Frederick Schmidt–Youth Ministry, New Vocations, and the Future of the Church

According to data gathered by the Pension Fund for the Episcopal Church, in 2002 there were 13,616 clergy. Of those, thirty were under the age of 30, 195 were under the age of 35, and 399 were under the age of 40. Today, the average age at ordination is 44 and the average age of active Episcopal clergy is 54.

The age demographics in the pew are no better. In 1965, the Episcopal Church had 3.6 million members and Episcopalians constituted 1.9 percent of the U.S. population. Since 1965, however, membership has declined precipitously. The net result is a graying church.

The average Episcopalian is 57 years old. If that benchmark does not change, roughly half of the church’s membership will die in the next eighteen years. And that is as good as it gets. Since 60 percent of Episcopal congregations have a membership of 100 or less, the rate of decline will probably pick up speed.

Read it all.


Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, Episcopal Church (TEC), Parish Ministry, TEC Data, Young Adults

9 comments on “Frederick Schmidt–Youth Ministry, New Vocations, and the Future of the Church

  1. Jeremy Bonner says:

    I wonder what the comparable figures for ACNA are?

    [url=]Catholic and Reformed[/url]

  2. David Hein says:

    I know Fred and tried to get him to teach at Hood some years ago. He’s a fine fellow and always has something valuable to say. But his prescription does not seem to meet his diagnosis:

    1. The steady diet of church conflict
    2. The use of theology as a surrogate for politics
    3. The effort to appeal to everyone at the expense of something compelling enough to attract anyone

    Btw, regarding no. 2: I wonder if he means–or should mean–politics as a surrogate for theology. Or maybe I am not sure what he’s getting at.

    I wish he’d addressed no. 1. The “steady diet of church conflict” is something that, after all, could have been avoided–for example, via a generous, well-intentioned, whole-hearted adoption of the Windsor Report. Or thru other imaginative administrative arrangements. But of course a prophetic church cannot compromise when Truth and Justice are at stake.

    Fred is right about the need to reactivate college ministry. As a historian, I am often amazed at how much the church got right before it was the victim of task forces, consultants’ studies, etc. PECUSA launched a huge, quite self-conscious, and well-funded effort at undergraduate ministry starting in the 1920s. E.g., Noble Powell at the University of Virginia.

    Ah, well; there’s no point in further reminiscing. Most of this is, as I say, history.

  3. francis says:

    TEC sealed its fate 30 years ago. It cannot recover. It told its youth, and they weren’t great numbers by any means, that they were not wanted in the ministry. Go do something else, first. And ordained ministry has been the only option for ministry in the larger church. So, tough luck dudes.

  4. David Hein says:

    No. 3: Yes, much truth in what you say. Btw, Tuck Shattuck and I discuss these trends–including college chaplaincies–in The Episcopalians. In some respects, that’s not a particularly interesting book; but that section isn’t bad.

    “It told its youth, and they weren’t great numbers by any means, that they were not wanted in the ministry. Go do something else, first.”

    I’m afraid that 90% of the people reading this, if they were in TEC ca. 1970s-’80s, have personal knowledge of actual cases–frustrating, heart-breaking cases–to support that assertion.

    “And ordained ministry has been the only option for ministry in the larger church.”

    Yes, and TEC’s problem is that the people that provide the key support in money and in kind are all volunteers. The days of Church Establishment, legal or social, are over. People can do what they want, and apparently a few of them already have.

  5. dwstroudmd+ says:

    2020, anyone?

  6. Jeremy Bonner says:

    I wonder how many bishops today have had past experience as a college chaplain?

    Bob Duncan did (both at UNC and the University of Delaware).

    Another Pittsburgher (never a bishop, of course), John Guest, began his American career as a youth minister (at St. Stephen’s, Sewickley) and facilitator for the Coalition for Christian Outreach.

    Sadly, as Father Schmidt suggests, such postings don’t seem to command the same respect today, despite their potential to shape future Christian leaders in their formative years.

  7. deaconjohn25 says:

    Talk about sticking your head in the sand. The biggest reason for mainline Protestant malaise is NOT the 3 he listed–NOT close.
    The real reason is the mainline Protestant churches turning their backs on–and even trashing traditional Christian morality and doctrine.. The churches that have continued to slowly grow in spite of our decadent, sleazy anti-Christian culture have done so by not looking like they are worshipping at the altar of the world and looking everywhere –except the Bible and Tradition–for guidance.
    At one point the writer said he wouldn’t want to see those churches lose their prophetic witness. Is he serioius???
    Whether it is fair or not the mainlines have gained the image and reputation of being more determined to please, for example, the editorial board of the NY Times, than to please God and prophesize in His Name.

  8. Shay + says:

    #7 is on the right track. The decline of the mainline is directly related to the loss of the Gospel. When we lose the Gospel, we lose all vision for young people, young leaders, and the church in general. Without vision, the people (the church) perish.
    This article reminds me why I am so thankful Bp. Salmon and his vision for youth ministry and raising up full-time paid youth ministers. The fruit in the Dio. of SC are undeniable. I would daresay that we have almost 1/4 of the under 30 clergy in TEC. Again it would make no difference if we were not clear on the Gospel. So thanks be to God for Bp. Lawrence as well.
    I taught this weekend at a Sr. High (9th-12th grade) retreat in the Diocese. 95 youth came together on an intentionally “small” weekend to study through the book of Zephaniah (expository teaching). Youth raised up in the Diocese led the worship and the music. Another encouraging life-sign for the future of the church (not the mainline).

  9. stjohnsrector says:

    Anyone want to guess what percentage of those 30 under 30 are grads of Nashotah House or Trinity? My guess is most of them. I was 28 at ordination, and had two classmates younger than I was at Nashotah House.