*** DEBUG END ***

A story of growth and decline

06 January 2017

David Goodhew examines why some parts of the Anglican Communion are growing fast and others are not


Joyful: Mothers’ Union members at a service to launch preparations for the 16th Anglican Consultative Council, at Holy Cross Cathedral, Lusaka, in November 2015

Joyful: Mothers’ Union members at a service to launch preparations for the 16th Anglican Consultative Council, at Holy Cross Cathedral, Lusaka, ...

THE Anglican Communion has doubled in size in the past 50 years. There are now at least 86 million Anglicans worldwide. Most parts of the Communion have grown, whether rapidly or modestly, in recent decades. Rumours of the death of Anglicanism are an exaggeration.

This said, around the Com­munion some provinces have been stable, some have declined, and a few have declined severely. Overall, most Anglicans are now from the global South, and the Communion is set to move further in that direction in the future.

Such dramatic shifts have been studied in depth by an international team of researchers in a new book, Growth and Decline in the Anglican Communion, 1980 to the Present (Routledge).

But to speak of “86 million Anglicans” raises many questions: first, whether the data can be trusted. All religious statistics should be treated with care. Many are far from robust. But we would be wrong to give up and opt for cynicism.

There are three key measures: affiliation (people who self-describe as Anglican); membership (people who are in some way members of an Anglican congregation, however often they attend worship, for example, people on an electoral roll); and attendance (actual “bums on seats” at worship).

Figures for affiliation are usually higher than those for membership. Figures for membership are usually higher than those for attendance. Such differences are to be expected. These measures measure different things.

The figure of 86 million is a measure of affiliation. It is not the number of people at Anglican worship each week, a figure that is hard to quantify. “Eighty-six million” is a meaningful measure, but not a precise measure: it needs sup­­plementing by other measures and other forms of analysis.

Data can be dodgy. In countries with fewer resources, data tend to be less robust. But note that many data from the global North are problematic, too, including signif­icant amounts of C of E data. On the bright side, some countries, such as the United States and Singapore, have excellent data, from which much can be learnt. Moreover, by using a variety of measures, in­­cluding a mix of quantitative and qualitative data, a good deal can be said.

One comment occasionally made of churchgoing in parts of the global South is that it is “a mile wide and an inch deep”. This is a dubious, quasi-colonial statement. We do well to remember that, in places such as Britain and North America, there is much faith that is also only an inch deep — and often only an inch wide.

A second question is whether we should be concerned at all about statistics. A focus on numbers is seen by some as an unspiritual sidelining of other aspects of the Christian life. Church growth is just as much about growing spiritual depth and the growing capacity to serve the community. And gen­eralised comments about a particular nation obscure the fine detail. Overall growth in a country or diocese often conceals significant pockets of decline, and vice versa.

But, taking all these points into account, numerical growth and decline do matter. They matter theologically. Scripture, doctrine, and church tradition place a high value on growing congregations and starting new ones. They matter experientially: there is much evid­ence that congregations enhance individual and community well-being.

And they matter also because churches, like individuals, live out of the narratives that they tell about themselves — and narratives of numerical growth or decline mould how churches understand themselves. Churches and provinces see themselves as “major” or “minor” players, are fearful or confident, because of whether they see themselves as growing or shrinking. Often, the stories that churches tell of themselves are not wholly based on reality, or they are based on past realities, ignoring what is happening now. So it matters that narratives of growth and decline tell the truth.

Besides, the Church of England (like many other Anglicans in the global North) has hardly been guilty of excessive concern for numerical growth in recent decades. There is much inverse snobbery about numerical growth, as something “just not done” in polite ecclesial circles. This feeds into a widespread “decline theology”. Decline theology sees church decline as unproblem­atic, or even to be accepted as “inevitable”. Decline theology is an internalisation of the secularisation thesis. It creates an ecclesiology of fatalism. Perhaps God has other ideas.


THE third question is where, exactly, there is growth, and where there is decline. Based on the measure of affiliation, 62 per cent of all Anglicans were found in Britain in 1970. By 2010, this had dropped to 31 per cent. North American Anglicans were nine per cent of Anglicans worldwide in 1970, but three per cent in 2010. During the same period, African Anglicans grew from 16 per cent of all Anglicans worldwide in 1970 to 58 per cent in 2010. Anglicanism within Asia has also grown rapidly, although it remains small compared with the rest of the Communion. Anglicanism in South America and Oceania is growing more slowly, but it is growing.

Note that the figure for Europe is greatly boosted by the large number of the English population who are baptised Anglicans. This figure is markedly dropping, suggesting that Anglicanism’s shift to the global South may be still more pronounced in future.

Areas that have seen strong growth include: Nigeria, Singapore, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Kenya, and parts of South America. The first Anglican diocese in the DRC came into being in 1972, with 30 clergy, 25 parishes, and 30 churches. As of 2015, Anglicanism in the DRC had nine dioceses, 545 clergy, 424 parishes, and a membership of about 237,000. Nigeria, Singapore, and South America are discussed elsewhere in this article. What is important to recognise is the scale and speed of the growth in recent decades.

Many other countries are seeing growth, but of a more modest nature. The Ghanaian Church grew from about 100,000 to about 269,000 between 1970 and 2010. In the same period, Ghana’s population rose from about 8.6 million to 24.7 million. This means that the Church has grown in size, but shrunk as a proportion of the population. Parts of Ghanaian Anglicanism have grown vigorously, but, overall, it has grown markedly less than many other African countries, and less than many other denominations in Ghana. Anglicanism in a range of other countries, such as Malawi and Zambia, appears to have a similar trajectory.

A significant number of countries have been more or less stable in recent decades. In South Africa, there has been similar demographic growth to other parts of Africa, but South African Anglicanism has expanded little. Barbara Bompani’s research shows that, while there has been growth in some of its newer dioceses, there is limited evidence of new churches’ being founded, and some evidence of stagnation and secularisation. This holds true for other provinces such as Korea, Japan, Brazil, and Hong Kong.

Within the global North, there is a greater propensity to decline. The rate of decline, however, varies greatly. In Australia, there has been moderate decline in recent decades, but dramatic decline in many rural areas. And yet Sydney and other urban areas, such as the diocese of Canberra and Goulburn, have seen some growth.

In some parts of the global North, such as the US, Canada, and Wales, there has been serious decline. The Episcopal Church in the US is discussed elsewhere in this article. Canada has seen a similar picture to the US’s. Some Canadian decline is very pronounced: two-thirds of the parish churches of the diocese of Quebec expect to close or amalgamate with others in the next five years. Not everywhere is like this: the diocese of Toronto has neither markedly grown nor declined. In Wales, however, the electoral roll dropped from about 100,000 in 1990 to 53,000 in 2013.

The Church of England itself falls somewhere between Australia and North America. Overall, there has been significant decline in English Anglicanism since 1980, but there has been limited growth, too. David Voas’s work shows that between 1980 and 2013 electoral-roll members fell by 41 per cent, and usual Sunday attendance by 37 per cent. The number of infants baptised remains large, but is now decidedly a minority of the birth cohort (about 20 per cent).

Such broad-brush figures about England conceal as well as reveal. In the diocese of London, adult membership, having declined in the 1980s, rose by more than 70 per cent between 1990 and 2010. It is unclear to what extent London is an outlier, or a harbinger of the future.

A handful of other dioceses are slightly growing, stable, or shrinking only slightly. Dioceses that are clearly declining usually include some areas of growth. Like Australia and the US, the English dioceses furthest from the largest cities tend to be declining fastest.


WHEN it comes to identifying the causes of growth and decline, it is important to remember that, in every case, there is a complex mix of factors at work.

Demographics clearly matter. The mushrooming populations of some countries facilitate numerical growth in a way that static or falling populations elsewhere do not.

But demography is not destiny. Congo and Ghana have both seen dramatic growth in population, and yet Congolese Anglicanism has grown much faster than Ghanaian Angli­canism. From a much lower base, it overtook Ghanaian Anglica­nism in the decades after 1970. In the global North, significant decline has often happened despite a substantial rise in the wider population, as in North America.

Beyond this, a range of factors are at work. Many provinces, notably Nigeria and Singapore, have, in recent decades, experienced “pente­cost­­alisation”: the adoption of traits of Pentecostal/Charismatic churches, such as emphasising the Person and work of the Holy Spirit; a hope of tangible change as a result of faith; and focus on the spiritual gifts of all church members.

Worldwide, the Pentecostal tra­dition has been the main Christian innovation of the past 100 years. This has fed into Anglican ex­­pansion in some areas. And yet many Churches and provinces that have not “pentecostalised” have also grown.

The Anglo-Catholic and liberal traditions are prominent in parts of the Communion where there has been more decline and less growth, such as North America and parts of Southern Africa. Significant growth has happened within areas that have been deeply influenced by the Anglo-Catholic tradition, however, such as Papua New Guinea and Melanesia.

Ecclesiastical structures have played a significant part in growth and decline within the Communion. In the DRC, the structures of Angli­can­­ism have given organisational “spine” to the Church in a highly unstable society. Congolese Angli­cans see utaratibu (order, both organisational and liturgical) as crucial for the health and growth of the Congolese Church.

On a different structural note, it is a rule of thumb that the pro­liferation of dioceses correlates with growth and the amalgamation of dioceses with decline — although correlation is not necessarily proof of causation.

Structures matter, but so does the space for lay members to exercise ministry and take initiatives. The growth of the Nigerian Church has involved the growth in the number of clergy alongside vigorous lay organisations such as the Mothers’ Union, the Anglican Youth Fellow­ship, and the Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion. In the DRC and South India, unsalaried lay evangelists are central to the work of the Church.

It has been a staple of debates about secularisation that cities are centres of secularisation in the global North. But there is growing evidence that the opposite has been the case in recent decades. The evidence from Anglicanism in London, Sydney, and Singapore supports this contention. In the global North, Anglicanism has struggled more in rural areas than in the largest cities.

There is, to a degree, a developing religious “Anglosphere”: countries connected by English language, culture, and politics offer lines down which faith can be transmitted. Nairobi, Lagos, Singapore, and London are centres of English-speaking culture and of Anglican­ism. Anglicanism has ongoing ties to English-speaking culture, but has increasingly shed deference to the English and to the Church of England.

But the growth of French-, and Spanish-speaking Anglicanism, in countries as diverse as the DRC and Chile, is a salutary reminder that Anglicanism can reach out beyond the English-speaking world.


IN SIGNIFICANT parts of the West, the decline of Anglicanism chimes with secularisation. The diminution of the part played by Christianity (and Anglicanism) in countries such as Canada and Wales is clear. The decline of American Anglicanism suggests that the US, previously seen as a counterweight to the greater secularity of Western Europe, is secularising overall, although US churches continued to be markedly more vigorous in general than European churches.

Some scholars argue that greater modernisation leads to greater material security, which leads to greater secularity. There is a rough connection, as the wealthy and highly secular nations of Scandinavia show. From this standpoint, the burgeoning church growth in some countries in South America and Africa could be the precursor to future decline, as those societies modernise.

But — and it is a big “but” — the sheer variety of global Anglicanism makes this an insecure general­isation. If, as Grace Davie argues, there are “modernities” rather than “modernity”, then context counts for a great deal. Perhaps many European cities have secularised more because they are European than because they are “modern”. African, Asian, and South American Anglicanisms are neither “moder­n­is­ing”, nor, if they do so, secular­ising, in the same manner as Europe or the US. The burgeoning reli­giosity from Lagos to Singapore bears this out.

Besides, the assumption that everywhere will eventually become like the West has a strong whiff of imperialism about it. We should be sceptical of the idea that the future belongs either to the “modern”, the secular, or to the West.

Then there are other denom­inations. Sometimes, they are more vigorous than Anglicanism. But, sometimes, Anglicanism can lead the pack, or offer something new. In much of South America, the dominant traditions are Roman Ca­­tho­licism and Pentecostalism. But, intriguingly, Anglicanism has shown significant vitality in some countries in South America. It does so partly by offering a new via media between these traditions, which tries to combine the best from Roman Catholicism and Pentecostalism, and let go of any downsides.


NUMBERS are not the only thing that matters, but they do matter. They carry narratives, and the chang­­ing numbers around the Anglican Communion require a reframing of the narratives told currently about Anglicanism in the 21st century — in four ways.

First, there has been more growth than decline around the Commun­ion since 1980: it has doubled in size in the past 50 years. Academics, media commentators, and church leaders who characterise Anglican­ism primarily in terms of “crisis” offer seriously unbalanced analysis.

Second, there has been a profound shift of the numerical centre of gravity of Anglicanism towards the global South. In 1960, most Anglicans were from the global North, and the Com­munion’s bishops were dominated by Englishmen. That era is long gone. Since then, Anglicanism has dramatically diversified and in­­digenised. As it did so, it has, mostly, grown. Indeed, a key factor contributing to Anglican tensions in the present is the fact that the Communion has grown and become much less dominated by the global North.

Third, much of Anglicanism in the global North has shrunk, and some parts have shrunk drastically. But some areas of global Northern Anglicanism are stable, and a few are growing. Overall, Anglicanism has an ongoing future across the global North. That said, in a limited number of parts of the global North, Anglicanism may effectively dis­appear in the coming decades.

Fourth, Anglicanism’s recent his­tory teaches us that there may be unexpected growth in the future. Consider Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Nepal. A generation ago, the number of Anglican churches in these lands could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Prospects for growth looked non-existent. Now, there are dozens of new congre­gations in those countries. Thousands of people have been baptised and con­firmed recently.

These states are a good reminder that we should not presume to know how the Communion will change in the coming decades.


The Revd Dr David Goodhew is Director of Ministerial Practice at Cran­­mer Hall, St John’s College, Durham. Additional material from: Richard Burgess, Daniel Wee, Jeremy Bonner, Maurice Sinclair, and John Corrie.

Growth and Decline in the Anglican Communion, 1980 to the Present has just been published by Routledge. Its findings are the subject of a one-day conference on 24 February, at Whitelands College, part of the University of Roe­hampton, London. For more information about the conference, visit:



In Nigeria there has been a high-octane mix of rapidly rising population levels, deep poverty, patchy economic development, erratic governance, and much civil strife. In parts of central and northern Nigeria, severe violence has made dioceses shrink rather than grow. But the overall trend is strongly upward. The number of Nigerian dioceses rose from 16 in 1979 to 164 in 2011, and the new dioceses have been at the forefront of growth. The diocese of Lagos West, created in 1999, grew from 161 to 240 churches by 2010. There is some uncertainty as to the size of Nigerian Anglicanism, but the best figures suggest that, in terms of Anglican affiliation, it has grown from under three million to about 20 million between 1970 and 2010. A key aspect of Nigerian Anglicanism is its “pentecostalisation”, which is widespread in Nigerian society, and has had a significant impact on Anglicanism in the country. Nigerian Anglicanism is energetic in evangelism and church-planting, but educational, medical, and welfare work are also vigorously being developed.


Singapore is one of the most dynamic nations in Asia, and its Anglican Church shares this vigour. Singaporean Anglicanism grew from an average weekly attendance of 4100 in 1980 to one of 20,200 in 2012 — a rise of about 500 per cent. This is similar to the growth of some other denominations in Singapore. The pace of growth has slowed somewhat in recent years, but the Church continues to expand markedly, fuelled in significant measure by its experience of the Charismatic movement. In a diverse society, where Christianity is very much a minority, the diocese carries out active medical and educational work. This is done both for its own sake, and as a means to achieving good standing with the government and the wider population. The diocese of Singapore is also acting as a launch pad for the planting of Anglican congregations across a wide swath of south-east Asia. Long known as a key junction for multiple trade routes, Singapore is becoming similarly strategic as a centre for the expansion of Anglicanism across Asia.


Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile together now form the Anglican Province of South America. With a history of more than 150 years (apart from Bolivia, where churches opened more re­­cently), the Anglican Church remained only a small minority Church. Its significance related to its chaplaincies, pioneer evan­gelism, and cultural affirma­tion of indigenous peoples, and new outreach in large cities. Anglican congre­gations through­out the region have increased from 150 in 1980 to 400 in 2015. The first Anglican Bishop in Peru was installed as recently as 1977, at which point the country had two congregations; in 2015, there were 40. Other republics in which there has been rapid numerical growth include Chile and Argentina. From its recent beginnings, Bolivian Anglicanism has now produced five congre­gations, distributed between four large cities, with a total of about 500 wor­shippers. The first woman priest in the pro­vince was ordained in Bolivia in 2015. The succession of Angl­ican bishops in Bolivia have come from the UK, the United States, and, most recently, from Singapore. South Amer­ican Anglicanism, however, in­­creas­ingly has Latin and indi­genous leadership.


The principal Anglican denom­ination in the United States is the Episcopal Church in the United States. It lost almost a quarter of its members from 1986 to 2011, within the context of a rapidly rising population. Although decline was slower in the 1980s and ’90s, it has become much more pro­nounced since about 2000, albeit with a wide regional variation. The South grew slightly in this period overall, while the East Coast and Midwest did much worse. That said, all areas have declined in recent years. Average Sunday attendance declined by almost a quarter between 2000 and 2010, and the number of baptisms halved between 2000 and 2014. The figures for baptism are espec­ially significant, given that Episco­palians tend to join the denom­ination as infants. In contrast with other US denominations, the United Church of Christ and the Presbyterian Church (USA) are doing worse than the Episcopal Church, but most denominations are doing better. Although most Episcopalian dioceses are now in decline, those in the interior are most vulnerable (a number of rural dioceses are barely viable), and those in metro­politan centres tend to be more robust. Figures for the main Anglican alternative in the US, the Anglican Church in North America, are not precise; but, even if added to those of the Episcopal Church, they suggest that a large number of those who were Anglicans in the US in 2000 had ceased to be so by 2010.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)