Membership—Data, Observations, Conclusions, Part I: Data

April 23, 2020 § Leave a comment

Reflections on Alastair Heron’s book Caring, Conviction, Commitment.

In the 1990s, British Friend Alastair Heron wrote several little books on the subject of membership:

  • Caring, Conviction, Commitment: Dilemmas of Quaker Membership Today (1992), offering and analyzing the results of a survey of British meetings.
  • Now We Are Quakers: The experience and views of new members (1994).
  • On Being a Quaker: Membership – Past – Present – Future (2000); I believe this may have been based on a second, follow-up survey.

I recently reread Caring, Conviction, Commitment and was struck—as I was the first time I read it maybe fifteen years ago—by how relevant, even prophetic, it remains almost thirty years later. Since my own conviction in 1990 (which followed my joining a meeting in 1986 or 1987), I have carried a ministry focused on considering what Quaker membership means and how our meetings approach it. In the service of this ministry, I want to pass on some of Alastair’s data, observations, and conclusions. There’s a lot, so it will take a few posts.

Heron’s survey and remarks apply to Friends in Great Britain, but the correspondences are nevertheless still quite striking. My one caveat is that British Quaker culture, it seems to me, is ahead of liberal Friends in the US on the curve toward increasing individualism, liberalism, and secular humanism.

In the next posts, I want to make some observations about these trends.


Some trends revealed in the survey (1981–1990):

  • Membership rose from 1981 to 1990, though . . .
  • The rate of recruitment of new members declined by more than 25%.
  • The ratio of women to men in membership increased.
  • The ratio of attenders to members increased.
  • Attenders waited a long time to become members.
    • Two-thirds attended for more than three years.
    • The largest group attended from four to nine years.
    • Twenty percent attended for fifteen years or more.
  • Age: Almost half were older then fifty, though the largest cohort was 40–49 at 24%.
  • Path to Quakerism. Most members came to Quakers through
    • another Quaker or attender (36.8%) or
    • family (20.5%); together, relationships accounted then for about 60%.
    • reading 8.5%,
    • advertisement for 6.1%;
    • the meetinghouse 5.9%
    • peace activities 4.4%;
    • Quaker schools 2.8%,
    • other 15.0%.
  • Learning about Quakerism:
    • reading 27%;
    • spoken ministry 17%;
    • Quakers at home 15%;
    • discussion groups 12%;
    • discussion at meeting 12%;
    • Enquirers Day 9%;
    • other 8%.
  • What attenders want:
    • more regular learning 30%;
    • short courses 29%;
    • advice on reading 17%;
    • more information 12%;
    • other 12%.
  • What attracted attenders: (responses combined into categorical groups)
    • friendliness+tolerance 42.8%;
    • worship+silence+meditation 28.9%;
    • pacificsm+social concerns 15.5%;
    • forms+non-creedal 10.3%;
    • other 2.5%.
  • Why attenders don’t apply for membership:
    • commitment unnecessary 22.1%;
    • not good enough 15%;
    • problem with peace testimony 14.1%;
    • too much diversity 12.1%;
    • never asked 9.0%;
    • membership procedure 8.5%;
    • no encouragement 8.2%;
    • other 10.2%.

The “commitment unnecessary” answer accounted for 44% (males) and 53% (females) among younger respondents; this dropped to about 27% for males and 13% for females among older respondents.

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