Discernment in how to achieve numerical growth is necessary. And ACNA’s approach so far reminds me of a town so eager to grow that it invites a large bar and outdoor music venue and hastily locates it in the middle of a residential neighborhood, impelling the residents to move away. The new misplaced venue may be a great success in itself, but at what cost to the community?… Church statistics can measure growth well, and the Diocese of C4SO is clearly doing something right. What church statistics do not measure well is how ACNA’s approaches to growth may be harming the church as a whole and driving faithful people away. The need for ACNA’s bishops to take this to heart may be more urgent than statistics reveal.
I’ve read with interest and appreciation a post from Living Church’s Covenant blog on “The Growth and Decline of the Anglican Church in North America.” Jeremy Bonner and David Goodhew make some helpful big picture observations on ACNA church membership and attendance statistics. So my observations here should be taken as a supplement, not a criticism. (And I should confess at the beginning that I am no statistician.)
My main observation is that although church statistics, when compiled diligently, are a good measure of baptisms, those joining, those attending and those dying, they are not and really cannot be a good measure of those being repelled.
Yes, when a denomination is bleeding members like The Episcopal Church of recent decades, one can be sure there is a lot of repelling going on. But in more normal situations where growth or decline is slow or, as in ACNA’s case, the numbers are overall holding their own, it is largely conjecture how many are being repelled and why. With the reader’s forbearance, I will use myself to illustrate while not presuming how common or uncommon my experience is.
Too many years ago, it was time for me to move away from my college town. There I was an active member in a mainline Presbyterian church. But I was so provoked by the apostasy and Leftist political activism of the denomination that I determined whatever new church I joined would not be in that denomination.
Now the church statistics eventually reflected I left the Presbyterians, but never told why I left. And that is no fault of the statistics nor of that local Presbyterian Church. (I let them know I was moving, but do not recalling telling them I was done with the denomination.) For all the statistics reveal, I did not have a Presbyterian Church near my new home or could have fallen away from churchgoing altogether. Other than when someone departs to the church triumphant, church statistics usually reveal little about why someone leaves. How many are repelled is a guess and perhaps a wildly inaccurate one.
Even more beyond the reach of church statistics are those who might have considered joining a church but were repelled even before visiting. That has been the case between the Episcopal Church and me . . . twice. During the aforementioned move, I rejected TEC quickly for one reason: Spong. Influenced by Francis Schaeffer in my youth, as I still am, I was convinced that a church that doesn’t care enough about truth to discipline the likes of John Shelby Spong doesn’t care enough about truth, period. So the toleration of Bishop Spong wrote off TEC for me immediately.
Some years later, as I was moving again, my attitude toward TEC was more complicated. By that time, I had become very interested in Anglicanism. I was even open to joining the Episcopal Church providing the diocese I was joining was strongly orthodox. But when I saw that the TEC bishop in my new area was wimpily orthodox at best, I bypassed the several Episcopal Churches in town to join the only non-TEC Anglican church in town. (And I thank God that has been an excellent church home for me.)
Thus the Episcopal Church by its lack of orthodoxy and discipline drove me away so that I did not join in the first place, along with untold others who might be interested but consider it a no-go denomination due to heterodoxy. But we will not show up in their statistics.
With this and similar problems with church statistics in mind, let’s take a quick look at one of several issues in the Anglican Church in North America for which statistics provide little guidance.