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Survey provides insight, but few surprises

   

Feb 3, 2006
-by Dan Dyck

Winnipeg, Man. — Who are we as Mennonites in Mennonite Church Canada?

That kind of soul searching was one aspect of a survey sent to 5,000 MC Canada members across the country in the spring of 2005.

Mennonites are victims of their own success, said consultant Larry Matthews in a presentation to MC Canada’s General Board in Nov. What once set Mennonites theologically apart from other denominations has become more commonplace, he said.

While respondents said that working with other church partners is often conditional on affirmation of Mennonite values and beliefs, increasingly those values and beliefs are being shared by other groups. Consequently an individual, a pastor or a congregation may feel compatible with and comfortable working with a wide range of partners. The risk is the possibility of diluted loyalty for the denomination and lessened commitment to supporting MC Canada ministries. But Matthews added that peace and justice work continues to set Mennonites apart from many Christians, while personal and corporate piety sets Mennonites apart from many in mainline denominations.

The survey found that respondents had high expectations from the denomination when it comes to youth and children’s ministry, and providing resources such as Sunday School materials. Respondents also expect the denomination to “set up programs for action,” and in doing so partner with other Christian organizations in the areas of native, international, and multi-cultural ministry.

When it comes to how MC Canada should communicate with individuals and congregations, the Canadian Mennonite, personal visits, and participation in annual assemblies were ranked as the most valuable. Pastors were also identified as a primary channel for denominational information.

Seventy-five percent said they read some to all materials received from MC Canada. This “… would be a welcome result for many groups,” noted Matthews. Respondents are not TV faith consumers; almost 60% of respondents said they watch no Christian TV stations regularly.

Respondents said that Mennonite Church Canada makes a positive contribution to congregational and personal Christian life, and meets many or most of their expectations much, or most, of the time. What’s not clear from the survey is how high (or low) those expectations are – but relatively few respondents believe that what is offered by MC Canada is available elsewhere.

The survey results also offered a snapshot of financial giving to MC Canada. Ten percent of respondents indicated that their household giving to MC Canada had increased in the past two years, while almost one-third indicated an increase in giving to their local congregation. Almost an equal number (23%) said they had increased giving to Christian organizations outside the local church and denomination in the last two years. “Clearly Mennonite Church Canada is not ranked as high a financial priority as local ministry or other Christian organizations. This is the same in almost every denomination,” said Matthews.

On the question of “value” provided by MC Canada, 53% agreed or strongly agreed that they got ‘… good value for the funds committed to the activities and initiatives of Mennonite Church Canada.’ But another 42% were neutral or gave no opinion, suggesting either a lack of conviction or lack of awareness about what the denomination does.

Respondents tended to be quite active in their local congregations. A significant percentage (36%) have served on a church committee, as worship leaders (23%), and Sunday School teachers (20%). Sixty-two percent had attended an area conference assembly, and 45% a MC Canada assembly. Ninety percent said they attend church worship services weekly or almost every week. One-third indicated having completed a voluntary service assignment with a Mennonite organization. It was not clear whether the respondents match the profile of church members as a whole.

On the question of “What does it mean to be Mennonite?’ 75% said they think of themselves as Mennonite no matter what congregation they attend. Less than half thought of themselves as Mennonite because of ethnicity. Eighty-two percent of respondents were raised in a household that participated in a Mennonite church, and almost one-third attended a Mennonite high school, college, or university.

The survey was sent to the 5,000 readers of Canadian Mennonite magazine, distributed proportionately across the regional area conferences. Half of the respondents live in communities of 50,000 persons or less. The response rate was 18%