Study of Diocesan Funding in the Episcopal Church

Project Number: 
Start Date: 
Sat, 01/01/1994

Historically, Episcopal dioceses have funded themselves by assessing congregations a certain amount--usually a percentage of a congregation's annual budget--that the congregations are obligated to pay. In 1968, the diocese of Alabama was the first to switch to a voluntary system by which congregations contribute what they want. Today, approximately 20% of Episcopal dioceses use this voluntary system. The purpose of this project was to investigate the effects on dioceses and congregations of using one system or the other. Specifically, the project compared how the two systems affect (a) the level of congregational giving to the diocese and (b) the attitudes of priests and church members towards their diocese. Four dioceses--two using each system--were studied. Three types of data were collected in each diocese. Interviews about the diocesan funding system were conducted with key personnel in each diocese, including bishops and relevant administrators. For each congregation in each diocese, data on congregational finances and giving to the diocese were collected from 1987 to 1994. Finally, all clergy, senior wardens, and a random sample of church members were surveyed in each diocese. In all, 3128 surveys were mailed; 1315 were completed. The study found that among the four dioceses there are no discernible systemic differences between the two using the voluntary system and the two using the involuntary system. Only 57% of lay people knew which system their diocese used. Theology follows, rather than guides, practice, i.e., diocesan and congregational leaders articulated a theology of stewardship consistent with the system in use. Individuals who strongly identify with the wider Episcopal Church generally prefer the involuntary system. (MC)