Reflections on the Rapid Growth of the Episcopal Church of Ecuador

by A. Theodore Mollegen, Jr.            

In 1984, I was one of the Diocese of Connecticut's "pilgrims" to the Episcopal Church of Ecuador.

I went to Ecuador because I was very curious as to what it was that was making the church in Ecuador grow so rapidly, while the church in the US is not significantly growing.

On the plane flight down, I mentally prepared myself to find some single particular thing that they were doing that would be the key to church growth, so that I could bring that thing back home.

Not surprisingly (in retrospect), there was no single growth-producing thing, although it took me quite a while for me to see why the Ecuadorian Episcopal Church is growing. The growth is based on three factors:

(1) All members of the Episcopal Church of Ecuador are taught that all people will be happier if they are Christians, because all people have a built-in need for God. Therefore Ecuadorian Episcopalians have a serious responsibility to build a connection between their neighbors and God. (While I would expect that US Episcopal leaders would give lip service to this concept, many that I have known neither act as though they themselves believed it, nor teach their lay followers to believe it and act on it.)

(2) The Ecuadorian Episcopal Church visibly responds to the pressing needs of people around them, including both their material needs and their need for Christ and the church. When material needs are addressed, they are addressed in a matter which promotes people's growth from material dependency to independency. (Put figuratively, there are no soup kitchens which do not have programs which move the potentially independent out of dependency on the soup kitchen.) The helping functions are delivered together with an invitation to join a congregation, and new congregations of socially-similar people (because that's what works best) are formed at regular intervals, providing a comfortable social environment for the new church members.

(3) The above approach works extremely well, and with a little planning and strategy, causes rapid growth.

Put differently, Ecuadorian Episcopal Church leaders (lay people, bishops, priests and deacons) all consider it part of their job as Christian church leaders to generate church growth. When the Bishop addresses confirmands, he tells them that they should bring one new person into the church every month. (He says that they don't all do it, but that some of them do, and that even the ones who don't recruit, at least expect and welcome new members.

Elements of the Episcopal missionary strategy there include:

-- starting an elementary school in a neighborhood where the government will not be able to afford to start a school for several years.

-- in a poor area of the jungle, start a research station which will find economic uses for a bitter-tasting fruit which is locally prolific but currently of no economic value.

-- in newly-formed neighborhoods, form congregations and provide the sacraments and liturgy in the language of the people (in some areas of Ecuador, the predominant language is either of two Native American languages, not Spanish). Immediately turn responsibility for the non-sacramental aspects of the operation to members of the congregation, with training as support.

All together, these ideas constitute a system for growth. While the US is not Ecuador, I don't see why the same principles wouldn't work here.

* * * * *