I do not do well with numbers. But I am interested in trying to understand what wisdom numbers might have to tell us about how we in the Anglican Church of Canada need to think about doing church.

In its November 2004 “Benchmark Study Report,” the Anglican Diocese of Toronto suggested keeping a church in operation requires an average of:

100 people to employ one full-time clergy person with no other paid staff

100-200 to add a full-time administrative staff person

150-180 to add another full-time pastoral staff person in order to faciliate contuing growth

300-400 to add a full-time music director

more than 500 to add a business administrator

http://www.toronto.anglican.ca/uploads.php?id=4de3ae1d3b7fb

In 2008 in the Diocese of BC where I work, the Average Sunday Attendance spread over all churches was 82 worshipers. 31 churches had less than 100 people on an average Sunday. Only 5 churches reported an average Sunday attendance exceededing 150.

This means that, the majority of churches in the Diocese in which I serve, require an increase in average Sunday attendance of 30 people to support a full-time Rector with a part-time salaried administrative staff person. Taking funerals and routine departures into consideration, the real increase required is much higher than 30.

There are a multitude of realities in our current cultural circumstances that make it unlikely that the necessary increase in average Sunday attendance is a realistic goal for most parishes in the near future.

There are many more demands in the wider community upon the sacred hours of Sunday morning than existed 50 years ago. There are a vast array of spiritual options available for people who want to meet their spiritual needs without bothering with the messy business of a tired aging institution. There are no social supports and some social obstacles to regular church attendance. People have a multitude of ways to experience a sense of human connection without bothering with church.

Perhaps increasing average Sunday attendance need not be the preeminent goal for the church. Is it possible that the predominantly small parishes in the Anglican Church of Canada should instead focus on being the best small church they can be within the parameters of the resources available at this time?

What skills might support a small church in being the best possible small church?

1. Stop trying to be something we are not. We are not going to have an average Sunday attendance of 150 in most of our parishes in the foreseeable future. We need to accept this reality and be ok with the fact that our average Sunday attendance falls below that magical standard. This does not mean becoming complacent. But a community driven by a constant nagging sense of lack and regret is unlikely to be attractive to many spiritual seekers.

2. Nurture those who choose to attend Sunday worship in our churches. The members of our congregations are a treasure. They are God’s people. We gather Sunday by Sunday in faithfulness and love to worship God. We need to rejoice with those who make this choice with us on Sunday morning. This does not mean being myopically focused on ourselves. But we will be more attractive to others when we value what we have.

3. Celebrate the intimacy that is possible in a smaller church. There are not many places we can go any more where we know peoples’ names. Small church has the capacity to enable us to enter into each others’ lives in deeper more compassionate ways. We can support and encourage one another as people of faith because we know one another. This of course presupposes that our relationships are in fact characterized by intimacy and compassion.

4. Practice the holy art of gentleness.  There is something about smaller churches that lends itself to gentleness. Worship is likely to be quieter, perhaps less formal, and more human in a smaller gathering. There is less need to obsess over the mechanics of corporate worship than in a larger gathering where there are more details to coordinate.

Given the reality of the cultural context in which the church today must operate, it may only make sense to affirm that small can be beautiful and bigger may not always better. When we learn to value who we are, just as we are, we may find we present a more appealing face to the population outside the church.

Advertisements