If you can bet on one thing when outsiders talk about the Fraser Valley, it’s that Abbotsford will be called B.C.’s Bible Belt.
But statistics suggest times are changing.
Between 2001 and 2011, Statistics Canada figures suggest that as Abbotsford grew rapidly, the city’s Christian population actually decreased by thousands.
The 2001 census reported that around 86,000 of the Abbotsford-Mission area’s 144,900 residents were Christians of one denomination or another.
But by the time the 2011 national household survey rolled around, only 80,525 Christians were believed to live in the area. Over that decade, more than 20,000 people moved to the Abbotsford-Mission statistical area, pushing its population above 160,000. Figures for just Abbotsford, excluding Mission, are similar.
A Statistics Canada spokesperson said that mirrors trends seen across all of Canada in those years, with the number of Christians decreasing as the country saw a general rise in the number of people declaring themselves to have no religion, or to be part of certain other religious groups.
Abbotsford retains a large faith community, and thousands pack churches every Sunday. But at the same time, Abbotsford’s demographics have been changing. And the 2011 National Household Survey suggested that less than half the people in Abbotsford consider themselves Christian.
Still, the 2011 survey doesn’t quite settle the matter. First, there are more Christians than any other faith group in Abbotsford. Of 130,950 estimated Abbotsford (not Abbotsford-Mission) residents in 2011, 65,055 – 49.7 per cent – were believed to be Christian. That’s easily the biggest single faith group in the city. The survey said Abbotsford had about 26,000 Sikhs and 35,000 of no religious affiliation.
But that survey also had significant problems. The Conservative government had made the long-form survey that asked about religion voluntary. Statisticians warned that the voluntary nature of the survey could skew the results. And, indeed, its religion counts suggest that was probably the case. (Either that or thousands of Christians up and left Abbotsford, abandoned the religion or died.)
Ten years prior to the 2011 survey, the 2001 census counted 5,000 more Christians in the Central Fraser Valley. In a decade of dramatic growth, it would be surprising to see any single religion group would decline in size.
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