American author and social critic James Howard Kunstler coined the phrase “long emergency” to describe the effect of decades of small changes. For example, if your congregation were to lose half its members in one year, that would be an emergency. But if it were to halve its membership over two decades, losing maybe three or four per year, you would adjust and carry on. But, says Kunstler, it’s still an emergency — a long emergency.
Here’s how it looks on a national scale. In 1977, when the United Church began recording average weekly worship attendance, 378,000 people went to church. That number peaked at 404,000 in 1984. Since then, attendance has gradually declined by 2.5 percent each year, so that in 2011 the number was 167,000. And if the rate of decline for only the past 10 years does not change, attendance will drop to 25,000 by 2025.
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