UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

Reality Check

No new members?

By David Ewart


Does a church with no new members have a future? That’s a question the United Church will face in 2019 if the trend for the past 10 years continues.

People join the church for the first time by making a public profession of their faith during a worship service. Typically, these are teenagers who are being confirmed after attending children and youth programs. The chart shows the baby boom spike after the Second World War, and the smaller echo in the 1980s of the boomers’ children.

The future will not unfold in a straight line, but we are headed toward having no one newly confessing their faith in Jesus Christ.

We live in a culture that is “spiritual but not religious” and more eager to connect online than in person. It is also one where fewer and fewer people are committing time and money to join volunteer membership organizations of any type.


Joining a face-to-face community that has accepted Jesus’ invitation to “Pick up your cross and follow me, for I am the way, the truth and the life” is truly countercultural.

Our mission then, should we choose to accept it, is pretty much to forget everything we have experienced about being the church. Our best days in the future will look nothing like our best days in the past. With fewer people and smaller budgets, we must shift our time and energies from buildings and budgets to identity and mission: Who is Jesus for us? What are we being called to do and be? How are we loving our neighbours?

The future presents us with wonderful opportunities to find new ways to be communities of faith that are authentic, engaging and joyful.

We have a history of giving ourselves for others in need. We don’t have much of a history of evangelizing and raising up new disciples. But if we want to have a future, it looks like we have about five years to change that past.

*Correction: The post 1945 spike was not that of Baby Boomers; it is attributed to their parents and older sisters and brothers. The chart does not reflect that while new members joined in record numbers, folks also left in record numbers. The number of those leaving peaked in 1958 when the first Baby Boomers turned 12. In 1964, the first Baby Boomers turned 18. While they refrained from joining the church, their parents continued to leave. The result was the beginning of the decline in overall membership whose seeds were sown a decade earlier.

Rev. David Ewart is a retired United Church minister in Vancouver.

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!
Promotional Image

Editorials

David Wilson%

Observations

by David Wilson

A perfect send-off

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: My Year of Living Spiritually

by Observer Staff

Anne Bokma left the Dutch Reformed Church as a young adult and eventually became a member of the United Church and then the Unitarian Universalists. Having long explored the "spiritual but not religious" demographic as a writer, she decided to immerse herself in practices — like hiring a soul coach, secular choir-singing and forest bathing — for 12 months to find both enlightenment and entertainment.

Promotional Image

Society

November 2017

Trump country

by David Macfarlane

A northern Alabama county voted almost unanimously for Donald Trump in 2016. One year later, the writer, together with photographer Nigel Dickson, travels there to try to understand why.

Faith

November 2017

Involuntary pilgrim

by David Giuliano

The return of a tumour sets David Giuliano on a path he calls his ‘Camino de Cancer’

Faith

October 2017

A tale of two cancers

by Catherine Gordon

One year after the writer discovered she had breast cancer, her sister in California received the same diagnosis. They both recovered, but their experiences were worlds apart.

Society

November 2017

Trump country

by David Macfarlane

A northern Alabama county voted almost unanimously for Donald Trump in 2016. One year later, the writer, together with photographer Nigel Dickson, travels there to try to understand why.

Faith

November 2017

Involuntary pilgrim

by David Giuliano

The return of a tumour sets David Giuliano on a path he calls his ‘Camino de Cancer’

Faith

November 2017

Grey matter

by Trisha Elliott

Is consciousness just a function of the brain — or something more?

Promotional Image