St. Luke's Anglican Church, Burlington, Ont. (Photo: John Strung/Flickr)

Topics: Spirituality | Church News

Report projects big drop in Canadian Anglican membership

If decline continues at the current rate, the denomination could be extinct by 2040

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A new report prepared for the Anglican Church of Canada’s house of bishops offers a grim projection of the denomination’s future in Canada.

The report, a copy of which became available online early last month, is the first comprehensive analysis of the church’s membership numbers in nearly two decades, according to its author, Rev. Neil Elliot, a priest and researcher based in British Columbia. (He could not be reached for comment.)

Elliot used data collected by every Anglican diocese during 2017 — the first year since 2001 that reliable data has been collected — to assess the health of the church’s membership numbers. A range of statistics were considered, including the number of baptisms, weddings and funerals held over the year, average Sunday attendance, parish membership totals and the number of committed regular donors.

The results are sobering: if membership continues to decline at the current rate, Elliot writes in his report, there will be no more members of the Anglican Church of Canada by 2040.

It was not immediately clear whether the report had been intended for release yet, but members of the Anglican community were circulating it and discussing it on social media on Thursday.

Rev. Jonathan Turtle, the incumbent of the parish of Craighurst and Midhurst in the diocese of Toronto, found the report on a Facebook group for clergy and then shared it on Twitter. He called the data “jarring,” though not entirely surprising. “But we shouldn’t fear,” Turtle told Broadview. “The Gospel may not always permit optimism, but neither does it permit despair. I believe we have reason to be hopeful. But it may require a sober self-examination, and that requires honesty and courage.”

While the Anglican Church of Canada does not appear to have formally released the report, its director of communications, Joseph Vecsi, confirmed its existence on Monday.

Canadian Anglicans have known intuitively and through anecdote for years that their numbers have been falling, Elliot notes in his report. “What the data confirms is that this decline is happening consistently across the country from B.C. to Newfoundland,” he continues.

The church’s historical data suggests that membership has been decreasing ever since it reached its height in the 1960s, when the denomination had over 1.3 million members. But the rate of decline has been accelerating as of late.

Between 2001 and 2017, membership in the church dropped by 44 percent (from 641,845 to 357,123). Average Sunday attendance declined by 40 percent (from 162,168 to 97,421) in the same time period.

“There is no sign of any stabilisation in our numbers,” Elliot writes. “Some had hoped that our decline had bottomed out, or that programs had been effective in reversing the trends. This is now demonstrably not the case.”

The report also suggests that the Anglican Church of Canada is declining in membership faster than any other church in the global Anglican Communion, though it notes that the Episcopal Church in the U.S. is experiencing a steeper decline in average Sunday attendance. The Anglican Communion consists of 40 member churches, also known as provinces, in over 165 countries.

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While the projection that the last Canadian Anglican will leave the church in 2040 caused alarm among some who read the report, Elliot writes that it is “not true to say that we will actually completely run out of members in 20 years’ time.” The current rate of decline is unlikely to continue forever — some Anglicans plan to continue practicing for decades to come.

Still, the church needs to start planning for a future with vastly reduced membership, Elliot writes. He recommends improving the church’s data collection and analysis so it can better understand the current demographic makeup of Anglicans in Canada, and so it can make better-informed decisions about which parishes are likely to grow and which aren’t.

The only dioceses in the country that reported an increase in members between 2001 and 2017 were all in northern Canada. The Yukon, Moosonee, Mishamikoweesh and Arctic dioceses all reported membership growth, with the Diocese of the Arctic experiencing the highest bump at about 10 percent.

One other sign of hope for the denomination is that while the number of Canadians who identify as Anglican on the national census is declining, it is still far larger than the number of actual members in the church, suggesting that many more Canadians identify with Anglicanism than are actually engaged with the church and its activities.

While the new report suggests significant challenges lay ahead for the Anglican Church of Canada, other mainline denominations are also shrinking. Membership in The United Church of Canada has dropped by about three-quarters in the last 50 years. And according to the Canadian census, the number of Canadians who identify as Presbyterian and Lutheran has also declined significantly. Meanwhile, the number of Canadians who identify with another Protestant denomination or with Roman Catholicism has held steady, according to census records.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story stated that membership in The United Church of Canada had dropped by about half in the last 50 years. This version has been corrected.

Broadview is an award-winning progressive Christian magazine, featuring stories about spirituality, justice and ethical living. For more of our content, subscribe to the magazine today.

Will Pearson is Broadview's managing editor for print.

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  • says:

    The Church was formed at Pentecost. It was a group of believers under the influence of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). There the Church gathered for worship, teaching, prayer and edification.
    The Church was not established to “reach the lost”, individuals were. The Church was formed to assist and encourage our mandate from Christ. As I look at “mainline” denominations (which appear to be losing their congregants the fastest) their focus seems to be political and social issues, not Spiritual issues. If I want to get involved in political and social issues, I’ll attend social and political groups (there’s a lot out there). Where do I go for Spiritual things? I want to go where like-minded people are gathered so we can work out or faith with fear and trembling. As I’ve stated in the past, if the Church doesn’t take God’s Word seriously, why would I listen to “tales of the past” and lies?
    Progressive and enlightened Churches tend to think that watering down the Gospel will attract people – well guess what? It’s not working. In fact, it sped the process of denominational decline, as people left the liberal way of thinking.
    Today’s Churches are suffering in attendance, as we no longer teach our children to hold fast to their faith, worse, we let them discover their own faith which is obviously leading to disaster.
    Let the survey not only be a wake-up call to the Anglican Church, but to the Presbyterian and United Church as well. The white headed, giving congregants are disappearing, with no one willing to replace them.

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    • says:

      Encouraging children and adults to find their own faith is a good thing. When we look at the number of "faiths" in the world and the contradictory messages directed at children; when we give children labels like "United" or "Anglican" or "Pentecostal" before they are able to even know what these labels mean; when religion fills followers with guilt and fear; when we're told that God loves us and then are taught about hell, Satan, the conditionality of God's love as depicted in Hebrew scripture; when we realize that there is no factual history of this Jesus person; when we realize that the gospels were written long after Jesus and they were compilations of stories that were told, retolled, retolled again.....; when we come to understand that these stories aren't meant to be taken literally but metaphorically and allegorically; when we realize that ordinary people are being duped by unscrupulous pastors and that children have been assaulted by all manner of clergy.........and I could go on.....why would anyone find anything of value in organized religion?
      Spirituality, however, builds a belief in that which is greater than us but which we are a part of. I personally call this force or energy "God" just because that works for me.
      I live with God every day and God lives in me. I experience God every day. I experience answered prayer in my life and I am grateful for who I am and what I have. I have learned to trust God but I have also learned that I no longer need a church to define who I am nor a Bible to reassure me. I will continue to help seekers to come to a better understanding of who God is for them and not try to fit into a pattern that someone designed a long time ago in a place far away when we had no rules of writing, no science and people were superstitious and ignorant. God is real but many people have to get beyond the enforced ignorance of the church.

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      • says:

        No evidence of a historical Jesus. Seriously? And yet you say the gospels were written long after Christ? Which is it? You don't need s church yet you are a Minister who receives a salary from a congregation. You don't need the bible? By what authority do you preach. You took a bow to be a Minister of Word and Sacrament which means you are accountable not to yourself but Christ and your congregation. I am not sure what your Council thinks of these musings.

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        • says:

          Not musings. Every religion has its mythology. What we have is Christian mythology, as was pointed out to me my a professor in seminary. There is no factual evidence of the existence of the Biblical Jesus. Much of what has become Christianity has existed before the mythical Jesus. Having read such theologians as Bart Ehrman and others, the gospels were written long after the Jesus of the Bible. There are steps in a person's faith journey. Some of us move onward on the journey of discovery but many, even those who are intelligent in every other way, still seem to remain children when it comes to matters of faith. However, if that works for them then that's a good thing. I have moved on to a point where what I have now makes sense to me and works for me. What my council thinks??? Nobody has spoken to me and if they do I will tell them that my experience of God is just as valid as theirs.

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          • says:

            If you wish to believe a professor in seminary, that's fine, you can believe whom you wish. Why would you not follow up on historical evidence (at least use common sense) to see for yourself that Jesus did exist? The Christian use of other historical names and places do not make sense when defending a "fictional character". Why would anyone wish to sacrifice their lives for a "Santa Claus" or "Tooth Fairy"? Not only in the Roman Empire, but daily today? You can have a "god" experience, but what god are you experiencing, self pride?

  • says:

    It is not surprising since the Anglicans seem to believe what the “woke” media does, eg. Transgender and homosexual ‘marriage’ Etc...
    Equally not surprising is the fact that the more conservative dioceses and bishops in the Roman Catholic Church as well as the Anglican Church are not dwindling. On the contrary, they are increasing.
    Biblical truth is Biblical truth, it’s that simple. One can’t go willy nilly changing the meaning of words like marriage just because you don’t want your homosexual parishioners to feel bad.

  • says:

    "Membership in The United Church of Canada has dropped by about half in the last 50 years." Really? Please do better than this Broadview!

    Unlike the Anglicans, the UCC keeps excellent statistics, which it publishes every year in "The Statistical Yearbook." Here are figures from the 2018 Yearbook which was published this spring and which has data from 2017. Confirmations have declined from a peak of 41,700 in 1958 to 2,593 in 2017, a 94% decrease. Baptisms have declined from a peak of 66,000 in 1960 to 4,811 in 2017, a 93% decrease. Sunday school registration has declined from a peak of 756K in 1960 to 39K in 2017, a 95% decrease.

    Sixty years ago in 1959, the UCC probably gathered one million or more people every Sunday. In 2017, it was 126,000, an 87% decrease (although the decline may be larger since statistics on Sunday gatherings weren’t collected until the late 1970s. The peak was recorded in 1984: 403,000). Over those same 60 years, the Canadian population has more than doubled.

    The UCC is also aging. My guess is that the average age of the 100,000 people who will come to a UCC service on any of the Sundays this fall will be over 70; and that the average age of the one million or so people who came to a UCC service on any of the Sundays in fall 1959 was near 40. To my knowledge, no one argues that this drastic decline and aging will cease this year, the next, or ever.

    The UCC has declined by 90% in the last 60 years, not 50%, and we continue to shrink by 3 or 4 or 5% every year.

    The Moderator and General Council Executive seem incapable of acknowledging this reality. But surely the journalists at Broadview can do better

  • says:

    My husband, who has a PhD. in Statistics, and taught it at the graduate level, says 2040 is too far ahead for an accurate prediction.

  • says:

    Throughout history, this story is constantly repeated in heretical groups -until they vanish entirely.