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Shrinking Churches: Attendance Declines in Canada

A recent article in the Calgary Herald outlines the attendance declines in Mainline congregations in Canada. Victor Kim, the lead minister at Grace Presbyterian Church, put it this way:

Mainline Protestant churches had to stop clinging to their “past ubiquity”, he said.

“We kind of used to be everywhere. You planted churches every so often assuming that around that church would be a demographic that would come to those churches. We were everywhere and we could afford to be everywhere.

“I think we still sometimes get trapped in this sense of ubiquity — that we should have a church everywhere. I think that depletes us.”

Reverend Kelly Osgood, from Calgary’s Robert McClure presbytery, reframed the issue:

“We forgot how to do evangelism,” she said.

“It was so easy. People were clamouring to get in the doors. (How) to raise your family in the 1950s, the United Church really knew how to do that.”

The church was slow to notice the change, she said, and, when it finally did, doing something about it was “like trying to turn around the Titanic”.

“People always came to us and then, when, as a society, people stopped coming to the church, we looked up and we didn’t have the skill set to go out and (win them back).”

In what ways does this ring true for your religious community? In what ways does your community work with the changing culture, providing meaning and grounding to religious newcomers? In what ways does the processes of your congregation or denomination perpetuate the “way things have always been,” reducing the ability for change and innovation? Examine how your community has changed, with the influx of new individuals from different demographic groups. In what ways is the culture of your congregation open to newcomers? Or are you more likely to prefer to cater to those who currently attend, meeting their needs?

About the Author
Dr. Ellen Childs holds a Ph.D. in sociology from University of Notre Dame. She is Website Director at