Sunday, March 09, 2008

Church Going Behaviour - Canada Style

In following up the previous post on the Barna research I found some research by Reginald Bibby that relates specifically to Canada. His findings line up with those of Barna but are close to my estimates. He wrote a great paper covering this information and in it he questions why there is this perception that religion and church attendance is in freefall when it is actually increasing. The specifics? Four out of five Canadians (78%) identify themselves as Christian and thirty four percent of Canadians attend church at least once a month (25% at least once a week!) But what does the press say? He gives these recent examples from Canadian media outlets.

During the period spanning the Thursday before Easter in 2007 through the Monday after, the country’s number one national newspaper, the Globe and Mail, ran 44 items that included the word “Easter.” During the five-day period, only seven had a religious theme with only one what could be described as a positive and current portrayal of faith – the Pope’s Easter mass in Rome. The dearth of religious material in the paper was all the more puzzling in light of the results of its own on-line poll conducted over Easter. The paper asked the question, “Does the Easter holiday hold religious meaning for you or is it just another day off?” Some 4,000 of the paper’s readers responded – and no less than 80% said it holds religious meaning.

On Easter Sunday, 2007, the most-watched evening news program on national television featured only one religious item – the Pope’s mass in Rome. No Canadian angle or Canadian content was included.

Over the Christmas season in 2006, one of Canada’s two national newspapers, The National Post, ran a weeklong series of articles on the state of Christianity in the country. The lead-in to each of the articles started with the line, “With interest in spirituality on the rise and church attendance in freefall…” (Brean 2006). No data were provided to document the alleged “freefall.” Actually, the paper used Bibby's most recent findings on beliefs and spirituality – but took a pass on his findings showing a post-90s increase in attendance.

A year earlier at the same time of the year, a widely used article produced by the national news service, Canadian Press, announced that, in 2006, “Pastors and priests face ever more empty pews” (Shackleton 2005). The documentation consisted of observations from select opinion leaders, including best-selling critic of Christian churches, theology, and scriptural interpretation, Tom Harpur. In a column of his own, Harpur (2003) has written, “The current decline [in church attendance] is a drop in the bucket compared with what’s coming. …all is far from well in Canada’s churches. It’s the role of false prophecy to cry otherwise.”

Together, these findings on religion in Canada can be summed up as follows.
• There are some 30,000 religious organizations in place – second by a small margin only to the number found in the sports and recreation sector.
• They have more participants than any other kind of organization – even pushing sports and recreation into second place.
• They have a core of 25% of the national population who attend their services every week, 35% every month, and about 45% in a six-month period.
• A total of 84% of the population continues to identify with the traditions they represent.
• Two in three people who are not highly involved are open to greater involvement if they can find that religious groups touch their lives in significant ways. If that adds up to a bleak situation, one has to wonder what the Golden Age of religion in Canada must have looked like (Bibby 2006:194).

On of the reasons there is perception of secularism in Canada is because there "is a subculture of people, especially individuals in the humanities and social sciences. “While its members are relatively thin on the ground,” he says of the subculture, “they are very influential, as they control the institutions that provide the ‘official’ definitions of reality" notably, education, the media, and the legal system. “What we have here is a globalized elite culture,” writes Berger, who can easily fall into the misconception that their views about religion reflect those of their respective populaces. This, he says, is “of course… a big mistake.”

A couple of charts help visualize this data. The first is a graph of monthly plus attenders (those who attend once a month or more) and weekly plus attenders (who attend weekly or more). This graph shows that attendance has been increasing over the past five years.

The second chart shows the percentage of those that identify themselves as belonging to various religious groups and denominations. Here again we see that 78% of Canadians identify themselves as Christian.

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