“The reality is that where you have a good vicar (read rector in the USA), you will find growing churches,” the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Justin Welby, said on BBC Radio this past month. The Archbishop then told his radio audience that he was “extremely hopeful” about the future of the Church of England because many local congregations were increasing in numbers.
There you have it! Good rectors grow churches! The American Episcopal Church Official Report titled “Episcopal Domestic Fast Facts Trends: 2008-2012” declares that over the last 5 reporting years, 20% of Episcopal Congregations experienced at least a 10% growth in average Sunday attendance (ASA). Congratulations to those 1400 “good” rectors for leadership in growing the Church!
But what about the rest of the story? What about the 3500 rectors leading congregations where ASA decline by 10% or more during the same period? Would the Archbishop call them “poor” rectors? What about the 2000 or more congregations that can’t afford any rector – good or bad?
The flat out truth is most bishops are remiss in human resource management of the Rector Corps. They make no personal effort to recruit, appropriately educate, evaluate/mentor, or guarantee adequate compensation for rectors. Instead they generally delegate one of their most important responsibilities and dissimulate the results.
When our Church was 3.6 million members strong we had 10,000 clergy; now we are down to 1.8 million members and have over 18,000 clergy. An analyst at the National Church observed, “The problem with the clergy being ordained today is that most of them can’t grow churches.” We agree. Where is there evidence of non-parochial and/or non-stipendiary clergy ordained late in life ever being a true factor in Church growth? Look around, a diocese many have only one or two anticipated rector openings in any year but they will have 15 aspirants in the ordination process with not a single one capable of leading a growing parish as rector.
Dioceses are proud of their “home schooled” clergy but rectors need a full seminary education. Rector candidates also need progressive assignments so they can be ready to lead larger growing congregations. But those progressive assignments are not available, often due to late-vocations “homesteading” in their one and only assignment. Of course, we all know the covert secret - many of those assignments a rector needs to gain experience are closed because the congregation can’t afford the stipend or medical costs for a younger person – even one that could help them grow.
The New Testament is clear: “A laborer is worthy of his wages.” The cost to an average congregation to have a rector is around $90,000 per year; this includes, stipend, housing, medical insurance, pension and expenses. Rectors testify they work an average of 50 hours a week with some time off for vacations or about 2400 hours per year. The average work year for most secular employees is between 1900 and 2000 hours so our rectors are well above average. In other words, full-time rector positions cost congregations about $37.50 per hour. The rector’s actual spendable compensation will be around $20.00 per hour. Many rectors are well below these numbers and a few are above. It is the bishop’s responsibly to work to ensure rectors are fairly compensated.
It is equally true that rectors should work to see bishops are fairly compensated. Let’s check. The average cost to a diocese to have a bishop’s position is $175,000 per year. Assuming the same number of work hours per year, the cost per hour to have a bishop is $72.00 per hour – almost double the cost of a rector. Some suggest adding the cost of the bishop’s staff into the mix because the staff is doing what the bishop would be doing, if no staff were available. This could add another $400.00 per hour to the cost. The nearly $500 an hour to have a bishop and staff is mostly raised by assessing congregations who are already stretching to afford a good rector to help them grow. No matter how much we love our bishops and respect the professionalism of the staff, collectively they are a non-factor in congregational growth.
As the Archbishop says, we need good rectors to grow churches. Time to recruit, appropriately educate, evaluate/mentor, and guarantee adequate compensation for rectors. This is certainly a critical challenge being faced by the Church.