By Rev. Brad Mathias
In New England, the aging population is never more evident than in the pews of churches. St. Margaret’s Anglican was no exception, a forty-year-old traditional Anglican-Catholic church within an aging New England community. In 2020 we had no active members under 70 years old and several well into their 90’s.
Given the circumstances, we felt we needed to engage our community in new ways. We began by initiating a new day and time for our mid-week Service. Each Thursday at 4:30PM we hosted a simple mass and then shared a fun time of fellowship with a meal following. We intentionally offered a mid-week early evening option as an ‘unplugged’ service to engage a different age group and met in the smaller chapel with a focus on intimacy and contemplative space, a time to slow down and be quiet.
We invested in developing a larger social media presence, updating the church Facebook and Website with regular content. We made the effort to set up an Instagram and YouTube account knowing they were the ‘go-to’ sites for millennials and Gen Z. And we began to record our services each Sunday and posting on our church social media outlets.
But technology is only a strategy, not a replacement for the essentials. As a church, we focused on being ‘friendly’ and ‘welcoming’. We put the effort into updating the traditional resources every day parishioners interacted with. We did an overhaul of the church image - print directory, service brochures, exterior signage, and updated the physical space of the church to make it more appealing to visitors.
We didn’t simply focus on younger people, but also considered the needs of long-time members and attenders of our parish. We re-engaged some of the older programs and ministries in the church and also organized new group activities. In 2020 we started with a fall firepit cookout, summer lake picnic, monthly Men’s breakfast, Church Yard Sale, new Saturday Ladies group, and regular Parish work days to update the grounds and structures. We designed and installed two new church signs on the exterior to enhance our exposure to the drive by traffic.
All of these efforts paid out in visitors and retention. It's not one thing we did that made the difference, but the sum of the total. We recognized what was done in previous decades wasn’t going to continue to work without some adjustments on our part. Instead of asking people to come to us… we are going to them. We adapted how we engaged with people, but not what we believe or how we honor the traditions of the church.
This wasn’t led only by a dynamic priest, but the men and women that God drew to St. Margaret’s by the Holy Spirit, and through the gifts that they brought. The vision of growth started with the leader, but quickly was spread throughout the Parish and was owned by most. We are now blessed to have an 80 / 20 church, where 80% of the church is active and engaged regardless of age and only about 20% are casual, peripheral attenders.
In 2020, our numbers were averaging 15-18 on any given Sunday, now we have over 50 each week attending services, including teens and younger families. We are growing and younger from the region are finding us.
Who said Traditional Churches won't grow in New England? And if it can happen here, it can happen anywhere! To God be the glory.
Sources & Citations:
“The American Religious Landscape in 2020” PRRI (July 8, 2021). https://www.prri.org/research/2020-census-of-american-religion/
“Church membership in the U.S. has fallen below the majority for the first time in nearly a century”
Sarah Pulliam Bailey / Washington Post (March 29, 2021) https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2021/03/29/church-membership-fallen-below-majority/
Rev. Brad Mathias | Rector
St. Margaret of Scotland Anglican Church
85 Pleasant St. Conway NH 03818