Seven years after profile of MC USA, northwest Ohio churches examine what lack of growth means for themBy Kelli Yoder Mennonite World Review
FULTON COUNTY, Ohio — Seven years ago, sociologist Conrad Kanagy analyzed a survey of Mennonite Church USA and warned the denomination might be headed toward extinction. Today he thinks the church isn’t much better off, but at least it understands the problem.
“What I observe that I think has changed since 2006,” said Kanagy, professor of sociology at Elizabethtown (Pa.) College, “is that there’s greater awareness of our situation and a willingness to recognize it.”
Published as the book Road Signs for the Journey, the profile’s conclusion was bleak in terms of growth for the church. If things didn’t change, Kanagy wrote, “the denomination itself will eventually disappear.”
“The reality was right in front of us,” Kanagy said in December. “But we didn’t see it because we had lived it.”
Now, recently released numbers show MC USA membership dropped by nearly 7,000 since 2011 (MWR, Jan. 21) — confirming the urgency of Kanagy’s message.
What would it take to turn things around? Kanagy recently completed a second book, Winds of the Spirit, profiling Mennonites in the global South. He can identify two engines of growth for churches.
“One is reproduction, which historically as Mennonites we’ve been good at; the other is conversion,” Kanagy said. “Traditionally, Mennonites in North America have not been so good at the latter, and today reproduction has failed us as we produce fewer and fewer children.”
Mennonites in other parts of the world are doing much better.
“In the global South what’s amazing is that both of these engines of growth are working,” he said. “That’s why the church is growing so quickly.”
The motivation to gain new converts is stronger in some cultures. Mennonite church plants among immigrant communities in North America are a shining example.
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