here .