The qualitative data in this article highlights the dynamics of religious change and decline in small town rural churches, reflecting larger trends throughout North America and Europe.1 It questions the consequences of religious decline, particularly regarding reduced levels of volunteerism2 and community social capital.3 This article posits that the decline in institutionalized religion has already had negative effects within small-town rural Ontario communities, specifically the loss of leadership to sustain numerous enterprises that traditionally serve members beyond the church alongside decreased support in various volunteer sectors that also provide a range of services, activities, and programs to the larger community. Following an analysis of the challenges facing churches in a cluster of small rural communities within the Haliburton Highlands, the paper details responses developed by local churches and ministers to continue to meet community needs and maintain their strong presence and high levels of social capital in these non-religious locales.
R. Bibby, Restless Gods: The Renaissance of Religion in Canada (Toronto: Stoddart, 2002); R. Bibby, The Boomer Factor: What Canada’s Most Famous Generation is Leaving Behind (Toronto: Bastian Books, 2006); R. Bibby, ‘Continuing the Conversation on Canada: Changing Patterns of Religious Service Attendance,’ Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 50, no. 4 (2011), pp. 831–837.
J. A. Coleman, ‘Religious Social Capital: Its Nature, Social Location and Limits,’Religion as Social Capital: Producing the Common Good, ed. C. Smith (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2003), pp. 33–47, at pp. 33, 48.
R. L. Wood, ‘Does Religion Matter? Projecting Democratic Power into the Public Arena,’Religion as Social Capital: Producing the Common Good, ed. C. Smidt (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2003), pp. 69–86, at p. 229.
M. R. Lee, ‘The Religious Institutional Base and Violent Crime in Rural Areas,’Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion45, no. 3 (2006), pp. 309–324, at p. 312; Nancy Ammerman, Pillars of Faith: American Congregations and Their Partners (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005).
M. Lee and J. P. Bartkowski, ‘Love Thy Neighbor? Moral Communities, Civic Engagement, and Juvenile Homicide in Non-Metro Communities,’Social Forces82 (2004), pp. 1001–1034; Lee, ‘The Religious Institutional Base,’ p. 312.
M. Chaves and S. L. Anderson, ‘Continuity and Change in American Congregations: Introducing the Second Wave of the National Congregations Study,’Sociology of Religion69, no. 4 (2008), pp. 415–440, at p. 417.
R. Branstiter, ‘Ministry in the Rural Context: More Than Just Keeping the Doors Open,’Word and World26, no. 3 (2012), pp. 318–320, at p. 320. He presents an example of eight different rural denominations who have overridden their own particularistic theological positions to become part of a large inter-faith mission coordinating worship, leadership, administration, and shared activities.
Neitz, ‘Reflections on Religion;’ M. J. Neitz, ‘Encounters in the Heartland: What Studying Rural Churches Taught Me About Working Across Differences,’Sociology of Religion70, no. 4 (2005), pp. 343–361; S. Salamon, Newcomers to Old Towns (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003).
D. M. Haskell, ‘The Theological Meaning of Jesus’ Resurrection: A Content Analysis of Mainline and Conservative Protestant Easter Sunday Sermons,’Journal of Empirical Theology25 (2012), pp. 205–235, at p. 231.
R. Wuthnow, ‘The Small-Group Movement in the Context of American Religion,’‘I Came Away Stronger’: How Small Groups Are Shaping American Religion, ed. R. Wuthnow (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1994), pp. 344–366.
H. Campbell, ‘How Religious Communities Negotiate New Media Religiously,’Digital Religion, Sacred Media and Culture, eds. P. Cheong, P. Nielson, S. Gelfgren, and C. Ess (New York: Peter Lang, 2012), pp. 81–96, at p. 81.