At A Culture of Faith’s heart is the question of what local congregations can do to meet their members’ needs and prepare for the challenges ahead—although Reimer and Wilkinson do not offer any specific strategies for the latter point. For example, the demographic picture in Canada shows a declining population with more new Canadians coming from immigration rather than birth. Yet, readers will not find any active strategies in this book for reaching these new Canadians. Reimer and Wilkinson leave it to the local congregations to determine their futures. Discerning readers with an interest in bolstering congregations will find a great deal to think about in the chapters on leadership and pastoral well-being, children and youth, and financing congregations. Specifically, pastors are aging, their jobs are more precarious with an increase in part-time positions, and their replacements are not forthcoming. Children’s programs are successful at keeping children present in churches (although parental religiosity is the major factor in passing religiosity on to children), but there are some concerns about keeping young adults in the pews. Finally, Canadian congregations are facing an uncertain financial future—especially if their youth do not stay in the churches and give generously. Reimer and Wilkinson do an excellent job of even-handedly outlining the data for these concerns and anybody serving in a leadership capacity (lay or pastoral) in an evangelical congregation should read from chapter three to book’s conclusion to get a detailed sense of what is in store for them. Sociologists of religion should take a long look at the data in A Culture of Faith and ask themselves if they think evangelical congregations will be able to endure the cultural shifts happening around them and what will be the social outcomes if the churches cannot survive in a more secular climate.
Clearly, I think this book is worth reading and recommending. The detailed charts and clear writing make it accessible and the topic is timely. Yet, there are some criticisms to be made. First, Reimer and Wilkinson could have used more comparative data with Mainline and Catholic denominations in Canada and all denominations in the United States. There are a few chapters that use this comparative data, most noticeably the chapters on youth and financing congregations, which were co-authored by James Penner and Rick Heimstra, respectively, and use data that the co-authors had gathered for other projects. This contextualizing information is few and far between, however, and novice readers in Canadian sociology of religion will have to go to other sources to get the larger demographic picture of Canadian religiosity within which to contextualize A Culture of Faith’s findings. This is a book about evangelical congregations, however, and this lack of additional data is a minor issue compared to the benefits to be gained from the new findings presented within.
Another line of inquiry to be raised with A Culture of Faith is the question of what role Canadian churches play in keeping the country’s social fabric together. Reimer and Wilkinson hint at the importance that religious institutions play in terms of cultivating volunteers and charitable givers, but they do not spell out the importance that congregations—evangelical, mainline, and Catholic alike—play in keeping the charitable fabric of Canada intact. The roles evangelical Christians play in Canadian civic life and their larger importance is underdeveloped, which is a shame because a quantitative analysis of congregational charitable contributions would help policy makers understand and appreciate the role that religious institutions play in their communities. Shining a light on charitable giving within the larger discussion of the challenges facing Canadian churches could help far-sighted community leaders to anticipate the changing landscape of social service providers in the coming decades.
A Culture of Faith is a welcome addition to the sociology of religion in Canada and congregational studies canons. Reimer and Wilkinson’s work should be read broadly and discussed in classrooms in universities, seminaries, and church meetings. While this book is descriptive, rather than prescriptive, it offers a wide variety of useful data points that will enable critical thinkers to understand how evangelical churches operate, the challenges facing them, and the contributions they make to their communities. These questions are worth asking and A Culture of Faith is an excellent place to start such inquiry.
David Feltmate, Ph.D.
College of Public Policy and Justice
Auburn University at Montgomery
Sam Reimer and Michael Wilkinson. A Culture of Faith: Evangelical Congregations in Canada. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015. 296pp. ISBN: 9780773545045. Cloth: $110.00, Paperback: $32.95.