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.
Have just seen the latest stats for the #Anglican Church of Canada @generalsynod. As you can imagine they are terribly depressing. But there are signs of hope and green shoots popping up amidst the rubble. https://t.co/GYUvdXXppm
— Fr Jonathan R Turtle ☩ (@turtology) October 31, 2019
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.
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