Powered by Church Planting: Analyzing Growth in the ACNA

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From 2018-2022, only four dioceses in the ACNA reported attendance growth. While this is discouraging, there is also a sign of hope. A clear pattern emerges among the four growing dioceses: they are doing so through church planting.

The Good News and the Bad News

At its recent Provincial Council, the ACNA issued its 2022 Congregational Report. The reports contain good news and bad news. The good news is a significant bounce back in attendance from pandemic lows. For more on this bounce back, read Jeff Walton’s coverage at Juicy Ecumenism.

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The bad news is that this bounce back is still well below the high-water mark of ACNA attendance, which was in 2018. Average Sunday Attendance in 2018 was 84,310, while in 2022, it was 75,583.

Four Growing Dioceses

However, four dioceses have grown in this period: South, Rocky Mountains, Mid-America Reformed Episcopal Church (REC), and Cascadia. You can see their numbers in this attendance chart from 2018-2022, which includes nearly every ACNA diocese (Via Apostolica is excluded since it joined after 2018).

Divided in Size, Congregational Size, Geography, & Churchmanship

What accounts for the growth in these four dioceses? There’s no unifying factor in size, congregation size, geography, or churchmanship. Consider these four factors:

  • Diocesan size: these four dioceses span the large (South), middle (Rocky Mountains, Mid-America REC), and small (Cascadia) points on the ACNA diocesan spectrum.
  • Congregation size: these four dioceses include comparatively large average sizes (South at 112, Rocky Mountains at 106) and comparatively small average sizes (Mid America REC at 45, Cascadia at 39).
  • Geography: these four dioceses represent churches in the Southeast, the Central States, the Rocky Mountains, and the Pacific Northwest. While COVID restrictions hit attendance more significantly in some geographies (see especially the Network in Canada), the group of growing dioceses includes both less restricted territories in the Southeast and more restricted in the Pacific Northwest.
  • Churchmanship: these four dioceses represent the Evangelical & Charismatic (Rocky Mountains), High Church (Mid-America REC), and Broad Church (South & Cascadia) categories.

United in Church Planting

But there is one factor that is common to each of these four dioceses: church planting. Each of these dioceses has focused on the work of church planting in recent years, which is reflected in the increased number of congregations. Consider the following chart, which shows the change in the number of congregations from 2018 to 2022.

Notice that three of the four growing dioceses also led the chart for increasing the number of congregations. These are the Rocky Mountains (+15), Mid-America (REC) (+9), and Cascadia (+6) dioceses. The Diocese of the South also grew (+3), albeit with a smaller number of new congregations. It must be noted that a large part of its attendance growth was the transfer in of one large church: Christ Church Plano, the Provincial Pro-Cathedral.

These four dioceses combined for 33 additional congregations in 2022, above their 2018 numbers. This accounts for more additional churches than all other diocesan congregational increases combined. While it is outside the scope of this article, it would be intriguing to look at the church-planting strategies of each of these four dioceses.

A Few Qualifications

In highlighting the growth of attendance and congregations of these four dioceses, I do not mean to suggest that other dioceses are not planting churches or not doing fruitful ministry. For example, many dioceses have both planted and closed churches during the reporting period, particularly due to COVID. Thus, a diocese may have on paper the same number of congregations in 2022 as in 2018, yet the mix of congregations and their profiles might be significantly different than they were in 2018.

Moreover, the numerical record of attendance and congregations is a crude metric, which only accounts for specific external facts without representing the inner dynamic of the Spirit. God calls his Church to fruitfulness, which does not always involve numerical growth. There are times of divine pruning, in which God sanctifies his Church through numerical decrease but greater faithfulness. This is precisely what happened in the shift from the Episcopal Church to the ACNA.

Nevertheless, the data presented here does point clearly to the value of church planting.

The Value of Church Planting

The two ways a diocese can increase Sunday attendance are:

  1. The growth of attendance in existing congregations
  2. The planting of new congregations

Of course, it is best if a diocese is doing both simultaneously.

But when congregational attendance is generally declining, as it did for most ACNA dioceses from 2018-2022, a diocese can only increase attendance through a counterbalancing effort at church planting.

The Next Thousand Churches

Our Founding Archbishop, Bob Duncan, began his tenure in 2009 with a call for vigorous church planting. He set a goal of 1000 churches, a vision that the ACNA has now just about met (in 2022, ACNA had 977 congregations) through a combination of church plants and transfers from other denominations.

Now the ACNA needs a new generation of church planting to add the next thousand churches!

Further Inspiration

For further inspiration, check out the following Anglican Compass articles:

Cover image by amenic181 from Getty Images, courtesy of Canva.

Published on

July 4, 2023

Author

Peter Johnston

The Ven. Dr. Peter Johnston is the Ministry President of Anglican Compass. He is a priest and archdeacon in the Anglican Diocese of All Nations and the rector of Trinity Lafayette. He lives with his wife, Carla, and their eight children near Lafayette, Louisiana.

View more from Peter Johnston

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