By AMANDA GREENE
At his previous church in Florida, a female parishioner told the Rev. Richard Elliott a story that shocked him.
“She said once when her baby cried in church, the priest told her to take that baby out of this church,” he said, “so she did. And she never came back.”
The church’s unwillingness, in some cases, to embrace families in worship – and all the disruptions that come with them – is one reason for shrinking Protestant parishes, said Elliott, now pastor of St. Andrew’s On-the-Sound Episcopal Church near Wrightsville Beach.
Faith Communities Today released The Decade of Change in American Congregations 2000–2010 study in the fall of 2011 saying more than one in four congregations have fewer than 50 people attending worship services each Sunday.
So at St. Andrew’s, “I would say we have become aggressively child-friendly,” he added. When he first arrived in 2002, the parish attracted mostly retirees.
But after the church began its preschool, started a monthly children’s communion and included more children in worship, St. Andrew’s saw its numbers steadily grow. There are crayons and coloring books in the church foyer for restless tikes.
In its own “decade of change,” 2000–2010, St. Andrew’s grew from about 200 worship attendees per service to more than 300. And membership grew from about 700 to 800 members.
And in February, Elliott found out how rare their growth was in the Episcopal Church.
Their parish was recognized as “one of only 269, less than 4 percent of the more than 7,200 parishes in The Episcopal Church, that have grown 25 percent or more over the past five years,” according to an email from the Diocese of Upper South Carolina.
The church has plans to add on new services and build an expanded parish hall.
“It’s always been my practice to be deliberate,” Elliott added. “If I hear a child make a noise in church now, I just smile.”