In his October message to the Diocese of Iowa,
Episcopal Diocese of Iowa - Articles Sermons 2010#Oct_2010 (h/t TitusOneNine)
Bishop Alan Scarfe criticizes the anachronistic method of counting church "members" and makes a simple call to get back to the basics of pastoral care:
"The apparent irrelevance, however, of the totals on baptized persons, or even communicants, for understanding our life as Church points to a huge weakness in our faith system. We are poor at keeping track of one another. This is so at the very place where we might hope greater commitment is being expressed, namely at Confirmation."
The irrelevance of our record keeping comes from its historical basis in the State Church of England. There, the "parish" really is everybody in the geographical proximity of the church. This has some spiritual potential, as the Vicar is to consider the spiritual well being of the whole community.
But in Protestant America, church affiliation is relentlessly voluntary, and denominations proliferate. The sense of "the village church" is replaced by "my church," and even the smallest village might have a few!
Episcopal churches have always had a hard time navigating this. People show up for baptisms, weddings and burials and get added to "the list," even if never seen again. A joke gets it right: The Rector of the Episcopal Church, the Catholic Priest and the Baptist Pastor get together for coffee, and are lamenting infestations of bats in their church buildings. The Catholic Priest says, "I tried a full day with the organist playing all stops out, and then some of our worst 'contemporary' Catholic music, and the bats flew away for a day but then came right back." The Baptist Pastor said, "I had some of the ol' boys drive their trucks 'round the church, we fired off our shotguns, and I rebuked the bats in the Lord's name. They flew off a bit, then came back." The Episcopal Priest smiled proudly an said, "Don't worry, there's a solution. I baptized and confirmed them and they never came back."
Bishop Scarfe points out our failure to expect anything of the people, especially those who make formal affirmations of faith in the rites of the Church. There's a symbiosis there: people who want cheap grace get it and the clergy get complemented for open mindedness without having to do the messy work of "keeping up with" people and calling them to follow Christ.
I appreciate that Bishop Scarfe addresses this as "our" problem - it really is an issue for clergy and laity to address together.