Is the primary problem TEC faces today a “structural problem?” While we clearly have structural issues, I do not think we have yet come up with the right diagnosis. I would point to two issues that are symptomatic of our situation.
First, we have been involved in serious conflict for the past decade that has held the attention of our leadership, led to an acceleration of our decline and costs us millions of dollars in litigation. Like it or not, this conflict is related directly to our theological and missional identity, namely who are we and what we are called to do. I would caution that just because one side in the conflict seems to have won, this does not mean that we have determined an identity and way forward, especially a way that is significant to our wider cultural context. If the Episcopal Church is to have a future other than shrinking numbers, budgets, and congregations, we must be able to reach people in our society and draw them into this part of the body of Christ.
Second, there continues to be a major disconnect between our corporate structures and the local congregation. We continue to hear from denominational leaders that recent decisions have made us more viable to new generations and new ethnic groups which is making us a more inclusive and multi-cultural church. However, the numbers of declining congregations and the reality in the field is that local congregations are not, nor are most becoming, the kind of church that General Convention and the Executive Council say we are. Of course, we have some congregations that reflect this, but they are far from the norm of our local congregational life. I have spent much time over the last ten years visiting Episcopal Churches and making presentations on congregational development. I observe that many of our congregations are struggling with basic survival issues.