More United churches amalgamated last year than in 2021, evidence of both a denomination in decline and the will to survive. Statistics from The United Church of Canada’s national office show that there were 10 pastoral charge amalgamations in 2022, up from five in 2021. Also in 2022, 16 congregations within a pastoral charge amalgamated, as opposed to six in 2021.
But it is too soon to say if the 2022 jump represents a trend. From 2012 to 2020, there were an average of nine congregational and nine pastoral charge amalgamations each year. And in 2018, there were 21 congregational and 11 pastoral charge amalgamations.
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Like many United churches, Freelton (Ont.) United had a predominantly older congregation and relied on fundraising to support its operations. But the COVID-19 pandemic left the church in a precarious financial situation. After reviewing their 2021 budget, church leaders discovered they would run out of funds within roughly six months and were forced to consider alternative options.
“We looked at just walking away from the church, a planned closing or an amalgamation,” Rev. Will Wheeler says. “We looked at the surrounding churches and in the end decided that we would invite our sister church, Strabane United Church, to consider amalgamating.”
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According to Rev. David Ewart, a church analyst in Vancouver, amalgamations often involve congregations uniting to delay their decline rather than addressing the root causes of falling numbers.
“A church that has no experience or plan or valuing of attracting new participants has no future,” he says.
He suggests that newly amalgamated faith communities determine what they have to offer. Wheeler says, “We honestly felt that amalgamation was the best way to honour the ancestors of the church, to safeguard our legacy and move forward into our next chapter of ministry to Christ and as a community of faith.”
Wheeler has some advice for churches that are struggling to keep afloat: “Don’t keep the doors open for the sake of keeping the doors open. Trust in God and move forward in faith.”
Avil Beckford is the founder of The Invisible Mentor, The Art of Learning Leadership Academy and The One Problem podcast. She’s the author of Leadership Reading: Spilling the Tea on How Top Leaders Read. Beckford lives in Toronto.
This article first appeared in Broadview’s July/August 2023 issue with the title “New Stats Show 2022 Bump in Amalgamations.”
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