A common fact of life across the Diocese of Georgia is that some of our neighbors wonder if we are Christians. They don’t mean any malice by it. They just don’t know. As one who never needs to cross his fingers while reciting the Creeds, my faith in Jesus Christ bears so much more in common with all our Christian sisters and brothers across central and south Georgia than whatever small matters might separate us.
I do know that there is probably not one single person in easy driving range of your church who wants, needs, or even should be an Episcopalian. If there are any would-be Episcopalians out there not already in an Episcopal Church, that number is surely quite small. That said, I am convinced that all across central and south Georgia, there are many folks in easy driving distance of every single church who need the redemption and healing found only in Jesus Christ. And I am further convinced that many of these folks will never be fully connected to our Lord until they find the nourishment of Word and Sacrament in our churches.
I know this in my bones, because I was one of those people who needed to find the Episcopal Church to fully become the Christian I was being called to be. I have a long way to go on the process of becoming more Christ-like, but I have made great strides thanks to that Word and those Sacraments.
A Startling Statistic
In my work in the archives, I found that a number of our Bishops were concerned with the ratio of total population to Episcopalians. It turns out that our current ratio is better than it has been through most of our history.
In 1823, when the Diocese of Georgia was founded, there were approximately 390,000 people living in the state with 131 Episcopal communicants, for a ratio of one in 2,977 of the population being an Episcopalian. By 1840, we had grown to 323 communicants, and that ratio was one in 2,141. A decade later, we had 874 communicants and so had in that first decade with a Bishop of Georgia closed the ratio to one in 1,036.
At the time the state was split into two dioceses in 1907, the state of Georgia’s population was approximately 2.5 million with 8,524 communicants for a ratio of one in 293 people. In 1921, the combined communicants of the Dioceses of Atlanta and Georgia were 11,057 at a time when the population was 2,925,800 for a ratio of one in 246 persons in the state being an Episcopal communicant.
In 1956, Bishop Stuart reported 1,321,498 in population with 13,000 members of churches of the Diocese, for a ratio of one in 102.
In 2010, the population of the 78 counties which represent the boundaries of the Diocese of Georgia, the population was 2,207,156 with 13,420 communicants in good standing for a ratio of one in 164. Now we know communicants (which should refer to those who have worshipped at least 3 times in the previous year) is not the best number, but I use it as it is consistent with the number given by our earlier Bishops.
With a diocesan wide Average Sunday Attendance of 6,323 in ASA in 2010 for that same 2.2 million people, this means while we have more communicants one in 349 people living within the bounds of the Diocese are in worship in an Episcopal Church on Sunday.
A Surpising Opportunity
Most people are said to have about 150 friends and close acquaintances. We’re not talking Facebook friends, but folks you know on sight well enough to speak to and with whom you share some connection. These are your 150 co-workers and friends. Sound high? How many Christmas cards did you send and how many people received each card? That’s before you count everyone.
If 1 in 349 were in church this past Sunday and each of those folks had this many connections (even allowing for many friends being far afield and many including others in the church), our current reach is more than we imagine.
Like Sharing a Restaurant or Book Recommendation
This corner of the Body of Christ can make a huge impact in the lives of those folks who are in easy driving distance of our churches who have yet to experience our worship. If we could be as enthusiastic about the Word and Sacrament we experience in worship as we are about the new restaurant we discovered or the novel we just read, we would have an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of people who really need what we offer.
The Rev. Frank Logue
Canon to the Ordinary