Outreach Canada Website
/ Thursday, August 21, 2014
Abbotsford Church Research Project
December 2013-March 2014
Abbotsford, British Columbia has long been considered the “Bible Belt of BC.” In an era where not only is church attendance in decline, but churches are also closing their doors, does this nickname still ring true?
The city of Abbotsford is a large city, and it is growing. Abbotsford’s population has increased by 13,504 people, or 10.74%, from 125,692 to 139,196 between 2003 and 2013.[i]
Based on these stats, we can see that the city of Abbotsford is growing. But, is the church growing with it? Currently, there are a total of 95 churches within the city of Abbotsford. Therefore, there is one church for every 1,495 people. Sixty-four of these churches provided us with attendance statistics for 2003 and 2013.
In 2003, the total worship service attendance of the responding churches was 17,860. These numbers reflect an average of 279.06 people per church. If we assume that the 31 non-responding churches had the same average worship attendance in 2003, we can project total worship attendance in all Christian churches to be 26,511. According to the 2001 Census, the total population that identified themselves as being Christian was 61.4%. If we assumed that only those who affiliated themselves with a Christian tradition attended church, the percentage of those that identified themselves as being Christian and regularly attended church in 2003 would be approximately 37.93%.[ii] Out of the total population of the city of Abbotsford, just 21.09% regularly attended church in 2003.
In 2013, the total worship attendance of the responding churches in was 16,489. These numbers reflect an average of 257.64 people per church. If we assume that the 31 non responding churches had the same average worship attendance in 2013, we can project total worship attendance in all Christian churches to be 24,476. According to the 2011 National Household Survey, the total population that identified themselves as being Christian was 49.7%. %. If we assumed that only those who affiliated themselves with a Christian tradition attended church, the percentage of those that identified themselves as being Christian and regularly attended church in 2013 would be approximately 37.62%.[iii] Out of the total population of the city of Abbotsford, just 17.58% attended church in 2013.
From 2001-2013 the population of Abbotsford has drastically increased, while the population of Christians in Abbotsford has decreased. The population that has identified itself as having no religious affiliation has increased by 3.2% per year from 2001-2011, thus, comprising 25.47% of the population of Abbotsford. In contrast to Abbotsford’s population increase of 10.74%, the population of those that identify themselves as being Christian has decreased by 11.7%. That is a decrease of 4,825 people or of 0.7% per year. While the percentage of Christians who regularly attend church has remained about the same, the percentage of the population that regularly attended church in 2013 has declined by 3.5% since 2003, or 0.8% per year. That means that in the last decade, the number of people regularly attending worship services has declined by 2,035 attendees. If the Christian churches in Abbotsford were to have just kept pace with population growth the number of church attendees should have been 29,370, compared to the actual 2013 number of 24,476. This is a difference of 4,894 attendees. This difference should be of concern for the Christian church in Abbotsford.
Of note is that the decrease in the Christian population of Abbotsford (4,825) is similar to the number of people needed (4,894) to maintain worship attendance numbers for Christian churches in 2013.
Some traditions have been more affected by the rapid decline in church attendance than others. For instance, the Lutherans and Presbyterians have, on average, seen a decline of -4.0% in attendance between 2003-2013. Other churches, such as the Anglican Church and the United Church, saw a decline in affiliation of 4% and 4.9% annually, respectively, from 2001-2011. The Pentecostals, on the other hand, have seen an increase in affiliation of 3.2% from 2001-2011, and an increase in attendance of 3.5% from 2003-2013. While these numbers may be discouraging, there is still hope for the church in Abbotsford.
Some might question Abbotsford’s nickname as the “Bible Belt of BC” in today’s post-modern, secularist society. Yet, even today approximately half of the population of Abbotsford identifies themselves as being Christian. Therefore, even though church attendance and the Christian population are in decline in Abbotsford, there is still something that is keeping the Bible in the belt.
[i] Population data from the 2001 Census and the 2011 National Household Survey (NHS) is used for Religious Affiliation comparisons.
[ii] We recognize that there are people who attend church, but may not be affiliated with a Christian tradition.