Canadians seem to lack the statistical studies that our neighbours to the South have. And this means we find it harder to understand our nation’s religious mood and sensibilities. Yet the Angus Reid Institute, Statistics Canada, and a recent study of churches in Southern Ontario provide fascinating insights into our nation’s religious sensibility.
For Christians in particular, these trends provide not only hope for the church in Canada but also show how God honours Christian convictions about the Gospel and the Christian way of life. Consider the following ten statistics.
1. Only 29% of religiously committed people in Canada view evangelism positively. Only 8% of all Canadians view evangelism positively.
2. Immigrants are more likely to be “super donors” than others in Canada, and 71% of immigrants say that their faith plays an important role in why they give charitably.
3. When asked what three things were most important to religiously committed people, family, comfort, and honesty were the most common answers. The least common answers were success, being in nature, and intellectual inquiry (only 9% chose intellectual inquiry).
4. In 2011 Census data Statcan reported that Canada had over 630,000 Baptists. Surprisingly, the same study showed that Canada had about 550,000 Orthodox Christians. This means that Canada has nearly as many Orthodox Christians as it does Baptists.
5. The median age of United Church persons is 52.3 and of the Anglican Church is 51.1. In contrast, the median age of Muslims in Canada is 28.9. Islam is also the fastest growing religion in Canada, while the United Church and Anglican church are shrinking.
6. According to the Angus Reid Institute, “Six-in-ten (58%) say that religion should be kept out of public life completely.” Canadians affirm that religious people can privately practice their faith, but most Canadians think religious people should not practice their faith publically.
8. Among clergy in churches that are shrinking in Southern Ontario, all (100%) disagreed with this statement: “The Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally.” Of the same group of clergy, more than 50% agreed that “The Bible is the product of human thinking about God, so some of its teachings are wrong or misguided.”
9. Among growing churches, their clergy overwhelming (about 90%) believe, “Jesus rose from the dead with a real ﬂesh and blood body, leaving behind an empty tomb.”
10. In growing churches, 100% of the clergy strongly agreed that “Jesus was cruciﬁed, died and was buried but then he was resurrected to eternal life,” while only about 69% percent of shrinking church clergy strongly agreed with the same statement.
I find a number of responses to the data above to be appropriate. The first is that we have our work cut off for us. Only 8% of all Canadians view evangelism positively. The church’s evangelistic efforts will, therefore, have to overcome the negative impression of it by its neighbours.
Another challenge is that only 9% of religiously committed Canadians value intellectual inquiry as a primary endeavour. Certainly, intellectual pursuits may not be our number one priority. Yet Christians value the renewing of their minds. And part of the Great Commission is to teach disciples to obey everything that Jesus taught. That takes spiritual and intellectual effort. Many in our churches, however, may not see this effort as a primary task.
A third response is that we live in an ever-changing world. The traditional mainline denominations are in decline, whereas Islam, Orthodox Christianity, and evangelical Christianity are on the rise. The current generation of believers in Canada will see the fall of traditional institutions and the rise of new ones. On top of this, the influx of immigration will further change the landscape of the Canadian church. But if the church can reach immigrants, then it will thrive (see the fourth response below). The nations are coming to our doorsteps.
A fourth response is hope. In Canada, the churches that grow are the churches that maintain a belief in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In short, Gospel churches are growing. This reality provides already obedient churches with confirmation of what they already know: God honours those who tremble at his word.
And it should also give churches that are considering church growth techniques pause. While certain growth techniques can benefit a church, the primary mechanism of growth is the Gospel of Jesus Christ wedded with a confidence in the inspired word. The future of the Canadian church belongs to those who love Jesus.
We already have our marching orders in Scripture. And now we see that these marching orders tend to make churches healthy. Small surprise there. So let’s renew our dedication to the work of ministry and reach our nation with the Gospel. And not merely because it works, but because Jesus commands it (Matthew 28:18–20).
The above article draws on the data that I noted here.