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Missionary Anglicanism Redux: A New Paradigm?

By Jeremy Bonner

The ACNA is on the move, downwards as well as upwards. In an earlier article for Covenant I looked at the overall picture. Now I want to dig deeper into the latest figures, which provide many lessons for members of both the ACNA and TEC. As the legacies of the era of Anglican realignment fade, the ACNA faces new challenges that are, in part, generational, but also reflect the influx of Christians from non-Anglican evangelical and charismatic traditions that have “grown into” Anglicanism, of which Churches for the Sake of Others’ (C4SO) Bishop Todd Hunter — with his former associations with Calvary Chapel and Vineyard — is arguably the most prominent example.

Go West Young Anglican: The Regional Picture

Unlike TEC (which has had more than a century to perfect its data collection process), the ACNA has yet to provide a clear picture of where its members live. This problem is only compounded by the plethora of overlapping ecclesiastical jurisdictions. In the state of South Carolina, for example, there are no less than three “territorial” dioceses: the Diocese of the Southeast of the Reformed Episcopal Church (organized in 1875); the Diocese of the Carolinas (organized in 2012); and the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina (which joined the ACNA in 2017). While geography is not destiny (in religion or anything else), it does inform our understanding of how churches thrive (or fail to thrive).

Just under half of the ACNA’s members are affiliated with territorial dioceses south of the Mason-Dixon line (two-thirds of them with the former TEC dioceses of South Carolina and Fort Worth) and one in five with territorial dioceses in the Northeast and Midwest. While only seven percent of the members of the ACNA’s territorial dioceses reside in the West — a region known for its secular character — more than half of the members of non-territorial dioceses (particularly C4SO) are also based in this region. When the membership and average principal service attendance for C4SO and the Rocky Mountains are included, the West accounts for 19 percent of the ACNA’s members and 23 percent of its worshippers.

Those non-territorial dioceses that trace their origins to missionary societies established under Global South auspices — notably CANA, PEARUSA and AMiA (from which C4SO descends) – and which account for roughly one-fifth of ACNA’s members and one-quarter of its active worshippers present a very real challenge to historic understandings of Anglican polity, a challenge only heightened by their ability to be fruitful and multiply. If such dioceses ultimately prove to be the tail wagging the dog, the ACNA’s center of gravity may not remain in the Southeast indefinitely.

TABLE 1: Membership and principal service attendance by region, 2019

Region Dioceses Membership 2019 Regional share of membership Average principal service attendance


Regional share of average principal service attendance Commitment index

(service attendance as a proportion of membership)

East Mid-Atlantic, New England, Quincy, Upper Midwest, Pittsburgh, Great Lakes  






Southeast Carolinas, South, South Carolina, Gulf Atlantic, Central States  






Southwest Fort Worth, Southwest, Western Gulf Coast  






West Cascadia, San Joaquin, Western Anglicans  






Non-Territorial (includes Anglo Catholic Missionary Diocese of All Saints). C4SO, Rocky Mountains (PEAR West), Christ Our Hope (PEAR Atlantic), Living Word (CANA East), All Saints, International 25,224 22.1 20,833 27.6 82.6
TOTAL 113,868 100.0 75,421 100.0 66.2

Ora et Labora or Who’s Showing Up?

While the strikingly high level of commitment (average principal service attendance as a proportion of membership) of members of the missionary dioceses is to be expected, it still comes as a surprise that Anglicans in the East (notably the Dioceses of New England and the Upper Midwest) seem more actively engaged than their counterparts in the South. More secular environments (New England no less than the West Coast) appear to give rise to a more intense congregational life than those in which “churchiness” is part and parcel of daily existence. This variance is, of course, one of degree, and the missionary dioceses also have congregations across the Southeast (further complicating the story).

Even the most weakly committed regions and dioceses of the ACNA still compare well with those of some other liturgical churches. The denominational commitment index for TEC is less than one in three and for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America less than one in four. Members of the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) — the two Orthodox denominations closest to the ACNA in size — report higher levels of participation but are still significantly behind the ACNA as a whole and most of its constituent dioceses.

TABLE 2: Denominational commitment in the 2010s

Denomination Membership Commitment index
The Episcopal Church* 1,640,443 31.7
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America**   476,900 22.5
ACNA*  113,868 66.2
Coptic Orthodox Church**    92,100 50.9
Orthodox Church in America**    84,900 39.8

* Data for 2019 (ACNA figure derived from Table 1).

**Data for 2010 derived from Alexei Krindatch, Atlas of American Orthodox Christian Churches (2011).

Interestingly, the two worst performing of the ten largest ACNA dioceses still perform better than OCA (or TEC). In 2019 the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina — rather surprisingly — reported a commitment of less than one member in two (though attendance rose by 2.7 percent between 2017 and 2019) and an average principal worship attendance smaller than that of C4SO (which has only half the membership of South Carolina). A cynic might be tempted to question the accuracy of South Carolina’s current membership figures. The commitment indices of Fort Worth and Pittsburgh were rather better, with the 62.5 percent share reported for the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh (a diocese with a marked evangelical identity) comparable with that for such “new” territorial dioceses as the Carolinas and the Gulf Atlantic. By contrast, the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic claims the participation of three-quarters of its members and C4SO, Christ our Hope, and the Rocky Mountains — together with the Diocese of the South (headed by Archbishop Foley Beach) — report participation of more than four members in five.

TABLE 3: Commitment in the ten largest ACNA dioceses in 2019

Diocese Membership


Average principal service attendance 2019 Commitment index


South Carolina 20,475 9,105 44.5
C4SO 10,493 9,373 89.3
Fort Worth 9,566 4,784 50.0
Carolinas 8,207 5,150 62.7
Gulf Atlantic 7,637 4,668 61.1
Mid Atlantic 7,619 5,756 75.5
Pittsburgh 6,933 4,333 62.5
Christ our Hope 5,415 4,706 86.9
South 5,269 4,781 90.7
Rocky Mountains 3,725 3,153 84.6

Farewell to the Biretta Belt: A Crisis of (Anglican) Catholic Identity

The ACNA’s commitment to the “two integrities” in respect of the ordination of women has given rise to a discrete group composed of the three high church dioceses that left TEC in the mid-2000s and the non-territorial Missionary Diocese of All Saints. Regrettably, from an Anglo-Catholic perspective, its assured position within the ACNA has not translated into growth. All four dioceses have reported significant declines in attendance and in 2019 more Anglicans were attending the services of the non-territorial dioceses (other than All Saints) than were members of the Anglo-Catholic group. It should be noted, however, that the Missionary Group’s rise has been fueled by the western dioceses of C4SO and the Rocky Mountains, while the other dioceses have recorded modest or (in the case of the International) significant declines.

TABLE 4: Anglo-Catholics vs. Missionary Societies, 2013-2019

Region Membership 2013 Membership 2019 Average principal service attendance


Average principal service attendance


Anglo Catholic Group 20,400 15,984  



Missionary Group 16,683 23,934 12,659 20,055

Does Size Matter? Trends in Congregational Development

The average size of the ACNA’s congregations in 2019 was 140 members, a figure broadly reflected in the average size of congregations within the Missionary Group (although C4SO was a significant outlier, with an average of 200 members per congregation). The typical congregation in the ACNA’s ex-TEC dioceses, by contrast, had 180 members in 2019, on a par with newer territorial dioceses such as the Gulf Atlantic and the Mid Atlantic but significantly behind the Diocese of the Carolinas, which boasted the largest membership per congregation in the ACNA in 2019. Interestingly, Archbishop Foley Beach’s Diocese of the South constituted as much of an outlier as C4SO, with just 114 members per congregation. While the dioceses with the best track record of growth seem to have congregations with a smaller average membership, perhaps reflecting the importance of personal relationships in discipling, C4SO remains an exception to that rule.

TABLE 5: Mean congregational size of ACNA dioceses, 2017-2019

Region Congregations 2017 Congregations 2019 Members per congregation

2017 (total membership in parenthesis)

Members per congregation

2019 (total membership in parenthesis)


Former TEC Dioceses (Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, Quincy, San Joaquin, South Carolina)


244 235  






Non-Territorial Dioceses* (C4SO, Rocky Mountains (PEAR West), Christ Our Hope (PEAR Atlantic), Living Word (CANA East), International)


152 162 144
Carolinas 30 29  




Gulf Atlantic 45 42  




Mid-Atlantic 38 37  




South 47 46  




*Missionary Diocese of All Saints excluded.


When the ACNA first burst upon the scene in 2009, the dominant voice in its counsels came from the leaders of those dioceses that had departed TEC en masse. With the possible exception of CANA, no other ecclesial entity could provide the infrastructure that was required. A decade later, the same dioceses — bruised and battered by years of property litigation — account for less than two Anglicans in five. New diocesan structures have been established across the United States that better reflect the confederal ecclesiology to which the ACNA’s leaders committed at the outset. Small congregations are in, old style high churchmanship is out, and while the South still enjoys a preeminent position there are no long-term guarantees that this will continue to be the case.

In 2009 there was little question that Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh — the prime mover in the realignment process — would be the ACNA’s first primate; in 2014, the mantle passed to Foley Beach, who had left TEC in 2004. In an echo of the practice of early TEC bishops, Archbishop Beach remains the diocesan of the Anglican Diocese of the South and rector of Holy Cross Church in Loganville, Ga., which he has served since leaving TEC. Beach’s diocese may only be the eighth largest in the ACNA, but it has recorded a 50 percent increase in attendance since 2013 and its commitment index is the highest in the denomination.

If the Anglican Diocese of the South is one possible model of the future, Churches for the Sake of Others is clearly another. There can be no question that C4SO has brought people into its congregations and kept them actively engaged. What statistical analysis cannot determine (and must needs be addressed through qualitative research) is what sort of Anglicanism it is bringing forth. The recent controversy over sexuality and identity — in which C4SO and Bishop Hunter figure prominently — is not simply a revisiting of the same issues which led to the ACNA’s emergence but a challenge to the confederal character of the church on which the ACNA’s leaders had previously prided themselves.

Dr. Jeremy Bonner is honorary fellow of the Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University and a Lecturer in Church History at Lindisfarne College of Theology. With Professor Mark Chapman he recently edited: Costly Communion:  Ecumenical Initiative and Sacramental Strife in the Anglican Communion (Brill 2019).


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