Longhurst: More than numbers

By 2040, there may be no Anglican Church members left in Canada. That’s the finding of a new report commissioned by the Anglican Church of Canada.


The report shows the church running out of members in 20 years at the current state of decline. Anglican Church of Canada archbishop Linda Nicholls said the report was a wake-up call.

But while the news is disturbing, she said she hoped Canadian Anglicans would focus more on the church’s calling to be a faithful witness in Canada instead of being drawn into a “vortex of negativity” about the decline.

“We’re called to do and be God’s people in a particular place, for the purpose of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, and the only question is, ‘How do we need to share it, so that it might be heard by those around us?’ ” she said.

Anglicans in Canada aren’t the only denomination challenged in this way. The United Church of Canada is also facing a “zero-member date” in 20 years. Things are similar for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. The Presbyterian Church in Canada and the Lutheran Church in Canada are also declining, but more slowly.

Not just mainline denominations are in trouble. Brian Clarke and Stuart Macdonald note in Leaving Christianity: Changing Allegiances in Canada Since 1945 that Christian Reformed, Pentecostals, Mennonites, Salvation Army and some Baptist groups are also seeing decreases.

The decline isn’t unique to Canada. It’s been a reality in Europe for decades. And it’s starting to happen in the U.S., too.

Former United Church of Canada moderator Gary Paterson talked to me six years ago about that denomination’s decline. In biblical times, Paterson said, God sent plagues to get people’s attention. Today, God sends statistics.

I’m reminded of a quote sometimes attributed to Albert Einstein about measuring success or failure: “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” In other words, churches today should be thankful for the warnings about future trouble, but also keep it in perspective.

That’s what some Anglican friends told me after seeing the report. Jamie Howison, rector at st. benedict’s table in Winnipeg, acknowledges things are dire, but there are “vibrant and robust exceptions” in Canada.

This includes his own church, which meets Sunday evenings and features a folk-roots musical style coupled with traditional Anglican worship. One hundred fifty to 200 people, including many young adults, attend weekly.

Howison recalled the words of former archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, saying “the church is not ours to save. We are only called to be good stewards of what we have been given.”

Laura Marie Piotrowicz, rector at St. John’s Anglican Church in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, added that the church is more than an analysis of the statistics.

Basing an analysis of the church “solely on numbers of people, giving and buildings does not recognize the gift of the Spirit to move through the church,” she said. The Bible “reminds us that God is always doing something new, and we are invited to be part of it.”

One thing is clear: Change is happening to Christianity in Canada. For some denominations, it is happening faster. For others, the runway is longer.

There are only two kinds of denominations in Canada — and maybe the U.S. — today: Those that are in trouble, and those that will be.

John Longhurst is a freelance writer and communications and marketing consultant in Winnipeg, Man.

John Longhurst

John Longhurst was formerly Communications Manager at MDS Canada.

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