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What is happening to our churches?

Bill Fox

Bill Fox

By Bill Fox/Columnist

My wife and I attend Church in several different communities, and I wonder what is happening to the attendance?

I read recently that a national charity that works to save old buildings estimates that 9,000 religious spaces in Canada will be lost in the next decade, roughly a third of all faith-owned buildings in the country. I find this statistic very disturbing.

Friends from other denominations also see the same trends in that none of the main line Religions seem to be attracting young people.

My wife and I love to attend Mass at Our Lady of Peace Church in Niagara Falls whenever we can. While the priest, in our view, is phenomenal and always has a great inspirational message, even there attendance is dropping.

He will often include himself in challenging us to work on improving our spirituality. When we were there recently, he mentioned that knowledge doesn’t necessarily bring on wisdom. We older folks thought back to our old Baltimore Catechism, where we had to memorize all these facts about our Faith. While we may have done well memorizing, it did not necessarily make us better Christians or any wiser.

There are five characteristics about humans in which we grow and develop: physically, emotionally, socially, intellectually and spiritually. I think we continue to grow and develop in all of these areas except perhaps for spiritual.

Many folks work out at the gym or simply exercise or watch their eating habits to nurture their physical growth. As we mature, we emotionally don’t react the way we used to when we were younger. Emotionally certain individuals still have resentments when things don’t go their way or they get criticized, and they lash out emotionally in an effort to rectify the situation as they see it, including at times the President of the USA.

Socially, many of us are now comfortable in large gatherings, and even enjoy getting together and sharing good times with friends and family, and have no need to impress but can just genuinely be themselves. Intellectually with our mass media, etc. we continue to learn things about our communities, country, world, nature, outer space, and so much more. But I believe we all need to work on our spirituality…not just as we may be approaching the end of our time here on earth.

Here are some interesting statistics I discovered:

– Only two in 10 Americans under 30 believe attending a church is important or worthwhile (an all-time low).

-59% of millennials raised in a church have dropped out.

-35% of millennials have an anti-church stance, believing the church does more harm than good.

What effect will it have on many neighbourhoods when multiple churches close?

It’s not just beautiful, historic buildings that will be lost, but also the sense of community provided by worship spaces. Churches have not just been for Sunday, but for weddings

and funerals, community programmes such as boy scouts, girl guides, women and men’s service meetings, programmes for the homeless and community dances, retirement celebrations, etc. The places of faith really have been, for generations, centres of so much community life.

With fewer people in the pews, and less money in the coffers, rising maintenance costs have overwhelmed many congregations. In Montreal, Anglican pastor Graham Singh has helped start a new charity that will convert 100 historic church buildings in Quebec into community hubs. Singh said it’s a way for churches to revitalize and combat “loneliness and isolation” in the community. His Church rents out its space to a group that helps refugees and to Alcoholics Anonymous to help fund renovations on things like a leaky roof. His Church has also partnered with a circus-cabaret show, Le Monastère, to let acrobats swing from the rafters and help pay the bills. Maybe one day they will host an event in this Church that will be so interesting and important that people will fill all the seats, and will literally be hanging from the rafters to watch.

To my way of thinking this trend is a potential community crisis and not just about raising money to keep Churches open. I welcome your views at