Church for a new generation? Large Canadian churches are growing, reaching young families, drawing 1 of every 8 Protestant churchgoers

Free Report and Webinar to Highlight Findings

On any given weekend, an estimated 300,000 people across Canada participate in the kind of church that draws 1,000 or more in weekly attendance. That’s about 1 of 8 people who went to a Protestant church. Even in cities where sizable portions of the population check “no religion” on their household surveys, these predominantly evangelical congregations are growing, reaching out, and focused on serving children and youth.

These breakthrough discoveries come from a first-ever effort to conduct a national study of the country’s largest-attendance churches, an initiative sponsored by a large coalition of Canadian scholars and evangelical ministries, along with the U.S.-based Leadership Network, which does similar research in its country.

The 12-page, illustrated executive summary is available to download free at leadnet.org/Canada courtesy of two sponsors, D.L. Deeks Insurance Services, Inc. (deeksinsurance.ca) and Pushpay (pushpay.com).

Major findings include:

  • Canada’s largest Protestant churches range from 1,000 to almost 10,000 in weekly worship attendance.
  • The vast majority (79%) report that they have grown over the last 5 years.
  • Church leaders say that almost a third (29%) of the growth comes either as new to the Christian faith (16%) or renewed in faith (13%) as they have returned to Christian belief/involvement after dropping away from a childhood or earlier-in-life participation in Christianity.
  • Just over half (55%) have birthed or planted another separate congregation in the last 10 years, and another 16% are considering it.
  • Four out of 10 (40%) respondents describe their church as multisite, meaning that they are one church but in two or more different geographic locations.
  • These congregations are also racially diverse. In terms of ethnicity, if multiethnic is defined as a church with no more than 80% of one race, then 62% of large Canadian churches are multiethnic.
  • When asked what they see as the primary advantage of large churches, survey participants selected most the “ability to provide an enhanced quality of ministry.” This choice was followed by “opportunity to minister to a diverse range of people” and “ability to offer diverse forms of ministry.”
  • When asked what has led to such growth in these large churches, many (55%) include “children’s and/or youth ministry” as a factor in growth, with just over half (51%) affirming “a strong vision and mission” often personified by “the passion and personality of our senior leader/pastor” (43%). Another commonly noted factor (35%) is an “emphasis on worship/music.”
  • A large percent (83%) say they are “somewhat” or “very” effective in carrying out evangelism, as people invite others to consider faith in Jesus Christ.
  • The top-named strategies for evangelism begin with “children’s/family/youth ministries that positively impact the parents.” This is followed by “Alpha Course,” a discussion-based approach to core questions about practical topics like faith, the after-life, suffering, and the Holy Spirit.

“The team of co-researchers acted as a true partnership,” says Dr. Warren Bird, lead researcher. “Each person suggested churches we might contact, contributed survey questions and critiqued drafts of the survey and report. Many will be writing follow-up specific-topic reports based on further analysis of the findings.”

Free webinar (space limited) with live Q&A on October 21, 2015 with recorded version available after that date. See leadnet.org/canada for details.

To dialogue with the research team, contact any of the people involved: Warren Bird, Ph.D., Leadership Network, warren.bird@leadnet.org, 845-368-4379 (Lead Researcher); also Reginald W. Bibby, Ph.D., University of Lethbridge, bibby@uleth.ca, 403-329-2558; Peter Beyer, Ph.D., University of Ottawa, pbeyer@uottawa.ca, 613-562-5800 (1178); Mark Chapman, Ph.D., Tyndale University College & Seminary, mchapman@tyndale.ca, 416-226-6620 ext. 2208; Rick Hiemstra, The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, hiemstrar@efc-canada.com, 613-233-9868 x332; Lorne Hunter, Outreach Canada Ministries, lhunter@outreach.ca, 604-952-0050 ext. 300; Stephen McMullin, Ph.D., Acadia University, stephen.mcmullin@acadiau.ca, 902-585-2210; Sam Reimer, Ph.D., Crandall University, Sam.Reimer@crandallu.ca, 506-858-8970 ext: 139; Joel Thiessen, Ph.D., Ambrose University, jathiessen@ambrose.edu, 403-410-2000 ext.2979; Peter Schuurman, Ph.D. candidate, University of Waterloo, pschuurm@icloud.com, 519-822-7177; Shaila Visser, Alpha Ministries Canada, shailavisser@alphacanada.org, 604 304 2082 ext. 123; and Michael Wilkinson, Ph.D., Trinity Western University, michael.wilkinson@twu.ca, 604-888-7511 ext 3832.

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About Leadership Network: Based in Dallas, Texas, Leadership Network is a nonprofit public charity that fosters innovation movements that activate the church to greater impact through a variety of programs and resources. For more on Leadership Network, see www.leadnet.org.