What goes on at church buildings when members aren’t worshipping, or doing discipleship? You might imagine that they sit vacant, inert brick shells uninhabited from Monday through Saturday. But if you participate in any sort of public entity that does work in the community, the odds are that you know otherwise; indeed it’s likely that you spend a great deal of time in churches throughout the week. Churches are used as voting stations, as places for public health departments to help educate new mothers about maternal and child health, as venues for local children’s choirs, and much, much more every day. It turns out that churches are not only hives of activity for parishioners but also central hubs for public life in their communities.
There are approximately twenty-seven thousand faith buildings in Canada, and it is estimated that nine thousand will close in the next eight to ten years. The United Church of Canada alone is closing churches at the rate of one a week. A great many of these are in Ontario, and many are the last standing “third spaces” in rural communities. In both rural and urban communities many of these buildings operate as de facto community centres, providing space for twelve-step groups, children’s and seniors’ activities, sports activities, art groups, the homeless, and other vulnerable communities. They have been affordable spaces for the not-for-profit sector to deliver community programs. What will happen when these faith buildings are closed? How many not-for-profits and community groups will be left without a place to gather?
Cardus Social Cities program is working in partnership with the Ontario Not for Profit Network, Rural Ontario Institute, Toronto Culture Division, and Artsbuild Ontario to ensure a deep assessment of not-for-profit impact of faith-building closures. We will use a combination of existing macro data analysis and strategic surveying to construct a comprehensive picture of faith-building usage in Ontario by non-for-profits and community groups. The strategic surveying component will entail a detailed analysis of faith-building usage in four regions, which will be extrapolated to create a province-wide picture. Stay tuned to Cardus Social Cities for more!