Friday, January 17, 2014

Good Rectors Grow Churches -- Archbishop of Canterbury

“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.


  1. Gary, thanks; guess the Archbishop also saw no need to mention anything about bishops to grow congregations . . . . .

  2. Right. We have more bishops in the USA than any other province of the anglican communion on a per parishioner basis. I can't speak for all diocese, but in the Diocese of Kansas the churches are STRANGLED by the 19% apportionment rate of the DIOCESE. We have lost 1/3 of our members in the Diocese since Bishop Wolfe took office. We went from 6000 in average attendance to under 4000 in 10 years. Yet he got a 5% raise this year!!!!!!!!

  3. Outstanding Gary. As you say, good rectors grow churches. Anonymous has a good point. As our congregations decrease in size, bishops make more money and have more power and control. Bishops do not grow congregations. To this extent they are irrelevant.

  4. Dioceses are proud of their “home schooled” clergy but rectors need a full seminary education.

    I'm fairly sure that "home-schooled clergy" are the wave of the future. In the not-too-distant future all the money in most parishes will be gone, and volunteers are going to be the only way congregations will be able to afford to have a priest.

    We will be having home worship, too, I expect - or we'll be renting a cheap room somewhere for worship once a week. This will be a load off most congregations' minds, as they can finally stop worrying about having to keep up old, crumbling buildings.

    I don't see why we actually need somebody with a "full seminary education" these days, when there's so much information out there now that anybody can access, anytime. All that will be needed is a generic syllabus for a course of study, and a website for conversation among and between these new volunteer clergy - and perhaps mentors who guide these volunteers in discussion.

    There will be a few parish churches out there, no doubt, that will still be in business - but most, it seems pretty clear by now, are going to go away. It will be much less institutional and much more like the early church. It seems to me that many of the writers on this blog live in places where the church is still a big part of the culture - but that is just less and less the case in many other areas.

    I look forward to "home-schooled clergy" myself - and to volunteer bishops, too. This is already the situation in some of the breakaway churches; nobody gets paid.

  5. Barbara, well thought out, thank you. I think the four of us are very close to where you are venturing. I think that we may see a combination of "professional" clergy with a rigorous and relevant theological education acting as facilitators to give support and coordination to local home-schooled types. Perhaps in the long run that is what the Diocese of KS, for instance, in cooperation with neighboring dioceses may end up doing. It could be that the "pros" may end up being part time rectors and bishops so as to be able to help out an area wide grouping of lay and clergy leaders. Actually I had a vision of this in college about 1968 and have never quite given it up, especially now seeing it more likely. I started doing something like this in Wichita at St. James but retired too soon to make a full effort of it. However, for about two years we had quite a good time helping out a local congregation and one in Anthony, KS. It was fun and a great way to get to know many more folks. The questions that come up will be more about transition and how to reorient our mind set concerning our vision of the larger catholic body we call the Episcopal Church. A nice symbolic act would be selling 815 which I thought we should have done when I first was employed there in 1984!

  6. Perhaps there should be regional paid chaplains, too; perhaps we could get together with the Lutherans to share the cost and their services. They could do pastoral care - traveling to pray with people who request it, and visiting the sick and dying.

  7. Did Goodthunder offend the wantabe rectors or was it Anonymous who offended the Bishop of Kansas? Somebody must have screwed up to yank this post from page 1.

  8. The Bishop is coming to get you......

  9. Barbara, thank you for contributing to the conversation; your comments about the future Church are certainly prophetic. One can imagine impoverished congregations meeting in cheaply rented rooms and served by volunteers including unpaid clergy and bishops.

    On the other hand, one can also imagine growing congregations served by solidly trained and experienced rectors. After all we currently have 1400 or more congregations that have recorded a 5% or more growth in ASA over the past five years.

    Focusing on the priests of the Church we see a dichotomy. Some need to serve shrinking or dying congregations on a volunteer basis. And, some must be selected, prepared, and experienced to have the ability to serve growing congregations as rectors.

    The blog makes the argument that many (most?) bishops have been lax in seeking, recruiting, mentoring, and compensating rectors that can and do lead growing congregations. The blame goes beyond bishops; congregational search committees and vestries are just as guilt when using criteria like, “she is so nice” or “he is so smart.”

    It is as dumb as a professional baseball team offering a contract to a nice and smart pitcher who can’t get anyone out or a batter that can’t hit the ball. We see it all the time in the church. Men and women are called to be rectors or bishops that have never demonstrated the ability to lead growing congregations.

    Bishops need to be committed to search out and supporting a rector corps that can get the job done. Perhaps some of the bishops that have been successful in managing rectors, and would-be rectors, will share their experience.

  10. I was very moved by this Blog and I am moved to respond with a story of my experience as a bishop who always remembered what it was like to be a rector.

    My commitment was to lead a diocese in a manner I had dreamed of as a rector, but never experienced.  I wanted to see well qualified and trained priests serving our churches with great support.  When my time came I did it!

    It was a great success!  Clergy financial support was moved from 98th to 4th place among dioceses by my predecessor!  He took on a major problem and corrected it.  I took it from there. 

    One of my early discoveries was that people were receiving education on biblical study, theology, church history, and social work, sort of.  They were training in some small seminary manner, but they never learned anything about reading or touching a chalice, or anything else related to license reception. 

      In addition, the students (of which there were many) had to pay tuition to attend the “Bishop’s School”.  In further addition, the clergy who were doing the teaching were being paid from the dollars made by the “Bishop’s School” and diocesan budget.  In further addition, the “Bishop’s School” was 15% of the diocesan budget.

    We closed the ‘Bishop’s School’ which was teaching and licensing lay people who should have been trained in their congregations. They were being taught by clergy who should have been doing that work anyway without additional pay.  

    Many of the graduates of the school followed what a number of other people did when they finished other church adult education programs.  They did not know what to do next. So, they wanted to be ordained.

    We stopped sending people to seminary for two years.  At that point we made a new plan which said we will not send anyone to seminary unless we commit to place them in our diocese upon graduation.  We said we would provide support for a seminary student with 1/3% of the expenses covered by the student, 1/3% by the presenting congregation, and 1/3% by the diocesan budget. 

     This made us be very careful about who we sent to seminary.  We sought people out as well as receiving seekers.  However, the commitment issues would stand firm.  Hence, a congregation would not present a person which they would not support is all respects.

     We then engaged the seekers as seekers, we did not suggest they were presenting themselves for ordination.  The person was presented by a congregation for examination.  We did not ask them if they felt called to be ordained.  We did receive them as a person called by a congregation which offered them for examination.
    The process of examination was to determine if there were sufficient reason for the diocese/bishop to send this person to seminary and support them upon graduation.

     This was not like the old system which asked:  “Is there a reason to say ‘No’ to this person?  After all they do feel called by God.” 
    Dare you believe we are all called by God to live the life of the Kingdom and share the message that “the Kingdom is at hand”.  We show our understanding by the way we choose to live?

    It was no longer about saying, ‘No”.  It was about saying, “Yes”. 
    We are all called to service by God.  The church calls some to service in the church. But not because they wanted it. Nor, because it is a cheap way to put a priest in a little church.

    I met a priest in Minnesota who was serving 3 congregations in different towns. He was a seminary graduate. I asked him how he managed it and how he avoided appearing special to one church.

    He said: “I live in town other than my 3 churches”.

    It is not that hard folks. It just takes care in selecting the right people and training them in the most professional manner. 


  11. Here is one Bishop who not only had the big picture but the fortitude to seek and select those the Church needed to be a capable rectors. Thanks Bob!

  12. Rectors average 50 work weeks? Maybe that’s one of the reason most churches aren’t growing. Five decades of solid industrial research has proved, beyond a doubt, that if workers are to be bright, healthy, productive, safe and efficient over a sustained stretch of time, you keep them to no more than 40 hours a week and eight hours a day. My rector is always busying but gets very little done. He needs to work less and accomplish more.