Driver of Change

Demographic Shifts

Overview

Demographic changes are tangible insights which church leaders should understand and consider, when reflecting on how their church can continue to live into the mission they are called to.

Demographic shifts refer to changes in the composition and characteristics of a population over time. The demographic changes within the Church are well documented throughout history, as the work of religious sociologists has helped to track the changes experienced within the Canadian and international Church. These changes are typically observed in key demographic factors such as age, gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, geographic distribution, and other relevant attributes.

Some examples of demographic shifts include:

  • Aging population: There is an increasing proportion of older adults relative to younger age groups.
  • Urbanization: A shift in population from rural areas to urban areas.
  • Migration patterns: Changes in the movement of people across regions or countries can result in demographic shifts.
  • Ethnic and racial diversity: Changes in the racial and ethnic composition of a population can occur due to migration, naturalization, and intermarriage.

Understanding global and local demographic trends supports churches and Christian leaders to engage in contextually informed, theological reflection which helps churches consider the opportunities and needs of their congregation and local community. Understanding these trends will help Christian leaders anticipate and respond to changes in population dynamics and consider the implications this has for churches and Christian organizations.

Macro Trends

Globalization

Trend Description
Globalization could be considered an entire Driver of Change unto itself. This trend refers to the widespread interconnectedness and interaction of individuals across the world. This trend is relevant to every sector and aspect of our lives as it involves the exchange of ideas, practices, resources, and people, creating a highly connected globally informed Canadian society. This is happening within the church as networks of believers from across the world can engage with one another.

Reflective Question
What impact could the church experience when Christians, reflecting the diversity of cultures and contexts in which Christianity is practiced, learn from and interact with one another?

Globalization

Increased Immigration

Increased Immigration

Trend Description
Trend refers to the rise in the movement of people across borders to settle in a new country. This demographic shift has far-reaching implications, influencing social, economic, and cultural landscapes as diverse groups contribute to and shape the fabric of their adopted societies.

Reflective Question
In the context of a growing culturally diverse population, how can our faith community embody principles of hospitality, compassion, and social justice to embrace and support newcomers, recognizing the inherent dignity of each individual as they contribute to the richness of our shared human experience?

Increasing culturally diverse population

Increasing culturally diverse population

Trend Description
The trend of an increasing culturally diverse population refers to the rising presence of people from various cultural backgrounds within a given society. This demographic shift is characterized by a mix of ethnicities, languages, religions, and traditions, contributing to a richer and more diverse social fabric.

Reflective Question
How can churches and church leaders grow more aware and engaged in discussion about multiculturalism and what this means for the church?

Global Economics

Trend Description
This refers to the growing interdependence among economies worldwide. It involves the exchange of goods, services, and capital across borders, shaping economic policies and impacting the well-being of nations on a global scale.

Reflective Question
How do we address economic disparities, fostering a sense of unity and support within our faith community while staying true to our spiritual principles?

Global Economics

Increased Economic Disparity

Increased Economic Disparity

Trend Description
A significant economic divide exists, and as highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic this divide is only increasing. This economic divide fosters inequality and contributes to environmental, health, and societal problems.

Reflective Question
How does the church provide not only spiritually for congregants, but also consider the increased financial challenges faced by individuals within the congregation?

Micro Trends

Millennials in Workforce

Trend Description
Millennials now represent the largest within the workforce. This is important for churches when considering finances and ongoing sustainability.

Reflective Question
How can Christian leaders adapt their leadership approach to effectively engage and support millennials in the workforce?

Millennials in Workforce

Increased Mobilization

Trend Description
In a highly connected, global, and digital world the willingness of individuals to move for work, school, or for personal leisure has greatly increased. This is particularly relevant to rural communities, as individuals are likely to move to a larger urban center.

Reflective Question
With the declining likelihood of lifelong congregation members, how can churches invest in their people and equip and empower them in their faith?

Increased Mobilization

Loss of ‘sense of place’

Trend Description
Trend refers to the diminishing connection individuals have with their physical surroundings and local environments. This phenomenon is characterized by factors such as increased mobility, globalization, and the prevalence of virtual interactions, contributing to a decreased sense of rootedness, community identity, and attachment to specific geographic locations.

Reflective Question
In a society where physical and virtual spaces blend, how can we guide our congregations to cultivate a meaningful sense of belonging and purpose, anchoring their identity in Christ while navigating the changing dynamics of place and community?

Loss of ‘sense of place’

Decline in volunteerism

Trend Description
Across sectors the number of individuals volunteering is declining. This holds relevance to the church as many of the programs and activities of the church are supported by volunteers.

Reflective Question
How can church leaders engage/recruit individuals to participate in church activities in new ways?

Decline in volunteerism

Changing family unit

Trend Description
The composition of the ‘nuclear’ family has shifted. Rates of divorce, common law marriage, and split families have greatly increased. Additionally, the ‘traditional’ experience of having one caregiver working and the other stay at home is also no longer prominent.

Reflective Question
How can the church support single parents?

Changing family unit

Smaller family sizes

Smaller family sizes

Trend Description
The average family size in Canada has dropped from 4.9 (1931) to 2.9 (2021). This pattern does not represent newcomer families to Canada as these families are commonly larger.

Reflective Question
What does this mean for the church and passing on the faith through families?

Ecclesial Trends

Aging Church Population

Trend Description
It is well documented about the aging population of Atlantic Canada; however, this is also represented within many evangelical churches.

Reflective Question
How can church leaders meet the spiritual needs of older congregants, while also inviting younger generations into church

Aging Church Population

Rise of Global South Church

Trend Description
While the decline of Christian belief is present in most of the Global North (Canada, Europe, US), the opposite is occurring in the Global South (Africa, South America, Asia). Christianity is increasingly the dominant worldview and faith tradition in these continents and subsequent countries. 

Reflective Question
What can the Canadian church learn from churches in the Global South? 

Rise of Global South Church

Socially & Theologically Conservative

Socially & Theologically Conservative

Trend Description
Individuals from the Global south generally have a more conservative perspective on social and theological topics then the general Canadian population.

Reflective Question
How can church leaders navigate the intersection of theological conservatism and the diverse backgrounds of immigrants in our congregation?

Diaspora Communities

Diaspora Communities

Trend Description
Globalization has led to the movement of people across borders, resulting in the establishment of diaspora Christian communities in various countries. These communities often retain their cultural and religious identities while adapting to their new contexts.

Reflective Question
How might local churches welcome diaspora communities while continuing to engage members of their communities from Western worldviews?

Declining Denominational Affiliation

Trend Description
The trend refers to people moving away from identifying with specific religious denominations, indicating a shift towards more individualized or locally focused expression of faith.

Reflective Question
What does the trend of declining denominational affiliation suggest for the future role and relevance of denominations in the church?

Declining Denominational Affiliation

Rise of non-denominationalism

Rise of non-denominationalism

Trend Description
Denominational loyalty is decreasing in younger generation. They are indifferent to denominational traditions and lack understanding of the importance of those traditions. Additionally, the mistrust of larger institutions makes non-denominational churches more attractive.

Reflective Question
What is the value and benefit of denominational loyalty? How can these benefits be communicated to new and existing church members?

Rise of charismatic movement

Rise of charismatic movement

Trend Description
Within existing denominations and within new churches, the emphasis and value of the work of the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts is rising.

Reflective Question
How can churches support discernment and wisdom alongside charismatic experiences?

Declining church attendance and affiliation

Trend Description
This is explained further within the megatrend of ‘Post-secular and Individualism’; however, it is an important demographic trend that there has been significant decline in church attendance and those who describe themselves as ‘Christian’. 

Reflective Question
What factors within the church have contributed to the decline of church attendance and affiliation with the Christian faith? 

Declining church attendance and affiliation

Increased Church Building Closures

Trend Description
As one would assume, with the decline of church attendance, congregations are making the difficult decision to sell their church buildings. While this may not mean that church congregations dissolve, it represents a significant event within the life of a congregations. For some faith communities, it does result in the formal church community dispanding.

Reflective Question
How can churches support congregations who have had to sell their church building? 

Increased Church Building Closures

Transfer Growth

Transfer Growth

Trend Description
An interesting trend has been the growth of some churches, however, research highlights that this growth is often not from individuals converting to Christianity, but from transfer from other Christian communities.

Reflective Question
Reflective Question: What strengths/weaknesses are there to consolidating the membership of many small churches into one church?

Decline of church giving

Decline of church giving

Trend Description
As expected with declining church attendance the amount of financial giving has also declined. This is further exacerbated by the aging population and the fact that the Millennial generation is now more financially stable and doesn’t appear to have a cultural expectation of tithing.

Reflective Question
How can churches engage younger generations around the concept of ‘sacrificing giving’?

Generational Differences

Trend Description
Differences across generations are present in all aspects of our lives, whether family, work, or society more broadly. However, as the rate of change has increased, the generation gap has expanded. This results in greater differences in understanding and lived experience between generations.

Reflective Question
How can church leaders support meaningful dialogue and relationship building across generations? 

Generational Differences

Rise of the Millennial

Rise of the Millennial

Trend Description
The Millennial generation (1981-1996) now represents the largest generation in the workforce and were the first generation to engage with the internet as children and hold significantly different values than their parents and grandparents. Understanding the values and perspective of millennials is an important consideration for church leaders, seeking to attract young families and young professionals.

Reflective Question
What are the unique gifts and abilities which Millennials can offer to the Church?

Decline in Biblical literacy

Decline in Biblical literacy

Trend Description
Refers to a reduction in the knowledge, understanding, and familiarity of the Bible among individuals and within Canadian society.

Reflective Question
In what ways can church leaders foster an understanding within congregants about the value of reading and understanding the Bible?

Desire for authenticity and relevance

Desire for authenticity and relevance

Trend Description
A popular trend within younger generations is the increased importance of authenticity and relevance in their religious experience. Millennials and Gen Z need to see both tangible action and relevance to their everyday lives when engaging in religious communities.

Reflective Question
How can church leaders foster authentic and relevant church communities?

Rise of the Nones

Trend Description
This is a well document trend which focuses on the rise of younger people who while holding spiritual belief, do not affiliate with organized religions.

Reflective Question
How can the church engage with individuals who define themselves as ‘spiritual’ but not ‘religious’?

Rise of the Nones

Mistrust of institutional religion

Mistrust of institutional religion

Trend Description
A prominent trend within greater society is the decreased trust in historical institutions such as government, healthcare, education, and religious institutions. This means that the historical authority of the church is declining and in some instances being replaced with mistrust and skepticism.

Reflective Question
How can the church rebuild trust?

Increased Disillusionment

Increased Disillusionment

Trend Description
Like the trend of mistrust of institutional religion, this trend refers to an increase of disappointment and disassociation with the institution of the church. However, this trend is often more personal and is reflective of individuals personal values or experiences.

Reflective Question
How can the church acknowledge and repent for some of the historical and current activities which represent sources of disillusionment?

Reflective Questions

While some of the demographic trends may not be relevant right now, do not dismiss them. Instead take time to consider and reflect what God may be inviting you and your church into to prepare to anticipate potential shifts. Consider these broad reflective questions:

How well do we understand the demographics of our congregation in terms of age, ethnicity, socio-economic background, and life stages?

How might our teachings and ministry strategies need to adapt to effectively reach and engage the diverse members of our congregation and surrounding community?

How does our theological framework inform our approach to engaging with changing demographics in our local and global context?

Recommended Further Reading/Engagement

 Flourishing Congregation Institute (Canadian based data): https://www.flourishingcongregations.org/

Canadian Baptist of Atlantic Canada- Neighbourhood Assessment Workbook: https://cbacyf.ca/naw

Related Horizon Resources

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