by Michael Wilkinson
With the first national study of its kind, Sam Reimer and I published our book, A Culture of Faith, on evangelical congregations in Canada.
The study asked pastors a series of questions about congregational vitality including those on priorities and purposes, programs, finances, health and well being of staff, among many others.
Here are some of the findings that we think will be important discussion points.
We discovered that religious participation continues to decline all across Canada with one exception: evangelical Protestants.
There are approximately 30,000 congregations in Canada and clearly 1/3 of them are affiliated with Evangelicals. And yet, only 10% of Canadians identify with Evangelicals. What we wanted to know is why are congregations so important to Evangelicals that they would invest so much time and money in them? What we learned is that Evangelicals have higher levels of participation than all other groups with congregational life focussed on worship and teaching. Many congregations are young, urban, and increasingly multicultural. Youth and children are very important and programs reflect this priority.
However, we also discovered that rural congregations are facing some difficult issues with lack of growth and demands on staff.
Clergy across the country are aging and it’s not clear how denominations will deal with the impending demand for staff. Coupled with declining enrolments in theological schools (seminaries and Bible colleges), this will be a very real challenge.
We also listened to youth pastors and children’s pastors express less satisfaction than lead pastors in ministry. Many appear to be frustrated working in areas that are out of their gifting or calling. Finally, since the economic downturn in 2008, many congregations reported lower levels of giving which places added pressure on them.
Our research offers pastors and church leaders an organizational analysis of Canadian evangelical congregations.
We hope it will be the basis for further discussion and perhaps theological reflection on the role of congregations in Canada.
In our study a large number of pastors indicated they are once again reflecting on their priorities and purposes and rethinking what it means to be missional in a changing Canada.
We are aware that congregations went through lengthy processes a couple of decades ago when vision and mission statement activities were much talked about. However, with ongoing social change especially in the past decade it may be time to review those statements again. We hope our research will facilitate the discussion.
Michael Wilkinson is Professor of Sociology at Trinity Western University, Director, Religion in Canada Institute and Co-ordinator, Canadian Pentecostal Research Network. Read Faith Today’s interview about A Culture of Faith here.