Near-Terminal Decline?

In a recent interview, New York Times’ columnist Ross Douthat discussed liberalizing trends in the Roman Catholic Church. (A Catholic himself, Douthat has just published a book on Pope Francis.)

Douthat remarked that, “…a big part of the case for liberalization…is historicist; we’re constantly being told that these changes are what the Holy Spirit wants now, what this age demands, what the signs of the times are pointing toward. And so long as that rhetorical argument is being deployed, it seems pretty reasonable to ask, if this is all the will of the Holy Spirit, etc., why an all but fully liberalized body such as the Episcopal Church isn’t showing all the fruits of the Spirit right now and instead appears to be in near-terminal decline.”

Now I don’t agree that our church is in near-terminal decline. But I would agree that it has been declining in membership for decades, even though it has many gifted clergy and laypeople, and it continues to draw numerous adult converts from diverse backgrounds. The church also faces headwinds that are hard to resist, such as a very low birthrate.

That said, is it too much to ask that the upcoming General Convention of the Episcopal Church make evangelism and church-planting priorities in its work and in its budgetary decisions? —J. Douglas Ousley

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