Canadian Anglican Bishops will be ruing the day they commissioned Keith McKerracher, a retired marketing executive, to study church growth. No doubt, they anticipated the kind of sentimental fantasy that the Bishops usually spin out for parishioners - whether the topic be residential schools or same-sex "marriage."
Alas, this time the Bishops miscalculated. They reckoned without an honest man. Mr. McKerracher completed his report and his main finding, made after studying actual parish membership rolls instead of suspect census data, is that the last Canadian Anglican will turn out the lights in the last church sometime around mid-century.
Mr. McKerracher found that actual membership in the Anglican Church has declined by 53% since 1960. Project those trends forward (a generous assumption, since the rate of decline has accelerated in the last two or three years) and the last Anglican exits on the path of the dodo bird in just about a generation or so.
This may help to explain the near total absence of young families to be seen in Anglican churches. After all, what parent would entrust the spiritual instruction of their children to a church on palliative care?
Now, of course, membership is falling in most mainline protestant denominations, so much so that there have been recent books suggesting that the protestant reformation has just about run its course. This will not surprise Roman Catholics, who always considered Protestantism like a severed limb which, when cut off from the body, may twitch for a time but must inevitably shrivel and die.
Since 1961, Canadian Anglicans have fallen from 1.3 million to 642,000. The United Church in the same period has lost nearly half its members (from 1.04 million to 638,000). Presbyterians are down by 39%; Baptists by 7%; Lutherans by 4%. The only bright light in the protestant firmament are those wild-eyed Pentecostals, where membership has grown by 38%.
But in the race to the finish line, Anglicans are well in the lead. Since the Bishop of New Westminster, Michael Ingham, decided to break with Christian teaching and the rest of the worldwide Anglican Communion by blessing same sex marriages, Canadian Anglicans are in free fall.
Incidentally, U.S. Anglicans, called Episcopalians, have fared no better since their 2003 decision to ordain Vicki Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire, a man who had left his wife and family to set up house with his homosexual lover. This was not what many Episcopalians meant by "family values." Of course, most Bishops will tell you there's no connection between cause and the effect.
At a recent meeting (optimistically reported in the Anglican Journal under the headline: "Canadian Bishops meet to discuss church growth"), Mr. McKerracher told the Bishops: "Listen, guys, we're declining much faster than other Churches. We're losing 12,836 Anglicans a year. That's 2% a year."
But McKerracher did not think the blunt message got through: "The Church is in crisis [but] I don't think the Anglicans will do anything. They just talk things to death."
The Anglican Primate, Archbishop Andrew Hutchinson, was quoted as saying that he considered McKerracher's Report "a wake-up call"; he admitted that his church had generally been preoccupied with "the residential schools affair," and he promised a new focus on "church development."
The trouble is that having spent tens of millions on the largely bogus residential schools imbroglio, and having lost more than half its membership, there are no longer the resources - financial or human - to build a future. In any event, having abandoned the authority of Scripture, and having relinquished their place as part of that "one, holy, catholic and apostolic church" that the Nicene Creed professes, this Church has nothing of significance to say to a postmodern world.
In the sad plight of Canadian Anglicanism, there is an important lesson for the Roman Catholic Church. Within Catholicism there are also voices, lay and clerical, who propose gay marriage and women priests, who promote the triumph of individual conscience over church teaching. Take it from a former Anglican: If you want to know where that road leads, examine the Anglican Church. It leads to extinction.
Ian Hunter is professor emeritus in the Faculty of Law at Western University.
Response from Bob Ripley, London Free Press, 21 January 2006
Sometimes you go there because they know you there. Same watering hole or restaurant or barbershop. Even the same church.
But does the church function on friendship? For those who follow the ebb and flow of the saints this side of glory, there's been an interesting, albeit familiar, exchange of letters in the National Post this week.
It began with my law professor friend Ian Hunter's sardonic request, Will the last Anglican please turn off the lights? (National Post, Jan. 13), citing research by Keith McKerracher, a retired marketing executive, on the declining membership in the Canadian Anglican communion.
The problem? Hunter points to the embrace of same-sex unions.
McKerracher, for the record, countered in his letter with the notion that the race to the finish line began long before the word gay stopped meaning happy.
While uncertain of the cause of the ecclesial calamity, McKerracher quotes in his reply the late Peter Drucker, longtime Episcopalian and eminent management guru; "The future is with 'pastoral churches,' ones that put a higher priority on answering people's needs than perpetuating some specific doctrine or ritual . . ."
So if my needs trump orthodoxy, the church morphs into a service club without benefit of the sacred. But at last glance, service clubs seem to be facing a similar slide in membership. Without doctrine, there is no common ground outside the experiential by which truth is revealed and defined.
But if the church ignores human need, will anyone listen to the revelation?
Of course, readers of the Same-Sex blessings site will know the real reason for church decline:
- Tony C.
The story behind the story of church membership
We would like to offer some clarification for our fellow scribes, many of whom picked up on a December Anglican Journal story that detailed a presentation at last fall's meeting of the house of bishops about declining church membership. Starting with one national daily newspaper which, to its credit, did ask for background on the presentation, the story took on a life of its own. Wire services picked up the story and it quickly spread around the globe, many of the stories repeating the sensational assertion of presenter Keith McKerracher that given current declining membership trends in Canada, "the last Anglican will leave the church in 2061."
Mr. McKerracher's research, gleaned from the Canadian census, the Anglican Church Directory and from mainline denominations that he contacted, took the form of a PowerPoint presentation to the bishops. Nothing more, nothing less. The few journalists who called the church's national office to request a copy of the "report" were told, quite correctly, there was no such document.
Ironically, Mr. McKerracher declined to provide copies of the presentation to the bishops, the Journal or other media for fear that others might put their own "spin" or their own interpretation on the data. That is precisely what happened.
Indeed, as the story spread, it was variously described as a "study," and a "report" (at least one writer - an academic and commentator for the same aforementioned Canadian daily who wrote about it nearly three months after the bishops' meeting - lent even more weight to the presentation by calling it the McKerracher Report, the capitalization of the two words making it look even more official). The bishops who heard the original presentation must certainly have been wondering if the media were referring to the same information they had heard.
That image of the last, solitary Anglican was certainly a sad, romantic and attractive one for the media. One conservative Web pundit asserted that the Anglican Church of Canada was so desperate that it had "called in a 'marketing agency' to figure out why they are losing members." Another well-known writer and former priest used the data as a launch pad for his own views on the church, when asked for comment by a wire service.
The church's national office, hoping the story would die a natural death, did not issue a clarification about the nature of the presentation until this month's letters (see the response by Vianney Carriere to the letter entitled Where is leadership). Officials probably surmised that it would appear reactionary to do so and did not wish to appear to be attacking the messenger who brought the bad news.
None of this is meant as an apologia for the church and its declining membership. The church in many quarters has indeed been slow off the mark to respond to emptying pews. Part of the problem is that the solution is neither obvious nor simple. While some would argue that membership decline is directly attributable to the church's departure from "traditional" Christian teaching, just as many are certain that it is because the church has not kept up with the times that it has become irrelevant to younger generations. One group says the answer is for the church to return to its biblical roots, while another says that a church that does not keep current (in its worship, in its teaching) will sink in quicksand.
Are the data that were presented to the bishops reliable? Without a doubt. Then, what about the conclusions? Those are best left to the experts, and Mr. McKerracher never claimed that church growth was his field of expertise.
Certainly, there are researchers who have considerable experience in tracking church growth. Reginald Bibby, one of this nation's better-known commentators on religion, wrote in Restless Churches, his 2004 book that was subtitled How Canada's Churches Can Contribute to the Emerging Religious Renaissance, that the mainline churches - Anglican, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, United, Lutheran - "have long histories and recuperative powers." The sociologist from the University of Lethbridge recommended that churches be more deliberate about reaching out to both former members and those people who identify themselves as "Anglican" but who do not attend services. All churches - and that includes clergy and congregations - would do well to think about what they can offer to those who are not in their pews on Sunday morning.
This church holds many ideas for evangelism and church growth and crying poor is no excuse; one diocese last year called on all Anglicans to invite a friend to church on one particular Sunday. Ideas like that do not cost a dime. Other dioceses, faced with declining mission funds from the national office, are examining and testing different models of local ministry and non-stipendiary ministries and not focusing their energy on trying to pay clergy salaries.
The church is made up of people, not buildings, not robes and wooden pews. The theme of this year's Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (celebrated last month in many parts of the world) was "Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them," (Matthew 18:20). It is a healthy reminder of what church really is, and what it can be at its core.
Anglican Gathering of Ottawa