Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Diocese by the Numbers; Money

Let me start by saying that I have no idea how endowments fit into the money picture. "Plate and Pledge" tends to suggest that endowment income is not included, but if someone knows otherwise, by all means say so in the comments. Here's the thing: if they be included in the numbers about to be discussed, then we're looking at a worst-case analysis; they be excluded, then the will tend to ameliorate the results.

On the diocesan chart, one can see that P&P has hardly changed in a decade, and indeed as we shall see, parishes tend to show something of the same pattern. But there is a wrinkle in that, because, as we saw previously, attendance is almost universally shrinking. What's compensating for this is that those who are staying are giving more, by a factor of about 42%:

That produces the following chart, showing percent change in P&P, both with and without the 42% adjustment. Unadjusted, parishes tend to show a slight increase; adjusted, P&P shows losses.

I should say at this point that I do not know how the adjustment factor compares with inflation over the same period, but it isn't unreasonable to surmise that it reflects increases in attendee income. It is striking how close the adjusted 2005 distribution of P&P per attendee is to the 2015 numbers:

So now we get to the question of money as it relates to parish viability. One might crudely divide parish spending into four parts:

  • Keeping lights on
  • Keeping the roof up
  • Keeping the priest going
  • Outreach and charity
Please don't comment on this or that line item I've left out; I said it was crude. Anyway, the diocese does give guidelines for the third item, based upon the size of the parish. So here we have P&P versus attendance, with those guidelines marked:
In this case I have truncated the chart on the right to show only those parishes with ASA of 100 or less, in order to show the smaller parishes in greater detail. The general diagonal trend of the data points continues, rising considerably faster than the guideline trend, so that the bigger parishes are obviously not at financial risk. That's obviously not the case at the low end. The orange line represents the recommended total compensation, and the red line is the lower end of the range they give; the green line marks the border between the lowest and second lowest attendance categories.

Looking at this chart, it's hard to see how any parish with ASA below forty is independently viable; most of them cannot afford even to compensate the priest, much less keep the doors open, without considerable aid from the diocese. With ASA between forty and eighty, the situation is not so dire, but there are a large proportion which lack adequate income. Above eighty, the compensation standards retreat as a threat. OK, so here is where that fits into the larger picture: twenty-four parishes do not have an income sufficient to meet the standards, or somewhat less than a quarter of all parishes. Just looking at ASA, sixty-four parishes have attendance of eighty or less, or 61% of all parishes.

What this means in terms of diocesan finances is that, just to maintain the status quo, there has to be a substantial transfer from the larger, wealthier parishes to the small, even ignoring the possibility of priests working part-time or serving multiple parishes. And the situation is vulnerable to economic deflation on the one hand and further losses on the other.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Diocese by the Numbers: Attendance

So, having looked at the diocese in the large, in this round we will be looking at parish attendance. For those who are new to these analyses, I reiterate my disregard of the membership numbers, because they are poorly maintained: they tend to change abruptly when a rector leaves because the interim directs someone to clean up the rolls, but as a rule there isn't much of a correlation between membership and attendance. Besides, parishes are dependent upon activity, not mere membership, and ASA is the best gauge of that activity we have.

First, the averages. Parishes tend to the small side: while the mean attendance in 2015 was 92 people on a Sunday, the median attendance was considerably smaller, at 67 attendees, and the largest parish (St. Anne's Annapolis) has ASA of 491, 50 more than the next largest (St. John's Ellicott City). A bit under three quarters of parishes have under a hundred attending on the average Sunday.

The shrinkage in a decade is striking, because it appears almost across the board. First of all, thirteen parishes closed, while only two were started: St. Hilda's, to replace St. Timothy's Catonsville, and Church in the Square, a mission in Baltimore which is too new to appear in the statistics.Working with the others, we find in 2005 a mean ASA of 120 and a median of 88. Now, this is biased by the losses: even considering the size of St. Tim's (it was a pretty big parish as those things go), most parishes which closed did so because they weren't viable, and therefore could be presumed to fall at the low end; it is likely that the averages for all parishes active in 2005 were someone lower than the calculated values. But the message for those that survived is clear: they showed considerable losses.

And indeed, very few parishes showed any gains, and these were all small parishes. Only thirteen parishes had gains, and all of them had ASA under 100; on a percentage basis, all the large gains were in parishes with small enough attendance to where even gaining a single attendee made a substantial difference. Three parishes showed no change, and all the rest showed losses. The pattern of losses is quite different from that of the gains: the biggest parishes tended to have somewhat smaller losses, but even so, excepting the top ten parishes, the losses are spread out evenly across a range up to 60%, and the number four parish (All Saints Frederick) showed a loss of 42%.

And in absolute numbers, the losses in larger parishes dominated gains (note that the losers on top of the axis in this chart):

There is a distinct geographic pattern to the gains: six of the ten parishes showing substantial percentage gains are to the west, with Harriet Chapel Thurmont the only one east of Catoctin Mountain. By contrast, there is little pattern to the losers, but most of the closures were in or near Baltimore, the exception being in or near Frederick. The largest parishes are central, with two exceptions:

  • St. Anne’s, Annapolis
  • St. John’s, Ellicott City
  • Redeemer, Baltimore
  • St. Margaret’s, Annapolis
  • All Saints, Frederick
  • Cathedral of the Incarnation, Baltimore
  • St. James’, Lafayette Square (Baltimore)
  • Christ Church, Columbia
  • St. Martin’s in-the-Field, Severna Park
  • St. Thomas, Owings Mills
  • St. James, Lothian
  • St. John’s, Hagerstown
Again, the smallest parishes show no particular pattern.

While I cannot, with the data I have, show the closed parishes in the various breakdowns, we do know how much attendance these parishes represented. There is a difference of 565 in attendance between the total for diocese reported in 2005 and the sum for the 104 surviving parishes (omitting Church on the Square). The diocese reported 116 parishes in 2005, so the mean ASA for the departures and closures was about 47; together they represented a bit over 4% of the total. The loss of these parishes accounted for over 15% of the total loss, which was %27 of 2005 ASA; but the surviving parishes, themselves, had a 24% decline.

The overall picture is thus negative in almost every way. We are losing parishes, and our parishes are losing people. Unless the pattern changes dramatically, continued losses will lead to continued closures.

In the next post: money.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

The Diocese by the Numbers: Prelude

Well, I changed my mind, and I have gone through all the parish charts, so I'm going to take a post or two to run over the diocesan statistics over the past decade (which is to say, from 2005 to 2015).

Before I talk methodology I would like to talk about some of the overall numbers from the diocesan tables. The diocese as a whole has seen losses in numbers characteristic of the church as a whole, with ten years of 3% per annum losses adding up to a loss for the decade of 35%. This includes the loss of fifteen parishes, of which two left and the others closed. One mission started, not counting St. Hilda's, the replacement for St. Timothy Catonsville; it will not post numbers until 2016.

So how do the parish numbers reflect this? Well, ignoring the closures and departures, only eight parishes showed increases in attendance. Parishes tend to run on the small side: there were only eight parishes with attendance over two hundred in 2015. Three parishes showed no change; all of the rest showed declines. Financially, plate and pledge (P&P) shows a consistent trend of a 42% gain per attendee, regardless of parish size; that said, a lot of parishes do not see P&P income sufficient to support a full time priest.

So now, some methodology. I used two main sources: the charts from Research and Statistics, and the diocesan journal, which lists parishes and closure dates, if relevant. I also had at my disposal a listing of current ASA from the diocesan convention. This last was used as a cross check on ASA as calculated from the charts. Now, the charts, as images, present some difficulties leading to some small inaccuracies. I calculated values by (effectively) counting pixels; it was not clear, however, exactly where the zero line was, and the number of people/dollars represented by one pixel varied according to the overall scale. The quality of these numbers was further reduced for ASA because the determining value for overall scale was membership, typically four to six times attendance. Comparison of actual and calculated numbers showed a slight tendency to undercounting, on the order of 1%. There are likewise errors of the same order, aggravated by difficulties in precisely locating the centers of the dots on the chart, for P&P; I had nothing to work with to check parish-by-parish values on this, however.

A more serious problem arises in counting parishes themselves. The numbers I calculated from the convention journal do not precisely correspond to the totals on the Red Book; it appears to be the case that parishes may continue to be counted for several years after their actual closure. The more serious problem is that there are plain errors in the journal, which get worse as one goes backward in time. In looking at parish websites I found one parish which it did not list, for example. It also does not give dates for foundation of parishes; this was less of a problem since very few parishes are newly founded. In the end I found it necessary to cut off counts of parishes at 1960.

The loss of parishes presents another issue: in some respects the numbers for 2005 are distorted because I do not have a source for those parishes which have disappeared from the records. This is ameliorated to some degree for attendance, because the total attendance for the diocese is recorded, and therefore I can work out how much is represented by the missing parishes; for plate and pledge, however, I have nothing. When we look at these numbers, however, it seems to me that this lack is probably not significant.

So let us start with three charts for the diocese in aggregate. The first is that from Research and Statistics:

Here we see the typical decline of a mainstream east coast diocese. And here we have the parishes:

Finally, we have the average attendance per active parish, by year:

This last chart is most significant, because it shows a more serious problem: it's not just closing parishes, but parishes shrinking regardless of closures.

Next we will look at attendance on a parish-by-parish basis.