Since You Asked about demographics

May 30, 2007

"I don't believe we have any information about the demographics of our church -- about the ethnic, racial, gender or age composition of our membership. Should we? And if so, how should we get it?"

The church should know that this observer is correct. Unlike other major denominations (the Lutherans, for example), we do not have, nor do we regularly gather, useful and reliable demographic data on the composition of The Episcopal Church. To the question "Do we need such data?" the answer is a resounding, "Yes."

Veterans of General Convention may recall that as long ago as the year 2000 the House of Deputies Committee on the State of the Church (SOTC) was recommending that a formal census be taken to facilitate planning efforts such as 20/20, among others.

During the 2003-2006 triennium, the leadership at the Episcopal Church Center saw the wisdom of re-establishing our church's internal research capability and hired Kirk Hadaway as director of research.

In working closely with a research expert, SOTC was able to determine that the financial cost of an actual census -- approximately $2.4 million -- is simply beyond our present means. We have considered the option of expanding the scope of the church's annual Parochial Report, but we rejected that because of the difficulty of ascertaining accuracy as well as actual cost. As a result, SOTC is at work in this triennium to produce the needed demographic information via less costly but, we believe, equally effective means.

In 2005, 4,100 of the more than 7,000 Episcopal churches in the United States participated in the "Faith Communities Today" study, which examined age, race and gender. In the spring of 2006, a follow-up mini-survey from the same sampling received about 900 detailed responses on racial and ethnic composition of parishes. We expect to have hard data from those studies this spring.

Further, in late spring 2006, the Episcopal Church, with the help of the Church Pension Group, participated in the "U.S. Congregational Life Survey." Some 450 Episcopal churches passed out this census-like survey form, and we received some 40,000 individual responses.

This will give us good data on the people in the pews. Although this is not necessarily the same thing as our formal membership, this data should be very helpful in establishing our present demographic profile. Results are presently being analyzed and should be available this year.

A capable and broadly representative group is at work to address these needs within our church, and we expect to have better information to report this triennium.

-- Prof. Alfred D. Price of Buffalo, New York., is chair of the House of Deputies Committee on the State of the Church and an associate professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning of the State University of New York.

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