ACNA numbers already plummeting?

Daniel Burke of Religion News Service notes that the Anglican Church in North America’s numbers have dropped sharply. And it is only a day old.

[W]hat about those 100,000 members that ACNA claims? Shortly after it launched, the group actually lowered that number to 81,311 people in the pews every Sunday. In June, ACNA lowered that number again to 69,197.

For some context, the Episcopal diocese with the largest average Sunday attendance in 2007 was Virginia, with 25,300.

It’s not unusual for membership numbers to be much higher than average Sunday attendance. But that usually happens in large, longstanding churches, like the Episcopal Church, which may have people on the membership rolls who stopped attending church long ago, or who are Easter-Christmas attenders only. One would assume that in a new church committed to orthodoxy, the gap between average Sunday attendance and membership would be quite a bit smaller.

As religion reporters know, we’re often at the mercy of religious groups’ self-reported membership numbers. And with a group like ACNA, which aims to unite almost a dozen small splinter groups, the task of counting is even harder. For instance, there are some congregations that ACNA counts as members that are still part of the Episcopal Church. So are they counted as part of ACNA’s 100,000, or the Episcopal Church’s 2.1 million?

Quite a few people have said ACNA is worth paying attention to because of that 100K figure. But does 69,000 have the same cachet?

The ACNA folks have done the honorable thing here, though it took them a while to do so. Now it is time for all of the academic experts quoted in some of the stories on the Anglican split to own up to the fact that they have not the vaguest idea of whether this new church is growing or not. Any takers?

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