Bear with me this one more week as I pause and examine the responses of Canadians to the 2001 census regarding religious affiliation.
Some of you have seen “the numbers” before but either don’t understand what they mean or find such discussions irrelevant to everyday lift and ministry.
Many in Canadian life see their faith as a form of social and cultural identity, not necessarily a personal faith journey. A cultural or social faith can be just as true of a Baptist as it could be of a Roman Catholic. Some traditions cultivate in their countries a sense of belonging better than most (especially, like the Mennonites in the area of hospitality or the church as “family”). It is, however, the non-Christian groups like Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs that are innumerably more successful at giving their children a community identity. The author of Angela’s Ashes Frank McCourt once remarked that he felt a stronger identification with his Catholicism than his Irishness. We need to work harder at welcoming children into our churches (without offering them a faith they are in no position to receive). Our anxiety over offering children and the young “a faith by proxy” has resulted in many children not feeling welcomed at all.
Look at the “median age” column (see last week for “median age” definition) and notice that Baptists (all five groups) have a high man age (39,3 – akin to the fast fading numbers groups) compared to the Pentecostals 33.5, Muslims 28.1, Sikhs 29.7 and “other Christians” 30.2. We need to attend to our children and youth to see God’s presence in a balanced age blend in our churches.
Baptists (Baptist Union of Western Canada, North American Baptists, General Conference of Baptists, Southern Baptists of Canada and Fellowship of Evangelical Baptists) were one of the few Protestant groups that beat the population growth in the 1990’s: 10.0 versus 9.8%. While that’s encouraging in the larger sense, we have only one new church in Calgary for 400,000 new people over the last quarter century.
It is good to see who our neighbours are. Good to understand that Pagans represent 0.1%of the country. Interesting to see how few people identify with the significant churches of the Salvation Army (line 23, does this look like an Income Tax Form?), Evangelical Missionary Church (know any large churches in Calgary?) or the Alliance Church, which grew by only 11.9% and have far fewer folks who self describe as Alliance (66,000) than obviously attend some of their massive churches.
I’ll end with this. A recent study (Reg Bibby) noted that approximately 77% of Canadians felt comfortable with the idea of being in a Baptist church. You know the kind of church that actually takes you through the three historic stages of entering a church (not to be confused with initiation); belonging (to community), believing (in Jesus) and behaving (as a disciple). 75% say they would feel comfortable in our great diversity of churches… so why, as you look at the numbers, do only 2.5% actually declare this Baptist family their home? The difference between the two numbers is 74.5%… go figure.