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Religious Decline in Small-Town Rural Ontario Churches: Effects on Levels of Social Capital and Subsequent Innovative Responses

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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.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Religion and Culture, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, N2L 4G9, Canada,;


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