I just finished reading with interest an article on the Huffington Post, entitled “The Real Reason for the Anglican-Episcopal Divide” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/diana-butler-bass/rowan-williams-katharine-jefferts_b_600115.html). It was written by Diana Butler Bass who authored the recent book, A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story.
Ms. Bass chronicled the recent tension that has taken place between the Episcopal Church in the United States and the Anglican Church in Great Britain. Her Huffington Post article gives insights into a fascinating exchange of pastoral letters on the occasion of Pentecost between Katharine Jefferts Schori, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, and Rowan Williams, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury. Let’s just say she classified the two Anglican heavyweights exchange as “a first-class theological smack-down between tea-drinking Anglican primates.” And their exchange this time wasn’t over gays in the church. Rather, it was mostly over the nature of control in the church, and while both had their visions, neither really grasped what was really at stake.
To me, writing as both an Episcopalian and a management consultant, I’d say exchanges such as these show how out-of-touch both leaders are in the Episcopal-Anglican Church. What you have is a church that is dwindling in numbers – both at home in the UK and in the U.S. and Canada, but growing in the developing world. They are fighting “yesterday’s war” at a very high-level, far-removed from the day-to-day struggles of their parishioners and the community at large.
What leaders in the church need to face is the fact that while they are rearranging the deck chairs, the Titanic is sinking in the traditional regions of the church’s sphere of influence. The Episcopal church’s own internal research unit recently surmised, as can be seen in Figure 1 below, that the body’s membership in the U.S. now stands below where it was at the beginning of the 1950’s!
With diminishing church membership – gay, straight, white, black, or even blue avatars – and falling revenue, the churches that remain cannot support the organizational hierarchy that was built during the church’s boom times – which was now decades – or even a century – ago. Why are the mega-churches and stand-alone churches doing so well? In part yes, it is because of their individual appeals. However, they also do not have to support a bureaucratized superstructure of bishops, canons, and their supporting staff. Without these albatrosses, they can serve their local communities and local peoples without siphoning-off revenue to the regional, national and even international bureaucracies.
Ms. Bass seemed to concur in her article, opining that:
“For what it is worth, the river of history does not seem to be on the side of hierarchical church control; rather, history seems to be moving in a the direction of what Thomas Friedman might call ‘flat church.’ The tides are pulling most ecclesiastical boats toward bottom-up versions of faith. Hierarchical church control is, as Harvey Cox argues in his book The Future of Faith, a “rearguard attempt to stem a more sweeping tidal change” toward a new experiential, inclusive, and liberationist view of God and faith.”
Like it or not, it is Management 101 – downsizing and flattening does work. And while British executives are rightfully taking it on the chin these days (thanks Tony Hayward – hechuva job with BP and his management of the oil spill!), it is time to apply sound managerial strategy to church affairs. Downsize the bureaucracy and flatten things to where there is more local control and local focus. If not, the Episcopal Church in the U.S. – and indeed Anglicanism around the world – may well fade into oblivion in a decade or two. It is truly a situation of change the church to a flat model – or face ending-up on the wrong-side of the ash-heap of history.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David C. Wyld (email@example.com) currently serves as the Robert Maurin Professor of Management at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana. He is the Director of the College of Business’ Strategic e-Commerce/e-Government Initiative, the Founding Editor of the International Journal of Managing Information Technology, and a frequent contributor to both academic journals and trade publications. He is also the Director of the Reverse Auction Research Center (http://reverseauctionresearch.blogspot.com/), covering trends in the e-procurement market-space. He has established himself as one of the leading academic experts on emerging applications of technology in both the public and private sector. He has been an active consultant, a qualified expert witness, and an invited speaker on the strategic management of technology to both trade and academic audiences, as well as an invited panelist on technology issues on The Discovery Channel and other media outlets. In recognition of his research accomplishments, Dr. Wyld has been awarded Southeastern’s “President’s Award for Excellence in Research” and named a Rising Star in Government Information Technology by Federal Computer Week Magazine.