Anglicans tend to love words. We appreciate beautiful liturgy and listen attentively to the Word through Scripture. On the other hand, we tend to have less appreciation for numbers, and we can sometimes be found looking a bit blankly at financial reports. But numbers also tell stories, and every Spring parish administrators, clergy and wardens dutifully complete a form called “Parochial Statistics.” Here’s a bit of the story about the diocese of New Westminster that these numbers tell us:
So what’s the story here? The Anglican Church in our region is continuing to feel the effects of changes in the wider society. Fewer people are loosely affiliated with our churches, as reflected in the decrease in overall membership. But this year we have not seen a year-over-year decline in average Sunday attendance, a number that reflects people who are more actively engaged with our churches. One possible interpretation is that the people who came to church out of a sense of social obligation no longer feel that this is necessary, and the people who are engaged are more intentional, making a specific choice to participate in our faith communities.
Numbers on their own never tell the whole story. Many of our churches are very small (under 50 average Sunday attendance), which is a size that offers opportunity to participate in a way that larger churches don’t. Anglicans tend to appreciate smaller communities where we know each other and it’s easy to get involved—bigger isn’t always better. These churches would do well to avoid unfortunate comparisons with larger churches, instead reflecting on the energy levels and satisfaction of parishioners. Energy and satisfaction tell much more about parish vitality than size.
Anyone who is interested in parish development might want to check out the School for Parish Development (Andrew Halladay, director) or Groundwork, the workshop series on membership growth for small and mid-sized parishes. Look for details on the diocesan website.