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Rev. Danielle Ayana James of Edmonton. Photo by David Turnbull

Imagine your church in 2025

You have no illusions about the future. But this year’s Observer survey results show you’re cautiously hopeful and open to change.

By Observer Staff

Congregations that are more outward looking, more diverse and less attached to their buildings. Leaders who are well trained, but not necessarily born and bred in the United Church. A membership that values its connection to the denomination more than the denomination may realize.

Welcome to the results of the 2013 Observer Reader Survey. Last spring, we asked you to think ahead a dozen years and imagine your congregation in 2025, the year The United Church of Canada turns 100. We wanted to contrast what you wish for your church with what you think might actually happen. The following pages are devoted to exploring and interpreting connections and disconnections on five fronts: membership, buildings, worship, leadership and denominational identity.

Why these questions now? Given the challenges of sustaining a church with an aging membership in an increasingly secular country, they simply need to be asked. But the fact that the United Church has begun a formal process of at least partly reinventing itself makes questions like these especially apt. The more United Church people think about the church’s future, the more informed their future-shaping decisions will be.

The results you see in the stories and tables that follow are gleaned from 1,107 professionally tabulated responses received by mail or online in April and analyzed by the Toronto market research firm Jane Armstrong Research Associates. The quotes interspersed throughout the text come from respondents who took the time to reflect a little deeper on some of the questions. Toronto photographer David Turnbull shot the accompanying photographs last spring at the 2013 Worship Matters conference in Saskatoon. Turnbull and The Observer’s May Warren asked participants to think about their dreams for the church and write them down on a speech-bubble chalkboard. The pictures themselves tell part of the story.

I really didn’t know what to expect from this exercise. Frankly, I was a little concerned it would be doom and gloom — there’s a fair amount of worry around the water cooler these days. But overall, I was encouraged to detect a note of cautious optimism in your responses. That doesn’t mean you’re confident that the way things have always been will be the way things will always be. Rather, I sense the United Church is ready and willing to embrace change faithfully and creatively. If there’s one take-away, it’s this: don’t underestimate yourself or your neighbours. Build on your strengths. Use your imagination.

—David Wilson, editor

Click here to read the 2013 Observer Reader Survey questions

Click here to read the 2013 Observer Reader Survey results

 Click here to read the 2013 Observer Reader Survey Press Release

About those empty pews 

Rethinking the real estate

Worship that connects

Quality leaders, inspired supporters

United to the core

ObserverDocs: Imagine Your Church in 2025
Last spring, The Observer asked United Church members to share their dreams for the church. Here's what some of the participants at the 2013 Worship Matters conference in Saskatoon had to say.

Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
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