jQuery Slider

You are here

The Rapidly Diminishing Anglican Church of Canada

The Rapidly Diminishing Anglican Church of Canada

By David W. Virtue, DD
February 13, 2017

By any measurable standard, the Anglican Church of Canada is in serious decline with little hope that the numbers can or will be reversed in the foreseeable future.

In one diocese after another the third largest denomination in Canada is declining, its demise now almost certain as it focuses on a host of social justice issues to the neglect of evangelism, discipleship and church planting.

The Anglican Church of Canada which is squeamishly shy about publicizing how many people attend its churches, has published no complete statistics for membership and average Sunday attendance since 2001, although the ACoC did claim a membership of 545,957 in 2007.

Today, by all measurable standards the average Sunday attendance in the Anglican Church of Canada is around 320,000. If this is correct, in 40 years the average attendance will be 19,200 or less. As there is no wave of Millennials aching to fill Anglican pews this figure is probably exaggerated.

A recent academic study of Canadian churches revealed that conservative churches that held to the faith grew, while liberal ones that focused on social issues were dying. They surveyed some 2,200 churches and, based on their sampling found, without exception, the clergy and congregants of the growing mainline Protestant churches held more firmly to traditional Christian beliefs, such as the belief Jesus rose physically from the grave and that God answers prayer. The clergy of the growing churches were the most theologically conservative and the declining church clergy the least.

This news has not filtered down to Anglicans in Canada, who believe that brokering pansexuality into the churches as a justice issue (plus a whole host of other social issues) is more important than bums in pews vs. bums in the bed.

Several dioceses have revealed the dire straits they are in, largely we suspect because if they hadn't told us, real estate agents would. The list is by no means complete, as most dioceses are reluctant to say or reveal their closures unless a local newspaper runs a story about a church being sold to a Muslim group or an evangelical start-up.


The Diocese of Huron is experiencing closures, building sales, amalgamations and more. A gloomy picture is emerging from the Diocese of Huron: there are too many buildings, too few people and too many congregations that cannot afford to pay for their priest or maintain their buildings.

Bishop Linda Nicholls, recently imported from the Diocese of Toronto, has inherited the mess and will be encouraging parishes to start "the difficult conversations themselves -- at least initially". Or else.

The blame for all this is being placed on "social transformation"; nothing whatever to do with replacing the Gospel with leftist political agitation laced with religionless spirituality, writes David of Samizdat, an orthodox Canadian Anglican blogger.

"Nicholls is doing her best to be relevant to the culture, though - some might say to the extent of being subsumed in it. She was recently seen arriving at her diocese marching under a brolly across a rainbow colored cross-walk, a tribute to London's annual gay pride cavorting. If that doesn't pull them in and reverse the decline, nothing will," Samizdat cynically observes.


Despite the fact that many Anglicans are committed to keeping their churches going, Bishop Dennis Drainville recently noted "the handwriting is on the wall for the future...we just don't have enough people and we won't."

Since Drainville took up his position in 2008, the diocese has struggled through some difficult times financially, and has only recently begun to stabilize, following an effort to be more strategic with diocesan investments and the sale of a large number of properties.

"We've been selling a lot of churches...I think we have sold eight or nine churches in the last couple of years." He adds that the diocese makes an effort to sell church buildings to local historical societies or the municipalities in which they are located before putting them on the open market.

While church officials anticipate fewer closures in the coming years, due to the fact that most of the churches that were going to close have already done so, he stresses that there has been a fundamental shift in how the diocese provides ministry.

"Lay leaders have taken a greater role--there is much more of an acceptance that you don't have a parish priest," he says. The new model in his own region, the archdeaconry of St. Francis, is to have a team of priests and lay readers who share responsibility for the entire jurisdiction. Whether that is a recipe for success remains to be seen.


Last August the Diocese of Algoma approved the closing of 16 churches...that's 16 churches out of a total of 35, or 45% in the Muskoka area.

I think it's fair to conclude that an organization that closes 45% of its outlets is tottering on the brink of extinction, writes Samizdat.

"Any business in this position would do the decent thing, declare bankruptcy and try something different. Not so in the Anglican Church of Canada: even though it uses business euphemisms -- churches are rationalized rather than closed -- its moldering corpse continues to be propped up by bequests from dead Anglicans and the sale of buildings belonging to ejected congregations."

"Particularly in Muskoka...we have too many churches," former Bishop Stephen Andrews, who left the diocese at the end of July to take up the position of principal of Wycliffe College in Toronto, said in an interview with the Anglican Journal. "Everybody agrees that there have to be fewer churches, but nobody agrees on which churches need to be rationalized--and they are pretty sure that it should be somebody else's church." Muskoka, one of Algoma's five deaneries, has the largest share of church buildings--35 of the diocese's 100 churches and chapels.

Two challenges Bishop Anne Germond expects to deal with are the closing of parishes and same-sex marriage.

"Some of our congregations are certainly unsustainable," she said. "Parish closures will be part of what we will have to face."

According to a clergyperson within the deanery, who requested anonymity, the problem is exacerbated by an unwillingness among some parishioners to drive to a different congregation if their church is closed.

Andrews said he did not believe the financial situation in Muskoka to be significantly different from that faced in other parts of the church, and stressed that the reorganization is more about ensuring that full-time ministry be maintained in as many places as possible.


Within the Toronto diocese, there are now many examples of parishes established years ago that no longer fit their local community's needs. The symptoms of this mismatch show up in declining Sunday attendance and shrinking financial resources. It can also be seen in the deterioration of buildings and church fabric. Parishes are expected to be financially self-sufficient but parishes in decline often need grants for ministry, in particular help with building costs. Such parishes also require disproportionate time of senior clergy/staff, said an official Church document.

"The Church is doing particularly badly in areas where there is a young population, ethnic diversity or a population working in blue-collar industry. The demographic shifts in the diocese have also resulted in emerging and growing communities where there are no local or adequate expressions of mission and ministry."

The Diocese of Toronto faces a stark reality: grow or die.


The Diocese of Niagara is also in decline. The Diocesan newspaper recently published some statistics for 2013 and 2014 which revealed that the average Sunday attendance fell 7.2 percent in one year. If it remains the same, in 60 years there will be 91 people left in the diocese or, since there are 89 parishes, around one person per parish -- presumably the priest.

On a less gloomy note, the number of green parishes increased by three, demonstrating, I suppose, that the diocese overestimated the drawing power of its Gaia god, writes tongue-in-cheek blogger David of Samizdat. A number of parishes were closed by the bishop against the will of the people, resulting in newspaper stories unflattering to the bishop, Michael A. Bird. The thin-skinned bishop likes litigating against people who disagree with him or who spoof his stupidities.

The diocese's decline can also be attributed to what the diocese say they now believe. Here is what we found in the diocese's newspaper...shades of John Shelby Spong. "The church must change or atrophy. The concept of Original Sin is the key to obsolete beliefs including propitiatory sacrifice and substitutionary atonement. Likewise, to blame afflicted people for their personal torments is presumptuous in the extreme. God did not create us evil and prone to diseases as punishment for our fallen state. Humanity is not fallen. Original Sin is not a concept even mentioned in the Bible. Original Blessing, its opposite, is, yet we allow ourselves to be "guilted" about Jesus dying for our sins." These theological insights were signed by someone called Paul Winter, Missa Gaia.


Just half a century ago, 40 per cent of Vancouver Island's population was Anglican; now the figure is 1.2 per cent. On Vancouver Island, the diocese closed 14 of its 59 churches on the Island and the southern Gulf Islands because of falling attendance.

Five other churches were renamed and became so-called "hub churches," which would provide services in the areas affected by closures, reported Bishop James Cowan.


Nationally, between 1961 and 2001, the Anglican Church of Canada lost 53 per cent of its membership, declining to 642,000 from 1.36 million. Between 1991 and 2001 alone, it declined by 20 per cent.

According to the report, the dioceses - "like most across Canada" - are in crisis. The report repeats, without qualification or question, the results of a controversial study presented to Anglican bishops five years ago that said that at the present rate of decline - a loss of 13,000 members per year - only one Anglican would be left in Canada by 2061.


Get a bi-weekly summary of Anglican news from around the world.
comments powered by Disqus
Trinity School for Ministry
Go To Top