If the Anglican Church of Canada (ACoC) has been your church of choice for the past thirty years, you have survived a tough time for being church in Canada.

The statistics relating to church activity in the ACoC over the past thirty years offer a challenging picture. The “Working Paper – Anglican Church of Canada Statistics” by Brian Clarke & Stuart Macdonald makes sobering reading. See:


But, two conclusions at the end of this report suggest a slightly less gloomy picture than might at first seem to be the case:

Several statistical indicators show more stability and health than the overall
membership numbers would first indicate. That the number who communicate at
Easter and the number of identifiable givers has remained stable is notable, and they
are good indicators of the church’s current vitality.

If you look at the graphs in this report, it may seem incomprehensible to speak of “the church’s current vitality.” But, this remains the experience of many people within the ACoC. Despite the gloomy prognostications of experts outside the church, and brutal attacks from dissidents who have abandoned the ACoC, there remains in our community a significant level of spiritual commitment, creativity and energy.

The second conclusion in this report that bears reflection makes the important point that:
Given our research on other denominational statistics, we would make the initial
observation that the Anglican Church of Canada’s experience fits a pattern we have
seen in several other denominations – the United Church of Canada, the
Presbyterian Church in Canada, and the Maritime Baptists. This convergence in
trends would argue against explanations that would see the cause of numerical
decline in the Anglican church as a result of some decision(s) taken internally by the
Anglican Church of Canada.

This is vital to any realistic assessment of the ACoC in the past few decades. We exist within a complex cultural matrix of trends that has had a powerful impact on our life as a church community. To name just a few of the forces at work  that have affected the church, we have been deeply impacted by:

  • a precipitous decline in social pressure to embrace institutional commitment of any kind and church involvement in particular
  • a dramatic rise in consumerism and an accompanying willingness to define value more by purchasing power than by inner qualities
  • an increase at all levels of society in radical secularization
  • changes in work patterns and lack of clarity around professional roles leading to increased work pressures
  • an exponential rise in activities, including employment responsibilities, scheduled for the hours of Sunday morning that used to be preserved for church
  • an explosion of technology which fills many spare hours in peoples’ lives and creates “virtual” ways of connecting that mitigate against the establishment of communities requiring actual physical presence
  • the breakdown of community involvement throughout society and growing isolation and individualism

Comparisons of course are futile. And it may not be a helpful question to ask at all, in part because it is impossible to answer. But, it is at least worth wondering whether the church in the immediate post-war period when “membership” topped out at just under 1 million, was demonstrably a healthier body of faith and spiritual vitality than it was in 2001 when church “membership” was reported to have dropped to 641,845.

It remains true that, in a climate that is significantly unfavourable towards the nurturing of spiritual community, ACoC communities continue to gather all across this country. We remain the vehicle of choice for thousands of Canadians who experience sustenance for their spiritual lives within a worshiping Anglican Church. In this we can surely rejoice and find encouragement and hope.


nb: in British Columbia where I have ministered for the past 26 years the decline in the number of regularly worshiping  Anglicans is truly startling:

Year:        Population:                Anglicans:            represents percent of population
1961          1,629,600                  367,096                   22.5
1971          2,184,600                  386,670                   17.7
1981          2,876,513                  374,055                   13.0
1991          3,373,781                  328,580                     9.7
2001          4,076,264                  298,375                     7.3
2011          4,576,577                  213,375                     4.6
(U of T Senior Researchers The Rev. Dr. Stuart Macdonald and Dr. Brian Clarke )
It is surprising any of us have survived.