On Sunday morning we scratched the surface regarding the numbers of people who have moved from identifying as "Christian" in our area and are now identifying as "no religion." This "no religion" identification is, by far, the fastest growing religious group in Canada . . . and there is no close second.
In conversation after one of the services, I had someone suggest that maybe the decline in identification with being "Christian" and even the more precipitous decline in the number of people who attend church regularly wasn't simply a church issue. What if similar trends could be seen in union involvement, children's organizations, fraternal or service organizations, and even marriage. It would point to a much broader societal trend away from formal commitments and would shape how we as a church respond.
A quick look at some of the readily available data reveals that Brad is probably recognizing something very significant.
- In 1965 Scouts Canada membership was 288,084. In 2016 it had dropped to 20,756.
- In 1975 Kin Canada (Kinsmen & Kinettes) had a membership of 16,000. Today their website says their membership is "over 6,000."
- Participation in organized sports in Canada measured at 45% in 1992 and was down to 28% in 2005. Even among 15-18 year-olds - the highest participating age group - the rates of participation fell from 77% in 1992 to 59% in 2005.
- In 1963 voter turnout for a federal election was at 79.2%. In 2015 it was at 68.5%. The 2015 number was an anomaly because it was the highest turnout Canada had seen in over 20 years. The average voter turnout over the previous 20 years - in the seven elections which ended with (and included) the 2015 vote - was 63%.
- A readiness for marriage commitment has changed as well. A recent Angus Reid poll showed that in 1971 78% of Canadians felt a couple should not live together before they got married. 22% believed a couple should. In 2018 those numbers are almost exactly opposite with 21% of Canadians believing a couple should not live together before marriage and 79% believing they should.
This quick survey seems to reveal a trend towards not formally committing that is bigger than church/religious issue.
It seems that this begs several questions for those who are followers of Jesus and for our church.
- How do I (how do we), who swim in this cultural water that de-emphasizes commitment, maintain and increase my commitment to the one I call Lord - the one who invites us to "die daily, take up our cross and follow" him?
- How do we foster a commitment to each other (we talked about interdependence on Sunday morning) in the church in a way that is both radical and accessible for whom it is completely foreign?
- What kind of language and format do we use to recognize our commitment to Jesus and each other? (It has, for many years, been "membership." What should it look like today?
- How do we share the invitation which Jesus shared and has invited us to share in a way that can be heard as an invitation and not as a threat in a society that at best shies away from, at worst is deeply suspicious of anything that calls for a commitment?
Answers to these questions don't come easily, but they are ones that we need to think about as we pursue being a Community church for our community. Any further thoughts or questions you might have around this idea are welcome! You can e-mail them to [email protected].