While the Anglican Church needs to be concerned about declining membership, the response has to be careful and well thought out, Bishop Michael Ingham told Diocesan Council in December.
He was reporting to the 40 member council after attending a meeting of the Canadian House of Bishops the month before.
At the bishop’s meeting, Keith McKerracher, a member of the national church’s Communications and Information Resources Committee, presented what he felt were alarming statistics on the decline in Anglican membership nationally.
McKerracher said the Anglican Church was leading “the race to the bottom,” and that if current trends continued, by 2061 the Anglican Church would disappear. He calculated that nationally the church was losing 13,000 members a year.
He told the bishops they had to recognize that membership decline is a problem and take action to reverse it.
McKerracher blamed church structures for inaction, including “the intolerable number of committees which never decide anything.” He said the way the church organizes itself drives away “action-minded people.”
Using an example from business, McKerracher, whose background is marketing, said that if a sales manager saw overall declining figures like these, he would not be happy – and not be relieved by a few contrary examples of growth.
“Mr. McKerracher seemed to feel clearly that a lot of the clergy need to be fired,” said Bishop Ingham to Diocesan Council.
The bishop had been involved in setting the agenda for the bishop’s meeting, and invited the presentation.
The bishop said the situation is much more complicated than the marketing expert allowed, and questioned some of his research.
|Bishop Michael Ingham speaks at the December meeting of Diocesan Council.|
Other research, including some done by the Episcopal Church in the USA, which “may or may not apply,” suggests that across the world “something cultural and historical is taking place in religious groups.”
People often attend church but are reluctant to join. Bishop Ingham said this may be happening in Canada. No one knows quite why. Some small churches are growing. Attendance seems to be up in black, Hispanic, and Asian neighbourhoods.
In Canada, declining membership may be related to declining birth rates in the white, Anglo-Saxon population – in the past, the bulk of Anglican membership.
Immigration to cities over the past four decade has brought very large demographic shifts in urban neighbourhoods. Areas that once had large numbers of Anglicans and United Church families are now Sikh or Buddhist neighbourhoods. In those areas for a church to simply maintain its membership means they are doing “a fine job,” the bishop said.
Churches in the diocese are physically not positioned well for growth, said the bishop. “We are over-churched in the city of Vancouver, and we are under-churched in growing areas of the Lower Mainland.”
A recently struck Task Force on Physical Resources chaired by Mike Burpee of St. Laurence, Coquitlam, is getting underway, and will have to help reorganize our resources “so the Church will be growing and vital,” he said.
“If we are going to do that, we are going to have to make some very difficult decisions, and come to terms with our theology,” he said. “Our faith is about resurrection. It’s about dying to an old life and arising to a new one.”
“If we fail in our charge, Mr. McKerracher may turn out to be right,” Bishop Ingham concluded.
According to figures presented by Keith McKerracher, in the 40 years between 1961 and 2001, membership in Anglican Churches dropped from 1.36 million to 642,000; a decline of 53 per cent, steeper than in most other denominations. In the same time period, he said, the United Church membership went down 39 per cent.
Meanwhile, during the same period, the population of Canada increased about 50 per cent. While 7.5 per cent of Canadians were Anglican members in 1961, the figure is now 2.3 per cent.
The trend has been much the same in the Diocese of New Westminster, although recent figures are unavailable because several large parishes continue to protest the blessing of same sex unions by refusing to share with the diocese their membership numbers. The decline for the remaining churches has averaged around 3 percent annually – although some churches are gaining members, others are losing them at a rate higher than the average.