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:
- No parish church has closed in the last five years. We’re stable at 66 parishes.
- The number of parishes with attendance between 50 and 100 has grown (from 29 in 2017 to 32 in 2018) while the number of parishes with over 100 average Sunday attendance has remained the same (10).
- Just over a third of our parishes are very small (under 50 average Sunday attendance).
- Good news: just over half our parishes are stable or growing (55%), which is up from last year (48%). The percentage of stable and growing parishes has been within seven percentage points for the last five years, from a low of 48% to 2018’s high of 55%.
- More parishes are stable compared with last year (2017 had 17 stable parishes, while 2018 has 22 stable parishes).
- Among the growing parishes, just over half are large (over 80 ASA), while only two of them are small. Growing parishes are located in the city, the suburbs, and small towns.
- Three parishes have almost doubled in the last five years: St. Mary, Sapperton; St. George, Maple Ridge; and St. Dunstan, Aldergrove.
- Looking at all the parishes together, while our total membership is down by 6%, our average Sunday attendance is virtually stable, having only decreased by 0.3% from last year.
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.
- For the purposes of this analysis, “growth” means that there are an average of at least five more people worshipping on Sunday mornings from five years previously. “Stable” means that the change is fewer than 5 people on average.
- Among the 66 parishes, Salal and Cedar, St. Brigid, or St. Hildegard are not included. St. Brigid’s and St. Hildegard’s attendance figures are included with their sponsoring parish (Christ Church Cathedral and St. Faith’s, respectively).
- Total members of diocese of New Westminster parishes for 2018 was 11, 683
- Average Sunday attendance for 2018 was 4,778.