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!

Interviews

Courtesy of Pixabay

Why this woman is leaving the Catholic Church in her 60s

by Angela Mombourquette

After a lifetime devoted to Catholicism, a Nova Scotia teacher is settling in with the United Church of Canada. Here, she explains why.

Promotional Image

Editorials

Jocelyn Bell%

Observations: It’s a long road toward full equality for women

by Jocelyn Bell

'It’s a wonder that we continue to see male ministers as normative and attach shame to female ministers’ biology and sexuality.'

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: Playing by Heart

by Observer Staff

United Church music director Kara Shaw was born prematurely, became almost totally blind and was later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Today, the 28-year-old showcases her unique musical ability, performing piano on local and national stages.

Promotional Image

Faith

May 2018

Toronto church builds interfaith friendship

by Vivien Fellegi

Faith

May 2018

This parent found no support for her autistic daughter — and decided to change that

by Kieran Delamont

Suzanne Allen talks about raising a daughter on the autism spectrum and bringing all autistic girls together

Faith

May 2018

Church retreat helps first responders with PTSD

by Joe Martelle

Interviews

May 2018

Why this woman is leaving the Catholic Church in her 60s

by Angela Mombourquette

After a lifetime devoted to Catholicism, a Nova Scotia teacher is settling in with the United Church of Canada. Here, she explains why.

Ethics

May 2018

Pregnant in the pulpit

by Trisha Elliott

Ministers who take a maternity leave still face discrimination in their own congregations

Interviews

May 2018

The two words Rev. Cheri DiNovo wants to hear from the United Church

by Alex Mlynek

The Toronto minister talks about her disappointment over the church’s silence when she officiated the country’s first legalized same-sex marriage 17 years ago – and why she wants an apology.

Promotional Image