We have heard the dire predictions so often, they have almost become truth simply by virtue of repetition. Religion in Canada is dying. Churches must close. The end is nigh. “Last one out turn off the lights.”

But, Macleans Magazine announced yesterday that, “Religion in Canada isn’t declining nearly as fast as we think.”

Aaron Hutchins reports that, even the venerable pollster and religious researcher Reginald Bibby has had to admit that 22 years ago when he predicted that religion in Canada looked “pretty much over,” he “screwed up”.


Aaron suggests that it

Turns out the decline of religion is not nearly as steep as we might believe. An ambitious new national faith survey of more than 3,000 Canadians from the Angus Reid Institute, a not-for-profit polling organization—in partnership with Bibby—emphasizes that the old refrain of a relentless secularization of Canada may have a new verse. While it’s true that ever more people (now 26 per cent of the population) are inclined to reject religion, a solid segment—30 per cent of Canadians—embraces religion. (Forty-four per cent of Canadians said they were “somewhere in between.”) And of the religiously inclined, more than half attend a service at least once a month, while almost nine of 10 pray privately on a regular basis.

Sadly, for those of us in traditional old-line churches in Canada, there is scant encouragement in these stats. We may not be in line to benefit from this religious resurgence.

It seems that the religious turn around in our country is not coming because churches are suddenly doing a better job of holding members or attracting new adherents. Churches are not filling up because they have discovered the magic formula for creating such vibrant attractive communities that the masses are flocking back to join us. It is not that sermons have improved or that the dominant culture in Canada is suddenly getting religion again.

Religious growth in Canada is occurring as a result of immigration.

Canadian immigration is predominantly from China, India, the Philippines, Pakistan, the Middle East, and South America. These immigrants brought with them their religious affiliation, predominantly Roman Catholic, some evangelical, and increasing numbers of Muslims. They certainly are not flocking to Canada carrying a Church of England prayer book.

Perhaps if we want to benefit from the current immigration bonanza for churches we should encourage church leaders to learn to speak Mandarin Chinese, Bengali, Tagalog, Urdu, Arabic, or Spanish.

But, even with language lessons, mainline churches are unlikely to start attracting crowds of recent immigrants landing on Canadian shores. So, Reginald Bibby remains determined to predict the continuing decline of Protestant mainstream traditional religious bodies. Bibby suggests,

The reality is that groups depending on natural increase are dead in the water. There’s just not enough people being born to offset the number who are dying. If you have stock in the United Church or the Anglican Church, Presbyterians or Lutherans, you’re going to lose a lot of money.”

Or possibly, if Reginald Bibby could “screw up” in 1993 when he so confidently predicted the end of religion in Canada, he may not have the whole picture today on the United, Anglican, Presbyterian, or Lutheran Churches. In each of these denominations there are signs of life, vitality, and even some growth for those who are willing to see. It is not all doom and gloom. While there has been decline and there are still challenges, there remain vibrant communities of faith in all these denominations.

Language classes might not be a bad idea. But, it might be an even better idea to take confidence in the fact that God remains at work throughout the church. Sociologists and pollsters sometimes get it wrong. The Spirit continues to move in mainline church communities and the Spirit

blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. (John 3:8)

Our job is to be as open as we can to the winds of God’s Spirit and follow wherever that wind may blow.