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‘No members, church­goers, or givers by 2040’ — bleak Canadian data seen as challenge

29 November 2019

Creative Commons

Holy Trinity, Canada

Holy Trinity, Canada

ANGLICANS in both Canada and England have suggested that there remains hope for the Anglican Church of Canada after its General Synod was told that there would be no members, church­goers, or givers by 2040, on pro­­jec­­tions from dio­cesan data (News, 15 November).

The author of the statistics re­­port for the Canadian Church’s House of Bishops, the Revd Dr Neil Elliot, suggested that “we need to plan for a Church which is going to change substantially in the years 2020 to 2040.”

Dr Elliot’s report, presented to the Council of General Synod this month, draws on five different data sets: historical church statistics from 1961 to 2001; Anglican Jour­­nal circulation data; and three sets of data from his own survey of the dioceses from 2001 and 2017.

“There is no sign of any stabil­isation in our numbers: if anything, the decline is increasing,” he wrote.

Three sets of statistics — num­bers on rolls, average Sunday attend­ance, and number of house­holds donating — showed the same decline. In 1961, members had made up seven per cent of the popu­lation; by 2017, this had fallen to one per cent. International com­parisons suggested that the decline was faster than in any other An­­glican Church. For the Episcopal Church in the United States, the projected “zero-member date” was about 2050, he told the Synod.

“Given that we have not been able to address this decline in the last 60 years, it is unlikely that we are going to turn it around in the next 20 years,” Dr Elliot writes.

“As a statistician I want to en­­cour­age us to rely more on em­­pir­ical evidence. . . Having a plan inspired by the Holy Spirit and informed by data is our most help­ful way ahead.”

“I think we’re being tested about perseverance, endurance, creativity in the coming years,” the Primate of Canada, Dr Linda Nicholls, told the Synod, the Anglican Journal re­­ported.

“It’s my hope that when we leave here, the message we take is not ‘Oh, no, the Church is dying,’ but ‘Oh, we’ve got a challenge.’”

This week, the Principal of Mont­real Diocesan Theological Col­­­­­lege, the Revd Dr Jesse Zink, said that, while there might be fewer people in the Church today, “those who remain are committed to growing as disciples of Christ and sharing their faith in a mean­ing­ful, public fashion.” 

At his church, none of the ten new members welcomed a few weeks ago had been born in Canada. “This is the reality of Christianity in this global age.”

The reaction of many young Anglicans to the report, Dr Zink said, had been: “‘I intend to be around in 2040 and be in the Church.’ That’s true for me, too: I won’t be of retirement age by 2040, and I intend to still be in ministry. In my work of theological education, I work with many young people who inspire me with their faithfulness and their profound sense of vocation to ministry in this time and place.” More alarming were the “increasingly dire predictions about climate change”,

The Rector of St Mary’s, Nant­wich, in Cheshire, the Revd Dr Mark Hart, reported this week that a projection made of usual Sunday attendance in the Church of Eng­land, using the same methodology as Dr Elliot, would produce “zero” by 2064.

A linear projection was “effective in raising the alarm”, Dr Hart said, but Dr Elliot had also emphasised that “the Church will not actually run out of members by then.”

“Some sociologists argue for an exponential decay on the assumption that a constant proportion of the children of members remain members. This gives a better fit, and projects the usual Sunday attendance halving by 2064.

“There are many other factors which may make things better or worse. In truth, projection is impossible with any certainty. The C of E has been managing decline for decades, and still is. . . The Anglican Church of Canada statistics report goes further with its call to manage assuming continued decline for decades. That’s depressing, and contradicts our Easter hope that the future is not an extrapolation of the past.”

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