A loyal reader of this column often contacts me to ask why I continue to write about the decline of organized Christianity in Canada.
The answer is simple: because it is — as Statistics Canada’s latest report on religion in Canada clearly shows.
The report, based on the 2021 census, found that 53.3% of Canadians identified as Christian. This figure is down from 67.3% in 2011 and 77.1% in 2001.
Of those who identify as Christian, approximately 30% are Catholic (up from 39% in 2011), 3.3% are involved in the United Church (6.1%), 3.1% are Anglican (5%) , 0.9% are Lutheran (1.4%), 0.8% are Presbyterian (1.4%), 1.2% are Baptist (1.9%) and 1.1% are Pentecostal (1.5 %). The number of Canadians identifying as Orthodox Christians was the same in 2021 as in 2011, at 1.7%.
“Other Christian” – the group into which Statistics Canada groups all other self-reported faiths – fell from 9.2% to 11.2%.
Meanwhile, 34.6% of Canadians reported having no religious affiliation — the so-called “none,” up from 16.5% in 2001 and 23.9% in 2011.
Meanwhile, the proportion of the Canadian population who reported being Muslim, Hindu or Sikh more than doubled from 2001 to 2021. The Muslim community grew from 2% to 4.9%; Hindus went from 1% to 2.3%; and Sikhs increased from 0.9% to 2.1%. Much of this growth is due to immigration.
Here in Manitoba, 54.2% of residents identified as Christian, while 36.7% said they had no religious affiliation, which is slightly above the national average.
In the province, 21% of Manitobans identify as Catholic (compared to 26.4% in 2011), 5.8% belong to the United Church (11.1%), 3.3% are Anglican (5.7%) , 2.1% are Lutheran. (3.5%), Presbyterians represent 0.4% (0.8%), Baptists 1.1% (1.7%) and Pentecostals 1.6% (1.9%). “Other Christian” is at 17.5% (against 16.1%).
In Saskatchewan, 56.3% of the population reported having a Christian religion and 36.6% reported having no religious affiliation. Meanwhile, in Alberta – which we tend to think of as a conservative Bible belt – 48.1% of people call themselves Christians, while 40.1% said they are “none”.
While the decline of Christianity comes as no surprise to scholars who study religion in Canada, when I spoke to some of them recently, they expressed surprise at the rapid and significant increase in the number of ‘no’s. .
Why so fast? It’s a good question; the researchers are eager to dig into the data to find out more.
There are theories. Maybe some of the no’s are people who were culturally religious but never attended worship services anyway. In this census, they just decided to make it official.
Others may have decided to turn away from organized religion because of the church’s involvement in the residential school system, its involvement in sex scandals, or the views and treatment of the LGBTQ2+ community.
It could also be due to the earlier decline in religious interest among baby boomers. If they didn’t take their kids to church, odds are those kids wouldn’t be going to church as adults either – and neither would their kids.
A few notes on the report:
First, given that the census was taken last year when the pandemic was at its peak and in-person attendance at religious services was down, it’s unclear how that plays into the results. Did the break cause some people to reassess their religious commitments and decide that they weren’t interested in religion at all, after all? Maybe.
Second, it is important to note once again that people who call themselves “nones” are not necessarily atheists or agnostics, although such people are included in the category. Some consider themselves to be very spiritual; they are simply not interested in identifying with a religious group.
Third, the results don’t measure attendance, just identification. Despite the statistics, some churches may actually increase in number.
In the end, one thing is clear: organized Christianity is on the decline in Canada. I hope even my faithful reader friend can recognize it.
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John Longhurst has been writing for the Winnipeg Faith Pages since 2003. He also writes for the Religion News Service in the US and blogs about media, marketing and communications at Making the News.
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