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Fall 1985 · Vol. 14 No. 2 · pp. 11–24 

Mennonite Brethren Church Membership Profile, 1972-1982, Chapter 2

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

The survey provided a rich data source on many areas of congregational and personal life. In this chapter, data profiles are presented on the personal background of respondents, their central beliefs, attitudes about the church in the world, church practices, organizational matters, social concerns, personal life and practical experiences. For comparative purposes, data from the 1972 Kauffman and Harder study are presented along with the data from the current survey (1982).


Who are the members of the Mennonite Brethren churches? Table 2.1 shows a residential shift among the members during the past decade. While the rural membership remained at about one-third, there was a decline in the membership of town congregations and an increase in the city congregations. Canadian churches have more elderly and single members in the cities, while in the United States a majority of the elderly, as well as the managerial and clerical workers, live in towns. In both countries, city dwellers are better educated and more mobile than are other church members.

The membership in our churches is aging; the percentage of members 50 or over increased from 34 to 48 percent in ten years, while the under 20 group decreased from 14 to 6 percent.

Slightly less than half of the respondents were female, a drop of two percent in this decade. Generally, female respondents were less educated and poorer than their male counterparts, and they were predominantly in clerical occupations. In Canadian churches, females were more single, mobile and inclined to live in cities than were males; while in the United States churches, males were more mobile than were females. {12}

Table 2.1
Personal Background of Respondents
Percent by Year of Survey

Table 2.1

In 1982 the marital status shifted somewhat from what it was in 1972. There are more married and fewer singles in our churches today than there were a decade ago. Although there was only one divorced and one separated respondent in 1972, there were 7 divorced, 10 divorced and remarried, and one separated respondent in the current survey.

The level of education also increased during this decade, from 36 percent with a college education or higher in 1972 to 48 {13} percent in 1982. Singles were more highly educated in Canada, but in the United States they were less highly educated than others.

Similarly, Mennonite Brethren have changed in their occupations. The percent of respondents in farming increased, as did also the percent in managerial and professional occupations, but the percent in clerical occupations decreased from 54 to 37 percent.

Respondents were also asked how long they had lived in the community where they now resided. There was less mobility among church members in 1982 than in 1972.


Table 2.2
Central Beliefs of Mennonite Brethren
Percent by Year of Survey

Table 2.2

Mennonite Brethren scored very high on general orthodoxy and fundamentalism with no significant change during this decade (Table 2.2). Today there is among members no doubt that God exists (93 percent), that Jesus was both human and divine (96 percent), that miracles happened as recorded in the Bible (96 {14} percent), that Jesus’ resurrection was physical (96 percent), that Jesus will actually return to earth (98 percent), that Satan as a personal devil is active in the world (97 percent), and that there is life beyond death (98 percent).

Similarly, members generally agreed with the fundamentalist beliefs that the Bible is the divinely inspired and infallible Word of God (94 percent), that Jesus was born of a virgin (97 percent), and that there was a flood in Noah’s day (90 percent). There was less agreement that those without Christ will suffer eternal punishment (86 percent) and that God created the world in six 24-hour days (55 percent).

Respondents scored less highly on selected items of Bible knowledge, ranging from a high of 89 percent identifying Zaccheus correctly to a low of 52 percent recognizing the Exile correctly. Although the shifts in the correct responses were not statistically significant, on all but one item respondents scored lower in 1982 than in 1972.


A number of items focused upon attitudes about the church in the world. Although some items could have been grouped under more than one heading, in Table 2.3 they appear only under the dimension that seemed most appropriate.

In matters of discipleship, respondents’ views did not change significantly during this decade. Most felt that Christians could expect persecution (75 percent), that infant baptism was neither necessary nor proper (84 percent) and that church discipline was important (74 percent). Only about half agreed that Christians should take no part in war. There was an increase in those who thought that Christians should not take someone to court (29 to 35 percent), but a decrease in church members who agreed that Jesus expects Christians today to follow the pattern which he set in his life and ministry (50 to 42 percent).

Regarding peace and reconciliation, fewer than half of the members agreed that the peace position of the Mennonite Brethren should be actively promoted and that they would select alternate service if drafted. Some felt that owning stocks in companies producing war goods was always wrong (32 percent), while seven percent felt that tax revenue spent on military purposes should be withheld.

A majority of members endorsed statements that reflected a separation of church and state. Seeking to improve the moral {15} achievements of secular society was not seen as the central mission of the church (70 percent). Similarly, respondents believed that some government tasks could not be performed in clear conscience by a Christian (60 percent), and that it was against God’s will to swear the oath demanded by civil authorities on some occasions (60 percent). On the matter of church institutions seeking or accepting government aid, however, only 20 percent opposed such action.

Table 2.3
Attitudes of Respondents About the Church in the World
Percent by Year of Survey

Table 2.3


Perhaps the area of greatest change during the past decade was in the level of diversity within the denomination (Table 2.4). There has been a drop in marriages where both partners were members of the same denomination at the time of the wedding (75 to 66 percent), as well as in members whose parents belonged to the same denomination (75 to 67 percent). About half of the members’ four or five closest friends also were members of the same denomination. The percentage of members who at one time were members of another denomination has increased {16} (21 to 28 percent), as has also the percentage who have family members in another denomination (31 to 44 percent).

There was some evidence indicating a slight increase in the degree of associationalism among members during this past decade. About half of the members joined a small group for fellow-ship, although only about one-third felt they fit in well and had their closest friends in the congregation.

Table 2.4
Church Practices of Mennonite Brethren
Percent by Year of Survey

Table 2.4

About three-quarters attended services weekly and found services inspirational (even though they were sometimes boring), and they were interested in serving in the church. Sunday school attendance, however, decreased somewhat during this decade (66 to 60 percent).

Members expressed a strong sense of voluntarism about the community of believers. Ninety-two percent stated that joining the church was their own choice, and about 75 percent felt it was very important to be a church member. {17}


Mennonite Brethren expressed a moderate commitment to shared ministries, a slight increase in the past decade (54 to 57 percent). Table 2.5 shows a drop from 54 to 46 percent in members who agreed that a congregation could not be complete unless there was an ordained minister to lead the congregation and to perform ministerial functions.

Table 2.5
Organizational Matters Within the Church
Percent by Year of Survey

Table 2.5

Conversely, there was some evidence of a decrease in the sense of accountability among members. Thus, there was an increase in those who felt members should never be excluded (34 to 37 percent), an increase in those who regarded giving in the church as everyone’s own business (85 to 89 percent), and a decrease among those who agreed that the church should urge members to tithe (54 to 46 percent).

Respondents also indicated their views on the proportionate distribution of program resources within a local congregation. About one-third felt that resources should be increased in home missions, foreign missions and family education. Fewer respondents in 1982 than in 1972 felt that resources should be increased in mass communications (39 to 17 percent), Sunday school literature (15 to 9 percent), church colleges (21 to 16 percent) and seminary (23 to 17 percent). There was a small increase in members who felt greater proportions of funds {18} should be allocated to elementary schools (11 to 16 percent) and to local expenditures (9 to 12 percent) than a decade ago. Overall, there was a decline in the number of programs for which respondents indicated a desire for increased giving for church programs.


Mennonite Brethren have become somewhat more accepting over the past decade in matters of social ethics (Table 2.6). On race relations, only about one-third agreed that there is no Biblical basis for the separation of races, but almost 90 percent felt that their congregation should receive into its fellowship all followers of Christ regardless of their race. About two-thirds agreed that races share equally in human qualities and that blacks may mingle socially with whites.

Table 2.6
Social Concerns Among Mennonite Brethren
Percent by Year of Survey

Table 2.6

Respondents did not express a strong social conscience. Only 24 percent agreed that Christians could participate in {19} peaceful demonstrations and protest marches even though they may be intended as a means of bringing about social justice. Similarly, only 16 percent felt that capital punishment was not a necessary deterrent to crime.

About twelve percent of the respondents expressed views that church members should not participate in labor union activities.

The political attitudes of members were identified through their views on the appropriate involvement of a congregation in political activities and their own political participation. Although members strongly agreed that it was proper for congregations to study political issues and candidates, considerably less support was expressed for helping to “get out the vote” (44 percent), encouraging groups to engage in political action (32 percent), and endorsing candidates (29 percent). Very few respondents felt it would be proper to permit candidates to speak in church or to discuss politics from the pulpit. Most respondents (93 percent) felt that church members should vote in public elections, and the percentage of those who voted increased during the past decade (69 to 77 percent).


Most (91 percent) Mennonite Brethren reported a particular point in life when they had a conversion experience (Table 2.7). Slightly more had only one such experience in 1982 (59 percent) than in 1972 (52 percent), while fewer had two or more conversions in 1982 than in 1972.

Regarding their relationship to God, respondents expressed a moderate closeness to God. About three-fourth were sure they had experiences of feeling in God’s presence, and two-thirds felt that God had delivered them from danger. One-third had an experience of being healed by God.

A large majority had an awareness of being a sinner (94 percent), sometimes felt discouraged (75 percent), and had a consciousness of being tempted by the devil (74 percent). About half sometimes had salvation doubts, while 17 percent felt that some misfortune was caused by the devil.

The positive emotional tone of respondents seemed to be somewhat higher in 1982 than in 1972, with an increased number expressing certainty about the knowledge of being saved (94 percent) and having a sense of Christ’s love (88 percent). Fifty {20} percent reported an experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit and three percent had spoken in tongues.

Table 2.7
Beliefs and Experiences of Mennonite Brethren
Percent by Year of Survey

Table 2.7


Table 2.8 includes items that portray some of the practical experiences of church members. During the past decade there was a slight decrease in daily Bible study and prayer among members. Half reported family or group worship in their household, but less than half studied the Bible (40 percent) and had devotions (33 percent).

A high percentage said they engaged in daily private prayer (85 percent). About three-quarters of the members often asked God for strength and, in times of decision, asked what God would want them to do.

About three-quarters participated in evangelism activities by witnessing orally, occasionally inviting non-Christians to attend church services, and helping in someone’s conversion. There {21} was a significant decline in the number of respondents who reported having been instrumental in someone’s conversion (from 86 to 74 percent).

About three-quarters expressed interest in service within the church. Approximately 60 percent reported willingness to hold a leadership position, and 40 percent were willing to serve in Sunday school. There was a decrease (49 to 40) in those who felt that young people should enter voluntary service.

Perceptions about stewardship varied among members. Almost 80 percent felt that the congregation should use a budget system. Although 59 percent agreed that tithing was a Biblical standard for Christians, only 46 percent felt the church should urge its members to tithe.

Table 2.8
Practical Experiences Among Mennonite Brethren
Percent by Year of Survey

Table 2.8

Most members (79 percent) felt they gave in gratitude to God’s love and in line with the world’s spiritual and physical needs and their own resources. Over half gave a planned amount, and only seven percent felt offerings could be more frequent than they were at present.

In the area of specific moral practices, there appears to be a diversity of opinion and some change in the past decade (Table 2.9). In 1982, respondents said that the following were always wrong: becoming drunken (95 percent), smoking marihuana (91 percent), premarital sex (93 percent), extra-marital sex (92 percent) and homosexual acts (95 percent). Fewer thought that smoking tobacco (74 percent), marriage to a non-Christian (68 percent), gambling (64 percent), divorce for causes other than adultery (55 percent), movies rated for adults only (52 percent), moderate drinking of alcoholic beverages (48 percent) and dancing (44 percent) were always wrong. In the past decade, remarriage while spouse is living, movies rated for children, masturbation, gambling and dancing have become more acceptable, while extra-marital sex and homosexuality have become less acceptable.

Table 2.9
Moral Practices Perceived to be Always Wrong
Percent by Year of Survey

Table 2.9


This profile provides detailed information about Mennonite Brethren in Canada and the United States. Although some changes were observed in their background, the data suggest considerable stability in their beliefs and practices. In some areas, however, trends in current beliefs and practices have major implications for our denomination.

In summary, the following observations are offered.

  1. Mennonite Brethren today appeared to be more urban, older, male, married, better educated, professional but less mobile than they were a decade ago.
  2. There continued to be a strong affirmation of the doctrinal confession of the Mennonite Brethren church, with the exception of the peace position.
  3. There were clear discrepancies between belief and practice. While there was agreement on doctrine, there was considerable variability in life style.
  4. There was a strong affirmation of conversion among respondents.
  5. While radical discipleship and peacemaking are central in our beliefs, there was little support for the promotion of peace, for practicing injustice among members, and for exercising church discipline.
  6. While greater ethnic diversity in the churches may be regarded positively as a result of greater involvement in the world, the implications for denominational identity require further reflection.
  7. There was some evidence of a commitment to growth through membership in small groups, but there was a decline in personal piety and participation in evangelism.
  8. Participation in Sunday school and other structured church activities declined somewhat during the past decade, but the sense of voluntarism in church membership increased.
  9. Members expressed a stronger commitment to shared leadership, but a decreased commitment to accountability among members over the past decade.
  10. Overall, support for increased giving for church programs was low, and declined in the ten years between the surveys.
  11. Respondents expressed positive political attitudes, but they were less supportive of specific political endorsements by {24} the local congregation.
  12. In general, Mennonite Brethren expressed conservative attitudes in personal moral practices.

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