Declining Church Membership Is an Issue

Article excerpt

IN LIGHT OF the continuing interest in my presentation on declining church membership to the house of bishops last October, and the controversy it is generating, I think some clarification is in order.

I have been criticized for not releasing my "report." There was no report. My presentation consisted of a series of PowerPoint slides, eight of which were statistical, showing membership declines in six Protestant churches. The remainder of the slides were "bullet points" to which I spoke extemporaneously, and they would make little sense to others who might see the slides.

I did not release my slides fearing that various people would use my work to support their own political views, which came about anyway from the unexpected widespread coverage in the mainstream media.

Critics of Anglican policies have used the issue of declining attendance to blame it on positions taken on same-sex issues, on the ordination of women, or policies they don't like. These critics fail to recognize (or ignore) that the decline in church attendance in Canada began to occur at least a decade before any of these issues arose.

My presentation provided an analysis of the annual loss in congregations and money to the Anglican Church, obstacles that I could see in turning the trends around, suggested methods of overcoming those obstacles, the selection of someone to lead the effort, and how that person might work.

The impetus for my research was driven by two factors. The first was the agenda of the communications and information resources committee, which, as a member, I had seen in two separate four-day meetings. During those meetings there was not a word about the serious problems facing my church. Discussion focused on housekeeping issues that had nothing to do with the elephant in the room: the decline in church membership.

The second factor was more forceful. Several priests, one of them on the committee, when I asked what they thought should be done about the decline, denied that there was any problem in the church. One of them directed me to read Reginald Bibby's book, Restless Churches.

So I read the book. He concluded that since two million Canadians still claim to be Anglicans, but only about 640, 000 are on parish rolls, the church has a huge audience that could be won back. My long background in marketing makes me skeptical of that idea. People who reject a "brand" are far more difficult to win back than people who have never used the product.

As part of my presentation to the house of bishops I undertook a survey of 100 Anglican priests across Canada: 43 responded. I wanted to find out how many felt that there were no major problems facing the Church. Almost half of them believe that the Anglican church is ignoring the issue of decline, and are crying out for a lot more to be done. …