There were so many strategic plans named 2020. Colleges, school boards, hospitals, businesses,
even the village of Oswego, not to mention the Association for Strategic Planning, all have or had 2020 plans. I hope they went better than the one devised by The Episcopal Church just before the turn of the millennium.
To the credit of those Episcopal big thinkers, they reached for the stars: to double churchwide attendance by 2020. In fact, over the past 20 years the church shrank by 25%. In New York State, over the past four years alone, the Episcopal Church closed 3% of its congregations while overall average attendance is down 16% (Denominational research). Whoever’s job it is to go back and evaluate that 2020 strategic plan will have a lot of data to work with but very little affirmation when completed.
On the other hand, attendance at worship has declined by 20% or more across the board with only Mormons and Jews holding steady. Declining attendance for Roman Catholics is higher than for Protestants, but the bad news is shared across Evangelical and Progressive churches alike. While there are of course bright spots in specific congregations across the country who buck the trend, the decline is a wet blanket over most religious traditions. (Gallup, 4/18/19).
Again, to the credit of some of those Episcopal big thinkers back in 2000 when they were unfolding the 2020 Initiative, they focused less on numbers and more on culture. Specifically, they wanted to attack the “we’ve never done it that way before” mentality so pervasive in the tradition-bound denomination. That part may have worked. They were also concerned with developing mission-mindedness, and that may have worked too. (The Episcopal Church 2/12/2002).
This is not about The Episcopal Church by the way, the denomination is merely a harbinger of what can happen when change is the goal.
Between 2000 and 2020, unforeseen by the strategic planners, the denomination ordained its first of many openly GLBTQ bishops. Ahead of most of the society, it began unofficially performing commitment ceremonies for same-sex couples, and immediately upon legalization, commenced with joy in marrying them. In the South, judicatories decided to take down plaques to War of Rebellion confederates adorning historic congregations. Elsewhere, the church resisted President Trump’s anti-immigration policies and racially charged rhetoric. In other words, it stood up and said “NO!” to bigotry – critiquing its own culture and history along the way. They did these things based upon core beliefs not membership goals.
In 1999, most strategic planners could not have anticipated a President Obama any more than a President Trump. The seeping wound of white nationalism was not predicted nor the complete takeover of platform enterprises like Facebook and Google. The velocity of change powered by technology is cracking the rigid structures of nearly every national and global institution, and one by one they will give way to something different. That is as true for religion as it is for retail sales, banking, and politics. Hold on to your hat, and if you are planning, do it on the three-to-five-year model instead. Welcome to 2020, finally.
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