It is a  parish,  but a parish is actually a geographic description. St. Paul's is the Episcopal Church, along with St. Peter's, in the lower Keys. We are also a  congregation,  which simply means we gather together periodically. But what is it we do and to what purpose?

I was trained 25 years ago now to think of an Episcopal congregation as a membership organization. I bet a lot of us were. The assumption behind this model is that people are looking for churches to join. Our job was to be an attractive church that would retain visitors and entice them to become members of the congregation. I am going to call this the  Chapel Model . In this model, what happens inside the church walls is the primary activity. People come to the church, join it and participate in its activities which were overwhelmingly located in church buildings. 

The Episcopal Church is not the only institution that operated under this model. Other major denominations also used it. Not only religious body, many other groups were organized this way. Fraternal organizations worked that way. Museums developed lists of members. Many people joined various kinds of clubs. People subscribed as members to arts organizations. After World War II, we were a nation of joiners. 

This model boomed in the 50's and slowly declined through the 80's. However, in recent decades, this model is in precipitous decline. Nearly every membership-based organization is in trouble. Clubs, fraternal organizations, arts organizations and churches are all in the same boat. This is one of the significant factors in the decline of "mainline Protestant" churches. (There are others, such as conflicts over inclusion, declining birth rates, and lack of cultural and ethnic diversity.)

We need a new model --- continued here