Link to the University of Calgary, Chair of Chrisitian Thought Page. Visit Reg Bibby's own website.His own website “The Renaissance of Religion in Canada:
the Recuperative Powers of Canadian Religious Groups”

Monday, March 7, 2005, 7:30 pm, St. David's United Church, 3303 Capital Hill Cres. NW.

The Rev. Kazuo Iwaasa Lecture in Urban Theology and Mission
with Prof. Reginald Bibby, Department of Sociology, University of Lethbridge
Lecture is Free. Donation appreciated.
Review: Restless Gods Review: Restless Churchs Abstract Course Outline Course Sessions

RESTLESS GODS: The Renaissance of Religion in Canada
by Reginald W. Bibby,
Stoddart Publishing Co: Toronto, ON. 2002. 224 pages. Hardcover. $21.95 US
$32.00 Cdn. ISBN #0-7737-3338-8.

Softcover now available.

Reviewed by: Wayne A. Holst
In Reviewed for Missiology, Journal of the American Society of Missiology,
Dayton, OH. Paul Hertig, Book Review Editor. April 13th, 2002.

For more than a quarter century Reginald Bibby, a sociologist at the University of Lethbridge, has been surveying Canadians about life as they are living it. Since 1975, his assessments have been carried out, with growing refinement, every five years or so. He has carefully monitored our social trends generally and our religious trends, specifically.

Bibby's first bestseller, Fragmented Gods (1987)  told the story of a widespread decline of engagement in organized religion beginning in the 1950s. Cultural conditions were turning Canadians into highly selective, cafeteria styled religious consumers. In 1993, Bibby published an update, Unknown Gods. Here he described how Canadian religious organizations were complicit in the participation dropoff.

Now, Restless Gods  appears; drawing on all of the authors previous work but charting a new course. Included here are results of new surveys which make the data current to the year 2000.

What Bibby heralds is nothing short of a religious and spiritual renaissance in Canada. Something is indeed stirring within the nations long established Christian communities, both Catholic and Protestant. Sometimes this is taking place internally but often it is happening beyond the churches. The gods are extremely restless, says Bibby and so are peoples souls (4).  During the 1990s, an important development occurred; the decline in the proportion of Mainliners attending services weekly stopped, remaining steady at around 15%. There are fewer people in the mainline population pool than in the past, but those who are still there are showing signs of new life (75).

Speaking to the matter of restlessness on the part of the gods and of the people the author challenges a number of commonly held religious myths that have functioned as serious obstacles to effective ministry. It has been assumed for some time that many have been leaving the traditional denominations and taking up residence in newer ones. It is also widely believed that the dropout from the older churches is for good, or that there is no longer a receptivity to the Gospel in this highly secularized society.

The author explains why Canadians have, in fact, been very reluctant to abandon the churches; even though most mainstream denominations have been experiencing attendance decline. We err, he tells us, when we conclude that inactivity implies rejection. Many dropouts would return if they discovered there was something worth coming home to (47).

What seems most intriguing about peoples restlessness is that its sources appear to lie not only in the pursuit of answers to important questions about life and death. The restlessness also comes from the widespread but infrequently acknowledged fact that many believe they are actually experiencing the presence of God in their lives. The gods have been trying to reach Canadians through the churches. But given that the churches have had mixed success in the enterprise, there are signs that the gods have taken things into their own hands and shown up in person. Claims that people are personally experiencing God  and privately communicating with God can be found all over the place. Apparently, the Spirit is not waiting for the churches to catch on (90-1).

We are creatures that need meaning in our lives, and if we cant build a faith into our lives we seem to fall into despair. We have underestimated the staying power of the Christian Church and its message, including its potential to reinvent itself.

If religious groups would concentrate less on those who switch and drop out and more on those who still identify but are inactive they would be in a position to target the very people to whom they have the best chance of ministering - those that already identify with them (49).

Congregations need to develop creative strategies for finding inactive affiliates, exploring their interests and needs and responding with ministries which speak to their aspirations.

The surviving groups with potential to thrive again are those that have been around a long time and continue to have a solid, though reduced, base of support. No adequate substitute for Christianity has emerged to provide Canadian society with new philosophical underpinnings (233).

Bibby ends with a word of caution. While significant numbers of inactives who still consider themselves connected have not been reached by Canada's traditionally dominant religious groups there are no guarantees we will seize the day. But if we in the mainstream churches don't respond, large numbers may be left spiritually hungry (240).

Reviewers Bio: Rev. Dr. Wayne A. Holst is a writer who has taught religion and culture at the University of Calgary.

Restless Churches: How Canada's Churches Can Contribute to the Emerging Religious Renaissance
Catholic New Times,  Nov 21, 2004  by Chuck Bishop

RESTLESS CHURCHES: How Canada's Churches Can Contribute to the Emerging Religious Renaissance by Reginald W. Bibby. Novalis/St. Paul University, 2004. 206pp

Reports of the imminent death of Canada's churches may be greatly exaggerated, says University of Lethbridge sociology professor Reginald Bibby.

His latest book, Restless Churches: How Canada's Churches Can Contribute to the Emerging Religious Renaissance, is a distillation of decades of his own and other survey research into Canadian attitudes toward religion and spirituality.

Prof. Bibby says Canada's media generally believes the country is tending toward a much more secular society. This leads most reporters to take the position that they are describing dying enterprises whenever they write about church affairs.

Bibby writes that conventional wisdom discounts Canadian census data that shows far more people identifying themselves with churches than are represented by the numbers showing up on parish rolls. In general, this means that Statistics Canada census data about church affiliation is viewed as useless. Sadly, he says, church leaders often accept this perception."

"Such a dismissal of religious self-identification is extremely poor science and horrible pastoral practice," he says. "If people say they are 'Anglicans' or 'Unitarian' or 'Catholic,' then that's how they see themselves."

"Reaching out to inactive members or "affiliates" is probably the best way to strengthen Canadian churches," Bibby says. His studies show that even when people report that they no longer participate actively in church life, they still value what he calls rites of passage. Inactive affiliates often want to be married in church, to have their children baptized and, ultimately, to be buried following a church funeral.

Only about 20 per cent of Canadians report that they "never" attend church services, a number that has changed little since the 1970s. What has happened is that there has been a significant decline in weekly and monthly church attendance.

Unlike most academics, Bibby makes no bones about his faith.

"I believe in God", he says, "and have known the presence of God in my own life for about as long as I can remember."

He believes that what he describes as the Emerging Religious Renaissance is a message from God telling us that people do want to be involved in the Church and for the church to get on with the task of evangelization.

Unusual among studies of Canadian society, Restless Churches includes more than data analysis and interpretation. The final chapters ("Getting on with it! Where to start" and "Getting on with it! Where to finish") and his conclusion can give church leaders a series of practical approaches to reclaiming today's missing members.

For Catholics and for other mainstream denominations, Bibby sees an important role for the laity in reconnecting with our missing affiliates. Since he can demonstrate that people tend to identify with the churches of their youth, Bibby believes that keeping youth active is a simple way of preventing them from dropping out.

"There is no mystery," he says. "We need to grow our own children from their earliest years so they value the idea of Christian faith--it's indispensable."

Restless Churches is a worthwhile book for anyone with an interest in the future of Christianity in Canada. As we are called to spread the Good News we might as well have the benefit of good data.

Bibby concludes: "I'm audacious enough to think that Someone will be pleased."

Chuck Bishop is with Diocese of Kamloops News

COPYRIGHT 2004 Catholic New Times, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

Abstract (Summary) - Bibby sets out a new challenge for Canadian believers

Restless Gods came as a surprise. Its findings were based on data from a number of new national surveys leading up to the year 2000. They contradicted some, but not all, of what [Reginald W. Bibby] had been saying for a quarter century. The author described the makings of a spiritual and religious renaissance that offered hope, especially for Canada's historic churches.

While Restless Gods was descriptive, Restless Churches is prescriptive. The latter, a practical guide based on learnings from the former, is a distillation of Bibby's seasoned understandings. What he presents now, he says, has "extremely important implications for what religious groups -- committed to effective ministry to Canadians -- need to be doing."

Veteran sociologist speaks as an active Christian in latest book

By Reginald W. Bibby
Novalis/Saint Paul University: Toronto, ON. 2004. 286 pages, papercover. $24.95

By Reginald W. Bibby
Novalis/Saint Paul University: Toronto, ON. 2004. 206 pages, papercover. $22.95

Reviewed by Wayne A. Holst.
Appearing in the Edmonton Journal, Edmonton, AB. January 29th, 2005.

Three years ago, University of Lethbridge sociologist Reginald Bibby signalled a significant change taking place in Canadian religious life with a book entitled Restless Gods: The Renaissance of Religion in Canada. For more than a quarter century, Bibby had been surveying the religious attitudes and practices of Canadians. Every five years or so, he would produce a book lending scientific verification to what many were already sensing intuitively.

Canadians seemed to be losing interest in religion and dropping out of their churches. They were no longer adhering to ancestral ways but were becoming more exacting and selective in their worship practices. These changes were evidenced, for example, in declining, formal old-line church memberships and the growing popularity of experience-centred groups, as well as new-age philosophies.

Bibby predicted that if such trends continued, demise was only a matter of time for the venerable United, Anglican, Presbyterian and Lutheran denominations.

Restless Gods came as a surprise. Its findings were based on data from a number of new national surveys leading up to the year 2000. They contradicted some, but not all, of what Bibby had been saying for a quarter century. The author described the makings of a spiritual and religious renaissance that offered hope, especially for Canada's historic churches.

After much reflection on years of statistics as well as feedback from his lectures and talks, Bibby concluded that we have underestimated the staying power of the Christian Church and its message in Canada. We have failed to consider the potential of the Church to re-invent.

As people begin to cast about for new spiritual moorings in uncertain times, newly discovered or long-ignored congregations re- appeared on some religious radar screens. No adequate substitute for Christianity has emerged to provide Canadian society with new philosophical underpinnings. On the whole, Canadians have proven to be very resistent to new religious expressions.

Bibby found that to be true in all parts of the country, including Quebec. There, a massive exodus from the Catholic Church took place in the '60s and '70s. People may have largely ignored or rejected the spiritual package they inherited, but they were still open to consider the gift inside.

Bibby believes that a vast pool of un-churched but profoundly spiritual people wait out there to be discovered, welcomed and engaged.

When he wrote Restless Gods, however, Bibby saw no clear signs that thechurches would recognize these opportunities and seize the day. Now, several years later, he believes some have awakened from slumber and want to respond creatively.

While Restless Gods was descriptive, Restless Churches is prescriptive. The latter, a practical guide based on learnings from the former, is a distillation of Bibby's seasoned understandings. What he presents now, he says, has "extremely important implications for what religious groups -- committed to effective ministry to Canadians -- need to be doing."

Bibby is no longer content to be the objective social scientist. At this stage of his career, he also wants to participate. Restless Churches goes beyond the analytical skills of a gifted veteran sociologist of religion.

"More than 20,000 adults and teenagers have participated in 10 national surveys dating back to 1975," he says."(They) have contributed much to what we currently know about religion in Canada."

They can also help the churches shape new, inclusive strategies in response to expressed needs.

"Those of you who are familiar with my work," Bibby continues, "will find this book to be theistically uninhibited. I myself am a theist. I believe in God and have known the presence of God in my own life for as long as I can remember ... I see no reason to hold back on reflecting with you (my readers) most of whom likewise are believers."

Bibby is not naive about the challenges involved in changing traditionally entrenched, defensive organizations into flexible, inviting ones. He considers religious institutions to be a bane and a blessing that can inhibit and help people to find spiritual fulfilment. But institutions are also necessary, he believes, to facilitate and sustain any long-term transformation in people and society.

Restless Churches is written for those who believe in God and are action-oriented. The author writes in his introduction: "If institutional change is going to take place, people obviously have to go beyond merely hearing some interesting survey findings. They need to -- and typically want to -- know what it all means for ministry."

The challenge of encouraging Canadians to integrate church and faith, Bibby says, demands a made-in-Canada response. The challenges are here and so are the solutions.

Much of the book is based on the premise that, outside their doors, churches have many "affiliates" -- Bibby does not call them "lost" or "unbelievers" -- who are open to a more active faith. They await good reasons to make a move.

Bibby works from certain premises, based on solid research principles. He says, for example, that particular churches and denominations should affirm their own traditions and not attempt to be all things to all people. He suggests that affiliates follow the lines of a denominational affinity most natural to them and that the various churches should co-operate to help them find their true religious home.

Going public with one's faith should be encouraged in a free- market exchange of ideas and a multicultural and multi-religious environment. Churches will need to invest more heavily in lay initiatives and in new forms of lay ministry. Healthy church models should be named and followed. Virtually any church anywhere can share in effective ministry to affiliates.

Bibby concludes by reaffirming that he believes God is today doing some intriguing things in Canada, inside and beyond the churches. Rather than focusing on one particular master program or another, the author suggests that groups of concerned Christians in different settings seek to discern the working of God's Spirit among them.They need to find particular ways of working effectively with that Spirit where they are.

The spiritual renaissance we are currently experiencing in this land can be effectively addressed by those who care about congregations. A serious study, discussion and application of these books will help many to benefit from the author's lifelong efforts as a seasoned religious analyst and now, as a personally engaged pragmatist.

Wayne A. Holst helps to facilitate adult spriritual development at St. David's United Church, Calgary. He teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary.

RESTLESS GODS AND RESTLESS CHURCHES - A Study of Religious Renaissance in Canada - Based on the Books by Reginald Bibby

Session Theme Book (chapters) Pages
A Study Outline - Restless Gods RG, Restless Churches RC
One Intros & Expectations
Two The Old Story RG/1&2 1-54
Three The New Story RG/3-5 55-164
Four What People Want RG/6-end 165-254
Five Getting Facts Straight RC/intro-2 1-51
Six Four Implications RC/3-5 53-142
Seven Getting On With It! RC/6-end 143-182

Session One:

Goals of this Study -

1. To focus on the social dimension (context) of faith in Canada today.
2. To assess Bibby's claim of a religious renaissance in our land.
3. To critique his "made in Canada" solution compared to other contexts.
4. To engage in mutual respect for all those participating in this study.

Expectations of the Leader -

1. I assume participants have completed the assigned readings.
2. I will outline what I consider the key points in these readings.
3. The group will take over the discussion and I will facilitate.

Session Two

The Old Story - Critiquing the secularization theses of the 1960's - 90's

1. Peter Berger outlines his secularization thesis for us in his books: "The Noise of Solem Assemblies" "The Sacred Canopy" "Rumor of Angels"

2. Secularization implies a loss of the need for transcendent meaning. Impact of industrialization, specialization, individualism, relativism, consumerism/consumption, selectivity - all this leads cumulatively to a "loss of religious memory"

3. From his studies of more than three decades, Bibby believes that counter to those advocating the ultimate demise of religion "the need for faith has been constant, but the 'supply side' has varied and there is a measurable increase in public desire for transcendent meaning - much of it outside of organized religion (e.g. new age, humanitarian causes, public social justice concerns, etc.)

Session Three

The New Story - Current findings do not back up inevitable decline theory

1. Is this wishful thinking cloaked in sociological jargon, or a reality that has been missed by many other social scientists?

2. Is Canadian mainline Christianity really in decline with evangelical and new age groups filling the spiritual vacuum?

3. Three myths are challenged by Bibby who believes:
   a. Mainline church loyalty continues to exist
   b. Many mainliners are 'not unchurched' just 'not attending'
   c. 'Inactive' does not mean 'uninterested', just 'unengaged'

Does this thesis hold up to what group participants believe to be true?

Session Four

What Do People Want? Meaningful God; Sense of Self; Concern for Society

1. People still desire that their spiritual and personal needs are addressed by religious faith.

2. People continue to seek relational opportunities and core values in spite of - perhaps because of - the realities of secularization

3. People want spiritual leaders who understand these dynamics in society; in their personal lives; who will help them deal with their needs/concerns.

Bibby believes an exciting new story is gradually unfolding. Wise men from the past - like Comte, Durkheim, Marx, Freud, Doug Hall, Harvey Cox and others - have misread the direction that secularization has led us. Hall and Cox have come to revisit and revision the secular thesis in their later writings.

Canadian journalists are still largely stuck in the old story, with only a few waking up to what is really happening out there.

When people say they have "no religion" what does that really mean? Do they have no spiritual needs and desires? no faith? no interest in finding institutional support for these values?

Bibby thinks not. He reads authors like Tom Harpur and Donna Sinclair who distinguish between "reason" and "experience" when it comes to faith. They see the "spirit of God" overwhelmingly alive and well, but not that well understood in traditional ways by the churches.

Harpur fears the churches may be beyond hope.

Bibby believes that the long-term survival of the traditional denominations may indeed be questionable, but that institutional change for them is not beyond the realm of possibility.

Session Five

Getting the Facts Straight - About Restless Churches

Bibby's longterm studies suggest the following theses:

1. Most people are not dropping out - religious identification lasts much longer than formal involvement ever does.

2. Most people are not really switching denominations in Canada. People have moved from their original churches, but not from faith. Many may go to other churches, or no churches, but still consider
themselves part of the first, formative faith in their lives.
Note the statistical evidence to back this up. Compare what has happened during the past 30 years - National statistics: 1971 (% of pop.) 2001 (% of pop.) Roman Catholic 42 43 Mainline Protestant 41 20 (32) Evangelical Protestant 8 8 (unchanged since 1871) Other Faiths 2 6 Christianity is still the dominant Canadian faith and we remain decidedly a Catholic and Protestant nation. Greater inclusivity is developing in terms of how people define themselves. Many call themselves simply "Christian" and do not attach a denominational label to that description. The old mainline is becoming more diverse (socially, culturally, theologically.) Most of those who do not claim to be mainline Christians today (1971 - 41% 2001 - 20%) have not joined other churches even if some mainliners may attend other churches (i.e. the seeming exodus to megachurches, etc.)

3. This is a special moment of opportunity for the mainline churches. Unlike the past when they reflected mainstream culture, especially in english-speaking Canada, they will need to learn to live and witness to their Christianity in a new context of pluralism, diversity and multiculturalism.
What does the mainline have going for it?
   - basic spiritual needs don't change
   - life is difficult for many people (health, economics, family)
   - many still seek meaningful relationships and community

4. Will mainline churches seize the day in terms of changes in the ways they minister? Can they re-define themselves to reachout and to welcome people who make the effort to visit them? We have a great opportunity hidden in this challenge and all we can do to better "tend to our own gardens."

Session Six

Four Implications for Ministry

1. The need to rediscover God. God has not disappeared; we have just had a problem discovering where God might be at work in our day. People need to discover God for themselves and not by following the dictates of others.

2. The need to understand and utilize religious identification The majority of Canadians still identify with denominations even if the denominations have lost the defining value they once had; we are not truly "post-denominational;" but "denomination" means something new today. In the past, it had a lot to do with ethnicity and old-country religion. Today it has more to do with self-definition (not a definition others have given to you) and affiliation "with people you are at home."

3. It's all about ministry. The core of our problem is inadequate ministry for the task. God, is what people seek, not the churches (consumerism applies to religion too). We need leaders who can understand these developments and "market" themselves and their congregations in response to what people are seeking, not what the institution may have previously taught them to do in the past.

4. It cannot be done alone. By ourselves, our reach is limited. If the hoped-for renaissance is to occur, it must happen along 'group-lines.' Like-minded Christians need to find one another; accessing and joining with those who share a common purpose.

Five Ministry Challenges:

1. Spirituality. Spiritual interest in society is pervasive.

2. Personal/relational needs. People seek community. Religious groups are well-positioned to provide it for them.

3. The young lead the way. They seek "authenticity" and have no "baggage."

4. Worship and Music. Music provides an essential source of meaning for people. Celtic, Taize, traditional, modern - all forms can be creatively blended and celebrated.

5. Organizational credibility. We have been shaken by the sex abuse and homosexual challenges of the past two decades. But people are resiliant and we need to know when it is important to "bend" and when to "draw lines in the sand." Church divisions are often of less consequence over time.

Clarifying the Response:

1. What needs to be done? Affiliates are persons who were once part of a denominational community. Give high priority to ministry to those already affiliated with us. We need to locate them and discover what their spiritual journey requires. We need to go beyond talk and actually minister to them.

2. Why it needs to be done? Affiliates are the most immediate and effective contacts we have. Other Christians do not have the "affiliate advantage" the mainline has. There is receptivity when initiatives are taken.

3. Who can do it? Any committed member of a mainline Christian community. Think through this with affiliates at a place where they are. Build bridges with them. Work ecumenically on this. Work from an existing church base, outward.

4. Who will do it? Everyone. Healthy churches are evangelizing churches. Ministry terms differ, but ministries share a lot in common: Protestant focus: worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, evangelism. Roman Catholic focus: liturgy, community, formation, mission, evangelization.

Session Seven

Getting On With It!

Where to start - Conversation, needs assessment, evaluation of resources. Ministries of reconnection, collaboration and co-operation

Where to finish - After finding and speaking with affiliates... assess learnings. Assess learnings since affiliates must impact our ministry or else our ministry will not impact affiliates... "It's time to talk to people and find out their needs..."

Summary Learnings

1. If we are going to minister effectively with affiliates, we will have to expand, even change our views of what ministry is all about.

2. The "Sunday morning group" is not the same as the "affiliate group" existing out there.

3. "Adjust" - don't scrap what you are already doing. Rethink, but be ready to retain existing ministries through blending and diversification.

4. Be open to adding new ministries to your existing church team; be ready to "refer people" to other churches if needed. Focus on interconnection, rather than competition, between churches. If we are ready and will to make some changes and to try some new things, who knows what God has in store for our congregation!