Canadian Mennonite
Volume 10, No. 18
September 18, 2006


Facing up to our changing country

The country around us is going through major changes in age, childbearing and immigration. Within the next decade Canada is going to become a country with fewer children, more seniors and a much larger percentage of immigrants from non-European backgrounds.

If it seems like there are fewer children up front at your congregation, one reason is there really are fewer children around, period—and there will be even less in future years if you aren’t living in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver or in northern Canada. On the other hand, there are also a growing group of people in their 50s and 60s in our churches that are healthier, wealthier and more educated than their parents were a generation ago.

“By 2015, the number of elderly [65 or older] will outnumber the number of children [those under 15]. This is unprecedented in Canadian history,” said Hilda Hildebrand of Bethel Mennonite Church, Winnipeg, at a seminar she presented on demographic trends at the recent MC Canada national assembly. “If we are not careful, we are on the way to being a seniors support centre.”

Overall, Canada’s birth rate is now 1.5 children per woman, well below the 2.1 replacement rate to keep the population from shrinking. We have now been at less than the replacement rate for more than 30 years and birth rates are particularly low among families of European descent. About two-thirds of our total population growth is now due to immigration.

Further, without taking anything away from the importance of seeking to bring all those around us into our faith communities, the raising up of children within the church has a huge impact on who is there to carry on the work of the kingdom in the following generation. For example, Canadian sociologist Reginald Bibby points out that most of the growth of non-Christian faiths in Canada is due to immigration and higher birth rates among those already of these faiths, not because of conversions.

A hard truth is that the number of Mennonites in Canada dropped from 208,000 in 1991 to 191,500 in 2001, a decrease of 16,500 (or 8 percent) in 10 years. I wasn’t able to find any figures on the birth rate among Mennonites specifically, but our overall demographic makeup matches the parts of Canadian society that are dropping in numbers the fastest due to low birth rates. Urbanization is also having its effect on many Mennonite churches. At a basic level, our churches’ ability to draw more people—whether from internal or external growth—into our faith communities depends on people being “there” in the first place.

Hildebrand stated that two tasks the church must succeed at in the future were unloosing the gifts and skills of its growing group of seniors and attracting immigrants.

As of 2001, just 2 percent of Canadian Mennonites were from a visible minority (for example, of Asian, African, Arab or Latin American origin). We need to understand the cultures of, and be effective in ministry to, Canadian newcomers, especially the largest current group that is from China. In the future, Chinese migration looks likely to slow, as India and Africa become the primary sources of immigration. Looking locally, aboriginal Canadians are also growing significantly in numbers. All other groups, despite regional differences, are decreasing in size due to birth rates.

Now, faithfulness to God is not defined by birth rates or numbers, and there is much more to be said about how to keep our churches healthy in coming generations. But demographic change is something we have to look at openly.

—Tim Miller Dyck

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