Volume 1, Issue 1, April 1994


TODAY THE CHURCHES IN CANADA are undergoing a process of change. This metamorphoses is throwing organized religion into a state of chaos and confusion. In fact, these changes are creating a full-scale crisis in declining memberships that could mean the end for many congregations. Others are beginning to try to adopt new and better ways to promote their programmes and message.

Reginald Bibby, the Canadian sociologist and professor at Lethbridge University, Alberta,who conducts continuing surveys of Canadians' religious customs, notes that secular humanism, clerical abuses, and a distrust of institutions have resulted in Canadians simply investing less energy in their churches. Only 56% of conservative Protestants, 33% of Roman Catholics, and 20% of United Church and Anglican affiliates claim that religion is important to them. And that lack of interest is conveyed to their children.

Though the vast majority of Canadians still identify themselves with some traditional church they do precious little about it. Bibby's recent survey shows only 24% of Canadians are "active affiliates" (attending nearly every week) of a church. 27% are "marginal affiliates" (attending several times a year). 39% are "inactive affiliates" (calling themselves members though attending only once a year or less). Only 10% are "disaffiliates" or "non-affiliates".

Churches consider "marginal affiliates" as burdens instead of opportunities. Failing to serve precisely those with whom they could have the most success, their own nominal members, churches miss their best probability for growth. The existence of so many still preserving some vague, transcendent longing associated with the "faith of our fathers", indicates the "demand" for their product. They are failing to market it. Where demand is not met, presumes Dr. Bibby, there must be failures of supply.

Bibby also points out that the churches lose out a great deal today by relying too heavily upon volunteers to do the work of the church, at a time when many people have less time and energy for volunteer activities, and thereby scare more people away.

Bibby forecasts that in this generation weekly church attendance of all denominations will shrink from the already low of one-quarter of the population to a negligible one-seventh. He warns the churches to pay heed to the looming neo-paganism growing in our society and challenges churches to find new and modern ways to "market their product".

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"Religion NOW" is published in limited edition by the Rev. Ross E. Readhead, B.A., B.D., Certificate of Corrections, McMaster University, in the interest of furthering knowledge and participation in religion. Dialogue is invited and welcomed.