Thursday, August 27, 2009

Resisting the liberal tide in Anglicanism

In this blog I attempt to offer reflections as an evangelical seeking to uphold the catholicity of the Anglican Communion. I am conservative, but not so conservative that I am unchallenged by fellow conservatives, nor so open-minded as a conservative that I am unchallenged by liberal or progressive commenters. Sometimes conservatives are motivated by a desire to uphold the truth of the gospel (and care little for whether anyone is convinced or not). In my own case I hope I am motivated by a desire to uphold the truth of the gospel. It's just that I recognise so many competing claims, even within that narrow band of the universal church called the 'Anglican Communion', as to what the truth of the gospel consists of that I pay attention to what is persuasive of people. Popularity does not make something true, but it makes it worth thinking carefully about whether it might be true!

Consequently I am a bit of a numbers freak. OK, 'freak' sounds scary: 'very interested in numbers'. Are our churches growing or declining? If the former what is contributing and may be able to be replicated elsewhere? If the latter what might be changed, improved, or reformed?

I am particularly concerned that in the future there is an Anglican church to belong to, especially in these islands, rather than a history book which tells of the rise, decline and demise of the Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia. On the one hand not all conservative approaches to being Anglican are numerically fruitful, but some are! On the other hand there are signs that our numerical decline as a whole church must be connected with a liberal bias to the broad character of our theology (e.g. how come, while we are declining, conservative churches are growing?)

Long story short, one reason I attempt to resist (what I see as) a liberal tide in sectors of our church is that I want our church to survive, better, to flourish, rather than die.

For a snapshot of one Anglican church in the Communion which may not be successfully resisting the liberal tide, go here. NOTE ADDED LATER: One needs to read this article and the comments carefully. The statistics provided are a little confusing. What does not seem confusing, however, is that the linked article works from an alert in an editorial in the Anglican Journal which appears to have grave concerns about church attendance in Canada.


Anonymous said...

The numbers freak who is 'very interested in numbers' presents “statistics” comparing previous “membership” of the Anglican Church of Canada with current at-least-twice-a-month attendance. You are clearly a skilled statistician, Numbers Freak! Have no fear should you experience the demise of your church – you will be headhunted as a government statistician.

Why, once again is the Numbers Freak Anglican Downunder so interested in pointing the finger at an Anglican church upover? Why is there no vigorous, rigorous presentation of your own provincial statistics? Oh – I forget – you don’t keep them, can’t find them, too embarrassing.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous
This is the reason why I am interested in the Canadian statistics: the statistics which we do have, such as our 'census Anglican allegiance figures' (every five years), and published statistics of the NZ dioceses (i.e. excluding Aotearoa and Polynesia; nevertheless statistics difficult to obtain because only available via each diocese's yearbooks) show a picture of decline, though not uniformly (some dioceses are statistically stable, some show signs of small growth), and which, matched with difficulties in a number of parishes in maintaining stipendiary ministry and/or recruiting new and younger worshippers, should give cause and pause for more serious reflection across our leadership than (as far as I can tell) they do. Taking note of a church such as the Canadian Anglican church, and forecasts of its demise, might help us to reconsider the path we are on. So, my intent was to underline ACANZP's problems, some of which are indeed embarrassing!

Anonymous said...

New Zealand's population has grown by well over 30% in the last 30 years. Talk of stability in numbers often masks real statistical decline I imagine

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous
Stability is a mask for decline in a rising population!

Anonymous said...

Dear Rev. Numbers Freak. Please explain how comparing earlier Canadian Anglican “membership” with current “regular attendance” (ie. comparing apples with Volkswagens) in any way “underlines ACANZP's problems.” It would be useful if you actually presented and analysed the “published statistics of the NZ dioceses” about which you claim to be such a numbers freak and state they “show a picture of decline, though not uniformly (some dioceses are statistically stable, some show signs of small growth)” Can we have evidence of your claims please Rev Numbers Freak. Actual figures and graphs like you indicate for churches other than your own. [And why would you exclude Aotearoa and Polynesia – are they not part of your church?] And please, this time, keep the statistics consistent. Ie. Not comparing previous regular attendance with current census figures to show massive growth in your evangelical diocese – just because that would fit with your prejudices as your presentation of Canada’s does!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous
I am not that much of a numbers person that I have graphs for everything up my sleeve! I am happy for someone with those graphs to post them somewhere, prove my claim wrong, and let me know!

As for the Canadian figures - I presented a link which people can choose to go to or not; and I made the modest claim that the liberal tide may not be being resisted there. If you have concerns about the figures at that link, please contact the original poster.

If the Canadian figures, whether as Volkswagons or apples do not give a picture of statistical decline, please point me to the site that confirms stable attendance or, better, growing attendance. I will then happily post a statement of regret about sending readers to a misleading link.

Aotearoa and Polynesia 'exclude' themselves from our figures because, as far as I know, they do not collect them in the same way as the NZ dioceses.

Anonymous said...

The Anglican Church of Canada in
1981 had an attendance of 406,164
1991 had a membership of 801,963
2001 had a census count of 2,035,495
(the last census figures for religion)

This follows the methodology of your recommended site and the statistical method your comment affirms you find satisfactory.

It shows church growth of more than 7% p.a!

Looking forward to your statement of regret and correction as promised!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous
I promised a statement of regret etc if you pointed me to a site which confirms stable or better growing attendance. You do not give that site.

One of your figures is interesting: attendance in 1981 was 406, 164 [presumably ASA Average Sunday Attendance]. According to this site,, in 2001, attendance was 162, 138 ASA. A little less than 7% growth!

Nevertheless your comments/challenges have caused me to look more closely at the link I give in the post. It is a bit confusing and I have now posted a note about that.

Anonymous said...

You were perfectly happy to compare membership with attendance when it fitted with your prejudice, even stating you didn't mind if I compared Volkswagens and apples. Now you suddenly bring in further Volkswagens.

When I demonstrate the ridiculousness of your statistical methods (for a self-confessed "numbers freak"!) you revert to your literalist foundations and refuse the promised statement of regret and correction!

Now, apparently, you will only eat humble pie if I point to an actual website confirming my points!

Well thankfully there is one. Because it is a frames site (like the Dunedin diocesan one, on which you perennially declare you cannot find things) unfortunately I cannot give you the URL of the page. But it isn't difficult to find.

Go to:
then click on the sidebar where it has
"Church growth in Anglican Church of Canada"
"post a statement of regret about sending readers to a misleading link."

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous
Your website figures are just the figures you gave before and do not either demonstrate church growth by any reasonable method, nor refute the concerns of the Anglican Journal conveyed by the Essentials site.

This particular correspondence is now closed. If you are still of the view that the Essentials site is misleading please take it up with its author(s).

Lynn said...


I'm stopping by from Mark Harris' Preludium. I too find numbers interesting. As noted in a recent post there, I was trained to look at these types of numbers from the public policy view, which leans to that of social scientists. And for additional perspective, that training was in a major Washington, DC university. Being a Washingtonian will always color my rainbow, but I also have witnessed extraordinary growth and change in my hometown, and absolutely most people who live here aren't natives.

My main point here is that you can't look at the numbers without exploring the all reasons behind them. In this example, church attendance, you'd have to have a large number of informal, non-confrontational chats to collect basic information. Then work up some targeted questions covering both "liberal" and "conservative" and "surprised me" views, and collect a nice array of demographic information whenever you survey individuals. And that's just the start. In this country, Pew Research does a fine job but I suspect conservatives would worry about bias, even if it is unfounded.

For the record, where I live social pressure probably runs against attending religious services. It certainly isn't because you can't find any type of church that suits you, often within 4-5 miles.

Anonymous said...

My apologies for upsetting you. You regularly denigrate your influence, but from your site it is clear you train ministers and lay leaders, have been on General Synod, participate in significant provincial meetings, hold a significant position in your diocese, are not afraid to speak up about issues that energise you, and have this web presence. That demands some caution in making assertions. You began by asserting your interest in statistics and then present statistics starting with membership and ending with attendance to “demonstrate” that in 15 years there will be no one left in the Anglican Church of Canada. When I do the same – but start with attendance and move through membership to demonstrate church growth you castigate me for not using “any reasonable method” when I am merely following your own method to demonstrate its absurdity. There is no doubt that figures are dropping but let us be consistent within the calculation, and cautious about predictions. Furthermore your linking such dropping with liberalism needs a far better statistical analysis – you provide none for this assertion. Also, there is no guaranteed correspondence between the truth and increasing numbers. Finally – all my statistics are correct and can be verified at page 367 of
and online Canadian census figures. It is NZ’s stats, and your on-the-ground analysis of those that should be your primary concern and our interest in reading an Anglican Downunder blog. You say these interest you, and make vague assertions about them, but present not a single figure – hence, with the gaucheness in the handling of others’ statistics, your readers should be cautious about your generalisations about NZ.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous
Thank you for your apology!
You make some fair and reasonable criticisms in this last comment - I shall steer clear of Canadian statistics (TEC one's seem to be more readily available, accurate, up to date etc ... but then I might be wrong about that comparison :) )
My knowledge of NZ dioceses statistics is largely anecdotal but I have studied some carefully: e.g. Christchurch is fairly stable; Nelson is dropping (so, yes, I know it is not a simple correlation between 'liberal' and 'decline'). But I also factor in conversations I have with people about declining congregations, inability to pay stipends and the like, in assessing the NZ situation.

Finally, despite my being in a position to influence people, I do not think I influence many on certain matters: on the Waikato ecclesiology, for instance, I am very confident that even if I had spoken up at our Diocesan synod, I would not have carried the day.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Lynn
Wow, that's a lot of work to do to get a clear statistical picture!
But thanks for the guidance.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous reports:
"The Anglican Church of Canada in
1981 had an attendance of 406,164
1991 had a membership of 801,963
2001 had a census count of 2,035,495"
to which one can only say 'attendance', 'membership' and 'census' - and these over 20 years - are three quite different things. If the third figure is a self-designation, it proabably means no more than 'baptized in Anglican church' and is as meaningful - or meaningless - as the 90% of so of the Scandinavian population who are notionally members of their national Lutheran churches but who never attend, and many who would now call themselves atheist or agnostic.
Usual Sunday attendance is the only meaningful statistic, and those for Canada are dire.
Christchurch's attendance may be stabler now; it would be useful to know where there is growth. As the major population center of South Island, Christchurch also has a number of strong evangelical parishes. Maybe the Latimer Fellowship can provide details?
I agree with 'Anonymous' that ACANZP should publish national and diocesan statistics of attendance, along with stipendiary clergy numbers, as Tec does.
The catrastrophic decline of Dunedin diocese is well known. How are the others doing?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anon1
Comments here have led to a further post from me!