The United Church of Canada (UCC) could become a shadow of its former — or even present — self, when it turns 100, according to an analysis of trends recently produced by a soon-to-retire minister of a North Vancouver church.
David Ewart of Capilano United Church, a long-established neighbourhood congregation, did the analysis recently as part of a continuing interest in the way churches and denominations grow, develop or decline.
Ewart applied projection analysis to try to see where national denominational statistics might be if trends of the last 10 or 15 years continued until 2025. That would be the year that marks a century since the United Church was formed out of a merger of the Methodists, the Congregationalists and a substantial proportion of Canadian Presbyterians.
While Ewart told CC.com the project took quite a bit of time, it was made relatively simple because his software adapted well to the electronic data he received the statistics from Tom Broadhurst, the UCC data chief.
Noted Ewart: “Rates of participation by Canadians in the UCC — as shown by membership, baptisms, weddings and funerals — have all shown steady decline since at least the mid-1960s. [The exception was] a temporary increase from 1980-1990, as the Baby Boom generation returned with their children.”
The chart indicating UCC membership as a percentage of Canada’s population from 1925 to 2008, for example, showed steady decline from about 6.25 percent to about 1.5 percent. If the trend of the past 15 years continues, church membership will be less than one percent of the nation’s population.
Taking baptism (of children) figures from 1962 to the present, as a percentage of Canadian births, that decline, too, was steady — except for an uptick around 1980. Theoretically speaking, if that trend continues, there will be no children baptized in the United Church within five years.
While Ewart’s project was a matter of personal interest and not commissioned by any denominational body, the pastor saw it as producing information which he believes would be “helpful to church leaders in that it suggests possible changes in Canadian culture as a whole.”
Ewart’s analysis and some of the denominational backup data has been posted to the UCC’s British Columbia Conference website, bc.united-church.ca, under the heading ‘Statistics for Lent.’
It summarizes the analysis with the suggestion that, by 2025 – or sooner in some cases – the average United Church will have:
- 52 financially-supporting households.
- zero new members received.
- zero new members in Sunday school.
- zero baptisms (all ages).
- Zero weddings.
- Four funerals.
Ewart said that “it is pretty tough to be a minister in a mainline church and not see these trends.”
And he pointed out as well, that continent-wide trends for evangelical churches are heading in similar directions, although not at the same rapid pace.