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Fall 1985 · Vol. 14 No. 2 · pp. 6–10 

Mennonite Brethren Church Membership Profile, 1972-1982, Chapter 1

Al Dueck, J. B. Toews, and Abram G. Konrad


The primary purpose of this study was to replicate the findings of Kauffman and Harder (1975) among Mennonite Brethren churches a decade after the original data were gathered. It was anticipated that information about changes and current trends would be useful to the boards of both the Canadian and the United States Conferences in program evaluation and development. It was also hoped that the data collected might be useful to individual congregations in any self study or evaluative activities.

This project sought to identify trends in the beliefs and practices of Mennonite Brethren in both their corporate and personal expressions. Regarding congregational life, respondents indicated the level of their agreement with central beliefs (orthodoxy, fundamentalism, Bible knowledge) and their attitudes regarding the churches’ relationship to the world (discipleship, reconciliation, and church-state relationships). Congregational items also focused upon church practices (denominationalism, associationalism, voluntarism), organizational matters (shared ministries, program resources) and social concerns (social ethics, political attitudes).

Regarding their personal Christian life, respondents were asked about a conversion experience and their present relationship to God. They were also asked about a variety of practical experiences—Bible Study and prayer, evangelism and service, stewardship, and moral practices.


The 1982 Church Membership Profile emerged out of a concern to determine trends in the Mennonite Brethren church today. The Inter-Mennonite Church Membership Profile of 1972 resulted in the publication Anabaptists Four Centuries Later (Kauffman {7} and Harder, 1975). The proposal to replicate the 1972 data emerged out of reports by Al Dueck to the United States Board of Reference and Counsel in 1977 and to the United States Conference held in Rosedale in 1978. The findings pointed to some disturbing trends in Mennonite Brethren faith and life which, in the judgment of the United States Board of Reference and Counsel, demanded further consideration. Endorsement for a research effort to update the 1972 data also came from the Canadian Board of Spiritual and Social Concerns and the General Conference Board of Reference and Counsel.

J. B. Toews, Executive Secretary of the Historical Commission of the General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, Abe Konrad, Moderator of the Alberta Mennonite Brethren Conference of Churches, and Al Dueck, Director of the Pastoral Counseling Program at the Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, were assigned the task of replicating the 1972 study.

Mennonite Mutual Aid made an initial financial contribution to the 1982 follow up. Additional financial support came from the Mennonite Brethren Historical Society in Canada, the Mennonite Brethren General Conference Center for Mennonite Brethren Studies in Fresno, the Board of Spiritual and Social Concerns of the Canadian Mennonite Brethren Conference, the Board of Reference and Counsel of the Mennonite Brethren General Conference, and interested individuals.

The budget covered the expenses for printing the instrument, travel in the administration of the instrument in the churches, secretarial services in compiling the data, computer time for analysis and completing the final summary.

The data from the Profile offered a broad reflection on the socio-cultural and economic changes of the past decade affecting precept and practice in various areas of the Mennonite Brethren constituency. The impact of the cultural environment upon faith and life became very evident from the data. A review of the preliminary data of the 1982 profile at the Canadian and United States Mennonite Brethren Conferences held in 1983 generated broad interest in the study. A preliminary consultation with representatives from Conference agencies and institutions was held January 22-23, 1984, in Fresno, followed by a preliminary report to the Board of Reference and Counsel of the General Conference in May, 1984. The consultations provided a framework for continued evaluation of the data in terms of the implications for {8} the life of Mennonite Brethren. A final consultation was held July 10-13, 1985, to develop more extensive interpretations of the data, and to identify some of the implications of the findings for Mennonite Brethren life and practice.

The original data and a complete set of data analyses for this study could not be included in this publication for reasons of space. These materials are contained in a Mennonite Brethren Church Membership Profile: Research Report and can be examined in the Mennonite Brethren archives in Winnipeg (Manitoba), Hillsboro (Kansas), and Fresno, (California).


Since replication was the primary goal of this project, considerable attention was given to matching the parameters of the first study (see Appendix of Kauffman-Harder study for a detailed analysis of procedures). In order to shorten the instrument, items were carefully selected from the original questionnaire that were judged to be most relevant to Mennonite Brethren. While the original questionnaire required three hours to complete, the abridged version used in this study took approximately half that time.

The same churches were selected for the 1982 study that had been selected by random procedures in the 1972 study. Thus no new congregations developed in the interval from 1972 to 1982 could have been included in this “replication” study. Sampling from within a congregation followed the same procedure used by Kauffman and Harder. Thirty-one respondents were selected randomly from each congregation, regardless of its size. If the pastor had not been selected randomly by the 30th selection, he became the 31st selection. There were no substitutions for people who refused to participate.

Provincial coordinators in Canada and district coordinators in the United States were selected to administer the questionnaires in their own areas. All coordinators were familiar with research procedures and received the same instructions for administering the survey that were used in 1972. The coordinators administered questionnaires on a single evening agreed upon by the local congregation. Respondents who were unable to be present on the evening of the congregational survey were contacted personally to complete the survey. Members of congregations not living in the area of the local church were mailed a questionnaire to complete. {9}

In 1972, 34 of the 40 churches randomly selected participated. Of the total eligible sample within the participating congregations, 708 or 68 percent completed questionnaires. In 1982, 853 or 81 percent of the sample completed the questionnaire. In the 1982 sample of 853 respondents, 52 percent were from congregations in the United States, compared with 49 percent of the 708 respondents in 1972. In other words, Canadian churches were somewhat under-represented in terms of their total membership in the current survey.

The data from the completed questionnaires were entered onto computer files and frequency distributions were compiled in order to develop an understanding of the array of responses. Following the procedures used by Kauffman and Harder, responses on items that were coded negatively were reflected so that the scores were comparable with those coded positively. In a number of instances, questionnaire response categories were collapsed to portray the data more meaningfully. Except for informational items, responses on all items were coded on a three-point scale, ranging from low to high, never to often, or negative to positive. In this way, responses could be assigned numerical values and these values could be treated arithmetically. In the Kauffman-Harder study, scales were developed by identifying commonalities among items. In this way it was possible to discuss the findings by scales or categories of items rather than on an item-by-item basis.

Since the present study used an abridged questionnaire, some of the scales identified by Kauffman and Harder were incomplete in this study—some of the items used in 1972 were not included in this survey. While the data were reported and analyzed by scales or categories of items it must be emphasized that in 1982 these scales had only face validity rather than construct validity that rests upon statistical analyses. It should also be understood that all comparisons between 1972 and 1982 data were made only on items that were included in both studies. In particular, the analyses of the data by scales were limited to those items that were common to the scales in both studies. (A complete description of the scales, including a listing of items for each, is contained in the Research Report.)


The following chapters contain an overview of the findings, analyses of the data, perspectives and interpretations, and conclusions {10} and implications. Chapter two provides a descriptive overview of the personal background of the respondents, their beliefs and practices in both their corporate (church) and personal (individual) expressions. All of the data are presented in percentages and grouped within major response categories or scales. Although some items appear on more than one scale, for analytical purposes, in this descriptive chapter they are presented only once—in the most obvious grouping. For comparative purposes, the data are presented separately by country as well as by year of survey. The discussion itself, however, focuses primarily on the responses of the total group.

Chapter three contains detailed analyses of the data by demographic characteristics of the respondents, country, and year of study. Appropriate statistical tests were used in these analyses—chi-square tests for categorical data and t-tests or analysis of variance for continuous data. These analyses were performed in order to determine whether the differences in the responses (by demographic characteristics, country and year) could be attributed to chance variations or whether they pointed to significant differences. In other words, statistical analyses were used to help us identify differences in the data that were worth noting and that perhaps could be used to identify trends among respondents.

In an attempt to subject the data and our analyses to careful scrutiny, six persons—three from Canada and three from the United States—were invited to address specific issues identified in the study. These individuals each received a preliminary copy of the findings, together with detailed analyses, and were invited to prepare a discussion paper identifying major perspectives and interpretations of selected issues reflected in the data. At a three-day meeting in July, 1985, these papers were discussed in Fresno. Chapter four contains the perspectives and interpretations of the issues that were developed by these individuals following the major discussions in July. It should be understood that the essays in chapter four reflect the perspectives and interpretations of the writers. We are deeply grateful to these individuals for their contributions to our understanding of the issues identified by the research activities.

In the final chapter, conclusions and implications are presented. The conclusions identify generalizations that rest upon the findings of this study, and the implications portray significant concerns or recommendations based upon these generalizations.

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