To add members, reduce pews

The New York Times highlights the struggle of St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Westchester County to survive, including a successful effort to make the church more welcoming by removing some pews:

“Fifty years ago, everybody used to go to church,” Mr. de Leeuw, the rector, said, smiling at about 50 people gathered in his 22 remaining pews last Sunday. “The sense of obligation people had is gone, but maybe that’s a good thing. Those of us who gather here are here because we want to be.”

Such dogged optimism helps him and his congregation stay focused on a difficult task: bringing their 80-year-old church back from the brink. Once the spiritual home to more than 1,000 worshipers, St. Bart’s is down to a few dozen members and up to $300,000 in debt.

. . .

By rearranging furniture, wearing name tags and warmly greeting visitors, the members of St. Bart’s are on the right track, said the Rev. Nicholas Lang, the rector at St. Paul’s on the Green in Norwalk, Conn., whose congregation has grown to 450 members from 50 in 15 years.

“The Episcopal Church is facing problems nationally, but changes have to be made on a local level, because that’s where people connect to a church,” he said of his advisory visits last year to St. Bart’s and six similarly struggling churches in Connecticut and New Jersey.

Those sticking it out at St. Bart’s say Mr. de Leeuw’s initiatives have begun to attract some younger families, bringing the weekly Sunday school and nursery program attendance up to a dozen this year. At their annual meeting last week, church members listened attentively to the rector’s requests for creative ideas to raise the church’s profile, ranging from potluck suppers to starting a motorcycle gang.

Read it all here.

Past Posts