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Demographic change isn’t coming. It’s here!

The 154th Regular Session of Synod of the Anglican Diocese of Toronto is held at The Doubletree by Hilton Toronto Airport, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.Canada has reached a milestone. For the first time in its nearly 150 year history, the number of seniors is greater than the number of children. The figures, released by Statistics Canada on September 29, 2015, are glaring: 16% of Canadians were 14 or younger on July 1, while 16.1% were 65 or older. This demographic reality will have a profound impact on everything from health care to retirement planning, from community development to demands on social services. This change in demographics will also impact on the church—in fact it already does.

More and more Anglican congregations are confounded by a stark reality: lots of folks with grey hair are sitting in those pews. How is this societal change impacting the church and what can we learn from it?

Here’s what we know. Those over the age of 65—known as the “Great Generation”—are among our most loyal and generous givers. They comprise my parent’s generation and their values include commitment to church, economic security and the importance of family. They have achieved the middle class dream through hard work and perseverance. For this age demographic, Sunday will always be The Lord’s Day.

The next largest age demographic – and the one spiriting the most immediate change – are those born from 1982-2005, known as “Generation Y.” According to a Pew Research Study from March 2014, Generation Y is less inclined to go to church and more likely to challenge authority. They lead busy lives and love technology.   Higher education is important, but work isn’t an end in itself; work is merely a way to help afford leisure, comfort and style. Generation Y can be the next “great generation” if we can find a way to connect with them.

Millennials—as members of Generation Y are also known – represent a significant challenge to the church. The church is an institution vested in tradition. The pace of change can be glacial; with conflict arising around the use of music, the length of the liturgy, the content of sermons, the hours of service, who can be ordained and who can be married. Issues that challenged previous generations are of little consequence to this new generation (as my 14 year-old tells me on a regular basis). In a June 2013 article, The Economist characterized Millennials as less religious, more liberal, people who support marriage equality, are less endeared to life-long charitable causes, but, they will give generously if there is evidence that their donation will make a difference.

Millennials are already changing the shape of church. They are, as Christian Chiakulas recently wrote in the Huffington Post, interested in churches where they can connect with others, seek volunteer opportunities that are very specific, care about good preaching and programs and want to be taken seriously. When a preacher states an historical fact, many Millennials will fact check the accuracy on their smartphones right in the pew.

We can see how these different values will have a significant impact on church life. Worship centres will be smaller and portable—because fewer will be attending. Volunteer roles and responsibilities will need to be adapted, made shorter, be more fulfilling and less demanding—they don’t want to be worship-only attendees. Religious services will be flexible with start times later in the day or during the week—after all, Millennials are not likely to rise until noon on Sunday anyway. All of this will have a significant impact on stewardship and giving. Next month I’ll discuss how we can begin to do stewardship differently in order to reach out to Generation Y.

Peter Misiaszek

About Peter Misiaszek

Peter Misiaszek, CFRE is the Director of Stewardship Development for the Anglican Diocese of Toronto. He is responsible for parish stewardship education, annual giving, legacies of faith, The Bishop’s Company of Toronto and oversight of The Anglican Diocese of Toronto Foundation. His department has produced numerous parish-based resources in support of stewardship education including: “The Narrative Budget – Writing Your Parish’s Sacred Story” and “A Program to Encourage Joyful Giving in Your Parish.” In 2010, the Diocese of Toronto launched a diocesan-wide major fundraising campaign toward a goal of $50,000,000 – the largest ever fundraising effort in the history of the Anglican Church of Canada. He and his wife Ginette live in Whitby, Ontario with their three young children. He is a member of Christ Memorial Anglican Church in Oshawa.
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2 Responses to Demographic change isn’t coming. It’s here!

  1. Preach and demonstarte the Truth of Jesus and rely on GOD ‘s word for all issues not committees and our pews will be full again- young & old. People no matter what age are looking for Truth- not a watered down gospel……lets start worrying about offending God instead of the fear of “man” and “culture…….good article- God Bless!

  2. I think it is really important that we plan WITH not plan FOR the needs of our parishioners and our communities. It makes no sense to change your service time if you are not in relationship with folks who need that change to be made. No amount of catering to different demographic needs with engage people in your community. There is no substitute for cultivating authentic relationships as the foundation of Christian community.

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