Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Where Are the Churches?

Why the Slow Pace of ACNA Church Planting in the Commonwealth of Kentucky?

By Robin G. Jordan

Most of the ACNA churches in Kentucky are concentrated in and around Lexington—the second largest city in the state. A number of these churches predate the Anglican Church in North America. At least one was originally affiliated with the Charismatic Episcopal Church—a Convergentist denomination. It is now affiliated with the Anglo-Catholic Missionary Diocese of All Saints. Two churches are affiliated with the Diocese of the Great Lakes and two with the Diocese of the South. The two remaining ACNA churches that are further north are affiliated with the REC Diocese of the Central States and the Diocese of the South respectively. This is the extent of the ACNA presence in the state.

It is noteworthy that Lexington is also where the Episcopal Church has its largest concentration of churches in the Diocese of Lexington, one of the two dioceses into which the state is divided. This suggests that the majority of the ACNA churches were organized around breakway groups from the Episcopal Church. The oldest of these churches was planted in the 1990s. Four of the churches date from 2003. The only church that appears to have been planted in recent times was organized around a group who had been attending an ACNA church in a community a 21-minute drive from the community in which it is located.

The Episcopal Church has 75 parishes and missions in Kentucky, divided between the two dioceses. It took the Episcopal Church 180 years to expand to this point in the state. Episcopal church planting appears to have come to a standstill in the 1980s. It was dealt a devastating blow with the Robinson consecration in 2003.

At its present rate—seven churches over a 20 year-period—the Anglican Church in North America may catch up to the Episcopal Church in 200 odd years in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, presuming that the ACNA will be around two centuries from now and not have gone the way of the dodo. Since the Episcopal Church is a denomination in decline, the ACNA may catch up to the Episcopal Church in a shorter period of time as more and more Episcopal churches close their doors.

With Southern Baptist churches which have enjoyed a measure of success in Kentucky experiencing declining attendance and baptisms, I do not anticipate that the Anglican Church in North America will outpace the Episcopal Church any time soon if at all in Kentucky. As long as the ACNA follows the pattern of the Episcopal Church during its church planting days in Kentucky, it will be confined to major population centers and their outskirts. I do not see the proposed Prayer Book as helping it move out of these areas into the less densely populated areas of the state. The major population centers and their outskirts are where the traditional constituencies of the Episcopal Church are located. They appear to be the segment of the population at which ACNA churches are targeted.

I am also convinced that what the Anglican Church in North America has adopted as its standard approach to church planting will limit its expansion in Kentucky. In that approach a group is hived off from an existing congregation to form the nucleus of new congregation in a new community. This approach tends to produce clones of the planting church in outlying communities, churches that may not necessarily be a good match with the communities in which they are planted. It is one of the drawbacks of this particular method of church planting. The new churches suffer from the same limitations and weaknesses of the planting church. What works in one community may not work in another.

The non-denomination church with which I am sojourning discovered what worked here in Murray did not work in the nearby community where it launched a satellite campus. The two communities were demographically and culturally different from each other. The church was forced to reevaluate and rethink its approach.

What the Anglican Church in North America has adopted as its standard approach to church planting also produces churches that grow slowly. Beginning small, they usually take several years before they become self-supporting.  Another drawback of this method of church planting is that due to their size they may quickly become inward-looking and lose their mission-orientation, presuming that they had a mission-orientation in the first place.

This approach to church planting was commonly used in the Episcopal Church during its church planting stage. New congregations would be organized around a nucleus of Episcopalians resident in a community different from the one where they attend an Episcopal church. A variation of this approach is to organize a new congregation around a core-group of Episcopalians resident in a community that has no Episcopal church within reasonable traveling distance. This variation also produced churches that were mismatched with the communities in which they were planted. The Episcopalians forming the core-group typically had set ideas about the ministry and worship of an Episcopal church and lacked the flexibility of mind to adapt the ministry and worship of the new church to the local context. The result was typically a disconnection between the new church and the community, which inhibited the growth of the new church.

In this church planting approach a denomination expands by the gradual colonization of adjacent areas. Such factors as favorable demographics, ease of transportation, and population density and growth will determine what areas are colonized. Churches that are planted with this approach experience the fastest growth when they are planted in rapidly-growing areas. They grow with the area. They are apt to plateau when their population base—the segment of the population from which their church members  and regular attenders are coming—plateaus. They are also apt to go into decline when their population base goes into decline.

Among the advantages of this church planting approach is that it is not as resource-intensive as some other approaches. A church can launch a satellite congregation in a neighboring community within reasonable traveling distance of the church and a pastor from the church can conduct services for the satellite congregation. When the new congregation grows to the point where it would benefit from having a pastor of its own, the sponsoring church may hire a pastor for that position or the judicatory may assume oversight of the new congregation and provide the new congregation with a pastor. If the sponsoring church is large and has several pastors, it may launch a number of satellite congregations.

Whatever church planting approach is used, researchers have found that if the new congregation does not plant a new congregation within five years of its launch, it is not likely to plant a new congregation at any time in its lifetime as a church. This is a crucial window. It helps to explain why the older ACNA churches in the Lexington-Fayette Metro area have not planted any new congregations.

This church planting approach was used to plant St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, Mandeville in the mid-1980s and the Church of the Beloved, West St. Tammany Parish in 2002 in the Diocese of Louisiana. St. Michael’s was launched as a satellite congregation of Christ Episcopal Church, Covington. The nucleus of the new congregation was formed from members of Christ Church resident in the Mandeville area and interested persons from the community. The Church of the Beloved was launched as a house church and met first in Mandeville and then in Covington. Its nucleus was formed from members of what had been St. Michael’s prayer and healing ministry team.  

In a future article I will examine how those who pioneered St. Michael’s would avoid some of the drawbacks of this church planting approach. I also plan to share the insights that I gleaned from my involvement in five other church plants during the past 13 odd years. 

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