It has often been asserted that statistics can be used to draw whatever conclusions one may wish to draw from them. Although there may be some truth in this assertion, it should be possible to make some observations about the nature and health of our denomination on the basis of statistics. The annual statistical report for the Canadian MB Conference for the year 2000 was released at the meetings of the Executive Board near Calgary in August. The Centre for Mennonite Brethren Studies gathers these statistics annually and summarizes the findings in order to provide a general picture of what is happening in our congregations.
Congregations are asked to fill out a questionnaire which includes many different categories – membership numbers, sources of gains and losses, ages of persons baptized, Sunday school attendance, worship attendance, demographic information (births, weddings, deaths), numbers and categories of leadership personnel, attendance at Christian schools, and financial information. Not all congregations keep records for all these categories, and therefore the responses are uneven. Some congregations do not respond to the questionnaire at all. These factors sometimes make it difficult to draw firm conclusions, especially on a year-to-year basis. At times, however, there are startling facts that emerge, especially when longer terms are taken into account.
While this year’s report did not reveal many startling changes, there were some interesting trends. The “bottom line”, which most look at first, is membership growth. During the past year, the membership grew from 33,214 to 34,288 — an increase of about 3%.
As in most recent years, the largest increase came in British Columbia, which has almost 50% of the membership in Canada. Manitoba and Saskatchewan also posted significant gains. Unfortunately, despite the Key Cities Initiative in Alberta, that province still suffered a net loss in membership, primarily because of difficulties in several established churches. Offsetting these losses in that province were significant gains in worship attendance – from 3,038 in 1999 to 3,332 by the end of 2000. Overall, average worship attendance in Mennonite Brethren congregations increased from 41,798 in 1999 to 45,528 – a 9% increase. The increase in the total number of members and adherents also appears to be significant – from about 42,000 in 1998 and about 47,000 in 1999 to almost 57,000 in 2000. These numbers may not be entirely accurate, but the trend is encouraging. (Note: The numbers of 1998 and 1999 should probably be somewhat higher because of different methods of tabulation.)
As always, there are questions raised by these and other numbers. The gap between worship attendance and membership is widening. Why? Is membership becoming less and less meaningful, especially for young people? How can the church address that issue?
Another area that has shown significant change in recent years is the nature and number of pastoral staff. There was a 10% increase in paid pastoral staff between 1999 and 2000, and an even more Significant increase in unpaid pastoral staff. What does this mean in terms of how our churches function and our needs for pastoral training in the future?
It is probably time for an in-depth analysis covering a longer period of at least ten years. Much more difficult (though more beneficial) than a quantitative analysis, would be a qualitative analysis measuring our spiritual health and growth over the last decade.
Abe Dueck is Director of the Centre for Mennonite Brethren Studies in Winnipeg.
|Number of Congregations:|
|Total number of congregations||Jan. 2000||210|
|Total number of congregations||Dec. 2000||219|
|Total number of congregations submitting reports.||165|
|Transfer from other MB churches||392||412|
|Testimony (from other denominations)||730||752|
|Charter members (new churches only)||24||136|
|Total membership gains||2,289||2,332|
|Transfer to MB churches||341||329|
|Transfer to emerging MB churches||48||36|
|Transfer to another denomination||270||319|
|Dissolution or departure of congregation||0||91|
|Total membership losses||1,760||1,920|
|Membership by provinces·– December 31, 2000:|
|Net percentage growth in 2000:|
|Net Percentage growth by year:|
|Net percentage growth||2000||3%|
|Net percentage growth||1999||1.63%|
|Net percentage growth||1998||0.25%|
|Net percentage growth||1997||1.60%|
|Net percentage growth||1996||3.43%|