At the early August meeting of the Association for the Sociology of Religion meeting in Toronto that RW attended, there was a special session on the differences between religion in Canada and the U.S. Specialists documented how the mainline churches have decreased faster and the evangelicals have grown slower in Canada than in the U.S.
Sociologist Reginald Bibby suggested that the one source of future growth in Canada will be in the new ethnic immigrants who are largely Christian. An in-depth report on the Chinese and other new immigrants in Canada’s evangelical magazine Faith Today (July/August) suggests that the new ethnic Christians may have a limited impact on Canadian Christianity. The tendency of these immigrants and even their children is to form their own churches with little contact with other Christians.
There are more than 1,200 “ethnic” churches in Canada, and “denominations across the board are reporting a steady rise in numbers of ethnic member congregations,” writes Rob Clements. Even when most members speak English, the trend is to establish, for instance, Chinese English-speaking congregations rather than to join existing white congregations. These churches, unintentionally or intentionally, are following the “homogenous” growth principle — that congregations grow best when their members are culturally alike.
These ethnic churches are growing in evangelical as well as mainline denominations. In fact, 27 percent of the evangelical Christian and Missionary Alliance’s (C&MA) membership are non-anglophone, non-Caucasian congregations spanning 14 different languages. It is almost the case that for every Caucasian church that is planted, two ethnic churches are started in the C&MA.
Canadian church leaders are not happy with this situation, claiming that it reflects the balkanization and conflict based on ethnicity in wider Canadian society. Immigrant church leaders, however, say that their churches help distinguish Christianity from “white culture.”
(Faith Today, M.I.P. Box 3745, Markham, ON L3R 0Y4 Canada)