OK, now that the shocking headline has captured your attention, let me explain why it is both true and not all the truth.
Those of us who can remember the United Church before 1990, are very aware that the church which expanded its number of congregations as well as its Conference and General Council staff, programs and policies during the 50’s and into the 80’s is already mostly gone. The structures of the United Church have been significantly cut back, and yet are still too costly of volunteer time, energy, and money. The way we used to “do” church is on its death bed. That is the truth of the headline.
But the rest of the truth about the United Church is that our particular hearing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – and our calling to form communities of faith centred on that calling – are probably more needed now than ever. And so perhaps a more accurate headline might be:
Our Governance is Dead. Long Live the Gospel!
The Buildings Have Burned to the Ground. The Community Has Taken Off!
The charts that follow (click here for PDF file with charts) show the steady decades-long decline of the United Church. And that is the truth of the headline. But the rest of the truth is that actually the charts show how Canada has changed. Canadians just don’t go to church like they used to. And not just the United Church – all churches. And actually all mosques, synagogues, and temples too. And actually all of the old volunteer community organizations too: Rotarians, Kiwanians, Shriners, Masons, etc.
This change in Canadian society is not our fault – and is not a problem that we can fix. But it is a situation that we can and must respond to. But in order to meet the challenges we are already facing, we are going to have to learn how to be much smaller, and much clearer about why and how the Gospel is at the centre of everything we do as a community – including why and how we believe face-to-face communities sustained-over-time are needed.
Think I’m exaggerating? Consider these key data about people and the United Church:
I haven’t chosen these data because they are among the most startling, but because I think they are the figures that help us best understand how Canadians are interacting with the United Church. And the declines from 1990 to 2013, along with a forecast of where we might be at in 2025, are startling.
I realize the future will not unfold in a straight line, but the actual real declines in the past decades ought to be alerting us to the reality that significant change is already upon us – and more is needed for the future.
Can anyone seriously imagine continuing as we currently are?
My only real questions are:
- Will the Comprehensive Review be radical enough?
- Will the General Council in August, 2015 be courageous enough?
Click here for the complete Adobe PDF report with all charts.