Flourishing Update - November 3, 2021

What we Know about Evangelism in Canada

Dr. Joel Thiessen is Professor of Sociology at Ambrose University and Director of the Flourishing Congregations Institute.

Over the last year our research team at the Flourishing Congregations Institute released three publications related to evangelism in Canada, drawing on two projects we have been involved with. One was a chapter in our book, Signs of Life; another was a special report in partnership with Alpha Canada; and finally, an article in the peer reviewed journal, Studies in Religion.


As a teaser to these publications, here are several research observations. These findings are grounded in data with nearly 12,000 Canadian church leaders and congregants across Catholic, mainline, and conservative Protestant congregations, as well as other studies in the literature.

  • Church leaders hold different and sometimes competing views of what exactly evangelism is and what its purposes and aims are (e.g., to go to heaven, to attend church, to know and follow Jesus as Saviour and Lord).

  • Many churches do not prioritize evangelism or equip members to evangelize.

  • Those in growing congregations are more likely to say that evangelism is important.

  • Most church growth is fueled by those who change churches, immigration, or higher birth rates and retention. It is rare that growing churches do so primarily due to new converts.

  • Those working with children or youth are less enthusiastic or supportive of evangelistic efforts compared with senior pastors.

  • The pandemic forced some congregations to re-think the importance of evangelism, as well as how they approach evangelism.

  • Theology matters. Christian traditions that emphasize evangelism within their central tenets are more likely to prioritize evangelism in their ministries.

  • While theology matters, so too does a person’s level of involvement in their congregation. If a church prioritizes evangelism and someone more frequently attends religious services at that church, then individuals are more likely to prioritize evangelism themselves.

  • “Passive” forms of evangelism (e.g., showing one’s faith) are far more common than “assertive” forms of evangelism (e.g., telling others about one’s faith or inviting others to church).

  • Leading barriers to evangelism include lack of confidence, fear of rejection, few nonbelievers as friends, lack of training, and perceptions that Christianity is marginalized in Canadian society.

  • Those who belong to Christian traditions that stress strict “insider-outsider” boundaries (e.g., only associate with other Christians) also tend to emphasis evangelism the most. The trouble is that individuals in these groups are the least likely to be close friends with people who do not identify as Christian.

  • Personal invitation is among the lead reasons a person joins a new religious group.

In his book, Invitation to Sociology, Peter Berger says that, “People who like to avoid shocking discoveries, who prefer to believe that society is just what they were taught in Sunday School, who like the safety of the rules and maxims of … the ‘world-taken-for-granted,’ should stay away from sociology” (1963: 24).


Our hope and prayer is that church leaders will run toward sociology and empirical data to help sharpen our understanding of what is regarding evangelism in Canada, with an eye toward what could be. We invite you to read some or all of the publications noted at the outset, which also include theological and practical questions and steps forward in light of the data. In addition, pay attention to our blogs in the coming weeks, which will further grapple with the topic of evangelism in Canada.

What We Are Reading


None of the Above: Nonreligious Identity in the US and Canada

Joel Thiessen


For those who wish to take evangelism seriously in Canada, it is imperative to better understand the fastest growing “religious” group in Canada: those who say they have no religion (“religious nones”). Roughly one-quarter of Canadian adults and one-third of Canadian teens say they have no religion. But what does this term mean? What religious or spiritual beliefs or practices do religious nones hold (or not)? What is their (non)religious upbringing and what is the likelihood that they might connect with a church in the future? These and many other questions ground this seminal work on religious nones in Canada, which is a must read for Canadian church leaders.


Buy the Book


Dr. Joel Thiessen is Professor of Sociology at Ambrose University and Director of the Flourishing Congregations Institute.

Latest Resources from the Institute


Report on Catholic Parishes in Canada

This report captures the descriptive findings on perceptions and experiences in areas such as congregational identity, leadership, innovation, discipleship, engaged laity, hospitable community, neighbourhood involvement, and evangelism within Catholic parishes in Canada. Download Report



Discipleship from Catholic, mainline and conservative Protestant congregant perspectives in Canada

This article investigates discipleship in Canada, with a focus on spiritual and discipleship practices and processes that help to facilitate spiritual growth among congregants. The data shows how those in each denominational tradition understand the spiritual practices and discipleship processes that aid in their spiritual growth, and also reveals the importance of a congregational context that is welcoming, safe, and caring as precursors to effective discipleship. Download Article


Gotta Have Faith | Context

Watch Director of Flourishing Congregations Institute, Dr. Joel Thiessen, on Context, as he speaks about the trend of church attendance and the importance of religion across Canada. Watch Now


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