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SALT LAKE CITY, UT: Episcopal House of Deputies approves $8 million for Church Growth in two resolutions

SALT LAKE CITY, UT: Episcopal House of Deputies approves $8 million for Church Growth in two resolutions
But will it work? TEC has planted only 3-4 churches a year. ACNA has planted 488 churches since 2009

By David Virtue in Salt Lake City
June 30, 2015

House of Bishops Deputies to the 78th General Convention voted in two resolutions that it hopes will jump start The Episcopal Church even as it faces ASA losses of 200,000 in all its dioceses since 2003.

The HOD passed a $3 million dollar resolution calling for a "digital evangelism initiative," which they hope will increase the national church's presence on the Internet. The common idea is that currently when whoever does a search for "Jesus," no search results currently lead to the national (DFMS) church. They would like that to change.

A second resolution earmarked $5 million for church planting, including $2.7 million in grants to establish up to 30 new church plants. A source told VOL that this is not a sign of desperation, "but if they don't create new growth, they won't be able to resuscitate the old stuff."

A group of institutional moderates calling themselves "Resurrection Episcopalians," that includes bishops Dorsey McConnell of Pittsburgh and Scott A. Benhase of Georgia (but no Communion Partner bishops), hopes this will revitalize a dying denomination. Susan Brown Snook of the Diocese of Arizona and church planter is a big proponent of this project.

The approval of this large sum for these projects is unprecedented in TEC church history (despite the failure of the 20/20 project to double the Episcopal Church by 2020), perhaps indicating a certain amount of recognition that all is not well and the future bodes ill if there is no change. They might take heart in repeated calls for "evangelism" and "discipleship" by new Presiding Bishop-elect Michael Curry.

In the last few years, TEC has planted only 3-4 churches a year, so moving ahead to plant 30 churches in the next triennium would be a significant increase. However, it should be noted that the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) has planted 488 new churches (some 170 were not successful) since 2009. They have done this in just 5 years! The Assemblies of God and the Southern Baptist Convention have each planted more than 300 churches and continue to plant more.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) has only planted 3-4 churches a year which prompts the question why mainline churches are seemingly unable to successfully plant churches while evangelical and Pentecostal churches both grow and expand.

The HOD call for evangelism and church planting may not yet become a reality. They first need approval from the House of Bishops; that is by no means certain.

The Living Church reports that funding is also not certain, at least on the level requested. A budget subcommittee is planning to authorize only half of what the two initiatives call for. If current plans hold firm, the Program, Budget, and Finance Committee would allocate $1 million to digital evangelism and $3 million to church planting.

"A million dollars is better than zero dollars," said Scott Gunn, executive director of Forward Movement, which produces resources for evangelism, stewardship, and other projects. "But I hope the church can fund evangelism extravagantly."

At stake, Gunn said, is whether the church can invest the kind of resources that yield significant results amid the fierce competition for attention on the Web.

"More money equals more content which equals more people," Gunn said. "It equals better search results."

On the budget subcommittee, Frank Logue found himself alone in pushing for the full $3 million in requested funding. He said $1.5 million could come from the budget and another $1.5 million could come from matching grants, thus getting more "skin in the game" of developing effective evangelism tools. As it stands, the resolution directs the Episcopal Church Development Office to make a priority of raising $1.5 million for the project.

"I feel like other people will directly benefit and they should have skin in the game," Logue said. "I just think there's a way to do it without expanding an already large budget."

Observing the overall state of the Church, Springfield Bishop Daniel Martins prophetically noted that the Episcopal Church is a bleeding church that is largely in denial about its own woundedness.

If he is right, it will take more than $8 million to jump-start it. It needs a coherent message that tells a spiritually sick and dying world that "come as you are and stay as you are" doesn't work and never will. Opening the doors to "all" by dumbing down the requirements for church membership guarantees nothing. If there is no historic gospel of God's Good News to proclaim of his redeeming love, then TEC will be little more than the Kiwanis Club with a creed or as one wag noted, the Democratic Party at prayer.


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