Sunday, August 12, 2012

Decline of the United Church

Like all main line churches in Canada, the 87-year-old United Church — Canada's largest Protestant denomination — is facing multiple challenges.

It has far fewer people in its pews than it once did. Since peaking at more than one million in 1965, membership has fallen by nearly half. The declines have been even steeper for Sunday school enrolment — down about 90 per cent since 1961 — baptisms and professions of faith.

Those who do come to church are predominantly older. Among the nearly 7,500 church members who responded to a major identity study last year, the average age was 65.

The church's 1,970 ordained ministry personnel are also aging. As of April 2011, their average age was 56. Just six (0.3 per cent) were under age 30.

In a country in which most people live in large cities, more than 50 per cent of the church's congregations and 30 per cent of its members reside in communities of less than 2,000. Another 23 per cent of congregations and 26 per cent of members live in communities with populations between 2,000 and 30,000.


Scott Tribe said...

Any particular reason you're quoting this story James? No commentary from you or anything.

James C Morton said...

Fair enough -- I suppose it was really a note that, to some extent anyway, the fuss over the United Church's policies is somewhat irrelevant. The Church's power here, as in other places, is rapidly fading

Rotterdam said...

Go into most evangelical churches and you see relevant "real" preaching. The evangelical wing of the United church, while still being there, is being squeezed out by the dominant socialist wing.
Attend any evangelical church and you will see young families brought up United.
My hope is that the United Church will return to its Biblical Methodist roots.

Anonymous said...

The United Church of Canada is the most prominent out spoken Church in Canada when it comes to the rights and equality of its citizens especially the Native Peoples. Tell me...what is the RC Church noted for? Take a good look at the Phillipines and that is what the RC Church does for its people. At least the United Church doesn't brain wash its people from birth. At a time when mother earth has far, far too many people, the RC Church is still demanding the battle of the cradle...have as many babies as possible..don't be bothered whether they can be fed and educated, just do it. And that demanded by a bunch of old men.

Anonymous said...

I like to compare the declining relevancy of the United Church and the scouts in Canada. Both had peak memberships in the 1960's. After, both started to decline. My personal thought about the United Church is that you can be a member and believe anything you want. It's a very inclusive church. However, it lacks the structural guidance in spirituality that some people need. In the evangelical churches, their leadership does provide that structure. Their churches preach their members a "code of living." They are also community centres that have many different programs for all age groups.

The scouts in Canada also tried the inclusive route by making the program available to both boys and girls, and by introducing a Beavers program for very young members. The uniform requirements became less stringent. Young boys and girls would enter the program as Beavers, but leave before they got to the scout level because they got bored with the program. Also, a teen Venturers program was introduced which robbed the scout-aged members of youth leaders. The scouts were now being led by adults which goes against the purpose of scouts being a youth movement. It also doesn't help that insurance requirements make scouting activities next to impossible to do.

There are unofficial "scouts" groups in Canada that still follow the old structures. Their memberships are growing modestly. Why? It's because they cater to specific communities, and they provide both religious and social structures. They just can't be called "scouts" for trademark reasons.

Certain institutions strive for inclusivity while others go for exclusivity. Political parties, airlines, and credit card companies have exclusive services for "members" who subscribe more to their hosts. They may also try to be inclusive at the same time. The US Democrats are inclusive. They try to take people with different beliefs under one umbrella party. The Republicans seem to be going the exclusive route. It can work for a while until you start excluding to many groups of people.

Evangelical churches like to exclude the "gay" way of life because to accept the LGBT community means that the church members don't have to listen to their leadership on anything else. The leadership becomes irrelevant. So, too, do their churches.

The United Church is debating a motion to support a boycott, sanctions, and divestment of Israeli products and services from the West Bank. I think that strong supporters of Israel see this as a threat to Israel, not because of the financial costs, but because the United Church seeks an inclusive model of living in Israel/Palestine of one or two viable states. If Israel becames an inclusive democratic state of all peoples, it loses its exclusivity as a Jewish state. If Israel retreats back to the 1967 borders, it loses its perceived viability as a state.

James C Morton said...

I think, as neither an Anglican or a Catholic, I can be a little unbiased -- both Churches have extensive networks in the Arctic and both (today -- if perhaps not in the past) are very sensitive to aboriginal rights and cultural norms. Services are in Inuktituk and the buildings (see the new Catheral in Iqaluit) recognize local history. Now, that said, there is a difficult history.

The Rat said...

The old saying "if you don't stand for something you stand for nothing" applies here. The United Church doesn't believe in anything "Christian" anymore.

I wrote a comment on a news story recently that discussed the United Church's opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline and mentioned their anti-Israel proposals. I commented "The United Church of Canada, Jesus optional, left wing douchebaggery mandatory."

I sincerely believe that comment.

Rotterdam said...

I will point out, without reservation, that Newtonbrook United Church provides a breakfast and lunch program every Wednesday for those in need. My good friend, who is in need has been blessed by it.

Anonymous said...

United preaches love and cooperation. Evangelical preaches hate and intolerance. Which one lacks Jesus again?

The Rat said...

Hate and intolerance? That's one interpretation. The question is why the United Churchis dying and why others, like evangelicals and the Roman Catholics, are growing. One can have "love and cooperation" without religion, too, so why would someone go to a Church to hear what is considered common sense? If the only thing the United Church can offer is platitudes then why bother?

The "hate and intolerance" you refer to are a moral code, which you can agree with or not, and people of similar moral beliefs will attend a church that teaches that. As a mass-attending Catholic I have never heard hate preached and the intolerance is intolerance of actions, not people, that are considered sinful.

Honestly, I have heard more hate and intolerance from those who preach "love and cooperation". That love is restricted to people who believe only as you do. On the other hand Churches run a multitude of programs supporting those you say they hate. Even though I don't agree with Catholic teaching on homosexuality or birth control I'd rather stand with them than the kinds of "tolerant" people you meet at the gay pride parade.

shawbrooke said...

Evangelical churches are growing because they know who they are, and because people want to live with Christian (New Testament) principles. The people entering those churches are not going there to follow leaders, they are expecting the leaders to maintain a Christian organization.

Any confusion that there is any hint of homophobia in the belief that marriage is between one man and one woman is unfounded. People can say anything, but is ti true? For words that are truthful, turn to the dissenting US Justice last week.

My own denomination hemorrhages people the minute someone mentions being "welcoming". The departing build the big evangelical churches.