Is Quakerism in Decline?
August 25, 2011 § 14 Comments
Along with budget documents, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting released at this year’s annual sessions a sheet outlining membership statistics for the past twenty years. Declining membership is one of the factors driving PYM’s current financial crisis. I want to look at these figures in some detail in future posts, but for me they raise a bunch of questions I want to look at first:
- Is Quakerism in decline?
- What do we (what do I) mean by “decline”?
- What factors would we consider to be reliable indicators of decline?
Declining membership is the most obvious indicator and I think it’s worthwhile to try to understand its patterns and especially its causes. Hence the posts that will follow analyzing PYM’s data. But I would like to propose some other indicators and ask my readers to add theirs. I would also like to hear comments on these indicators from members of yearly meetings besides the two I have some knowledge of—PYM and New York Yearly Meeting: Are other yearly meetings in basically the same condition as these two East Coast yearly meetings? Are there noticeable differences between FGC and FUM and Conservative yearly meetings (also Britain Yearly Meeting) in their experience of these indicators? I would like to start a worldwide project of self-evaluation using roughly the same set of parameters to determine whether Quakerism is in decline and, if so, perhaps why.
My instincts tell me we are in decline in a number of ways, but going over PYM’s membership statistics made me wonder why I felt that way and whether there was real evidence for such a subjective feeling. Was it possible to get past personal anecdotal impressions to a more rigorous conclusion? So I’m hoping we can use the blogosphere to begin answering these questions.
Here’s my list of indicators:
- Membership—what are the trends and patterns?
- Financial support—what are the trends and patterns?
- Gathered meetings—how many meetings are experiencing gathered meetings and how often? (I would leave the definition of ‘gathered meeting’ up to the meeting or the commentator, rather than try to define it myself for others.) I believe this is the most important indicator we have.
- Seasoned Friends—how many monthly meetings have Friends whose knowledge of Quakerism is deep enough to teach it either in an adult RE program, or to recognize when the meeting is acting in ignorance of our traditions?
- Quaker ministers—how many meetings have members whose work, either among Friends or in the world, has either been formally recorded or is generally recognized in the meeting and/or supported by the meeting in some way?
Got any more?