Joel Thiessen, PhD, MA, BA

Joel Thiessen Professor of Sociology
Professor, Sociology
Director, Flourishing Congregations Institute
+1 (403) 410-2000 ext. 2979
Office Location:


PhD (University of Waterloo)
MA (University of Waterloo)
BA (Nazarene University College)


I am a sociologist passionate about learning and excellence, from the classroom instructing students to the research field gathering data to consulting settings bridging sociological knowledge with ‘real world’ concerns. Since joining the Ambrose faculty in 2008 I have used teaching, research, and speaking opportunities to demonstrate how the sociological perspective enables us to think carefully, critically, and scientifically about human attitudes and behaviours, often challenging 'common sense' myths with sound empirical data. In the classroom I stress the sociological imagination, critical thinking and communication skills, various teaching and assessment methods, and the integration of faith and learning. As a researcher I actively gather new data and publish research in my main area of interest, the sociology of religion and especially religion and culture in Canada.

I am married to Helen and we have a dog, Shadow. I am an avid sports fan, a drummer, and I enjoy reading biographies and exercising.

Current Research

My current research cuts in three distinct yet broadly related directions: flourishing congregations in Canada, religious nones in North America, and millennials in Canada.

Flourishing Congregations in Canada – This ongoing research with Dr. Arch Wong (Ambrose University), Dr. Bill McAlpine (Ambrose University), and Dr. Keith Walker (University of Saskatchewan) is connected to the Flourishing Congregations Institute. Drawing on an appreciative inquiry approach, our central aim is to define and understand what flourishing congregations look like in a uniquely Canadian context and how local congregations from various traditions may move towards and maintain a flourishing ethos. Our first substantive study - three years in length - draws on interviews and focus groups with church and denominational leaders in five Canadian regions (phase one), a national survey with church leaders and congregants (phase two), and in-depth case studies with some congregations (phase three).

None of the Above: Having No Religion in the United States and Canada – Someone saying they have “no religion” when asked their religious affiliation has become an increasingly common phenomenon in recent decades in both the USA and Canada, with religious nones now forming substantial portions of the North American population. Yet, we know little when it comes to this demographic’s reasons for not identifying with a religious group or tradition, their personal spiritualities or forms of secularity, their feelings towards more religious individuals and their socio-political attitudes and behaviours. Using key survey and in-depth interview data from a number of sources, Dr. Sarah Wilkins-Laflamme (University of Waterloo) and I are working on a book that explores the dynamics of being a religious none in contemporary North America and how this non-religious identity impacts other aspects of daily and social life. We anticipate this book will be out in print in late 2019 or early 2020.

The Millennial Mosaic: How Pluralism and Choice are Shaping Today's Youth and the Future of Canada – In collaboration with Dr. Reginald Bibby (University of Lethbridge) and Dr. Monetta Bailey (Ambrose University), this book will draw on data from a national 2015 Religion Survey as well as a new national Social Trends Survey completed in late 2016 to provide an updated reading on Canadian youth. We anticipate this book will be out in early 2019.

Scholarly & Professional Activity

Select Media Appearances

March 26, 2018. “Fairness in the Precarious World of Christian College Contracts.” Peter Schuurman, Christian Courier.

November 28, 2017. “Centre Examines Why Congregations Thrive, Others Fade.” Chris Nelson, Calgary Herald.

April 28, 2017. “Why are Millennials Flocking to Toronto’s C3 Church?” Jackie Hong, Toronto Star.

February 27, 2017. “The Meaning of Sunday: The Practice of Belief in a Secular Age … Continuing the Conversation.” Blog for Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network.

January 12, 2017. Podcast Interview with George Bullard, FaithSoaring Churches Learning Community. 

Speaking and Consulting

My teaching and research interests position me to speak and consult about religion and culture in Canada, religious nones, why people leave the church and will they ever come back, flourishing congregations, youth/millennials and religion, comparing religion in Canada and the United States (particularly in evangelical settings), practical and theological responses for churches in twenty-first century Canada, social problems and inequality, and survey construction and design. In the past I have spoken in a variety of settings, including denominational leader meetings, church board and leadership consultations, congregational settings, small group gatherings, youth leader conferences, and teen or young adult retreats.

Please contact me if you are interested in me spending time with your group; I would love to hear from you and I am open to developing material specific to your group’s needs and interests.

Recent Conference Presentations

2018. “Pulpit and Pew: National Survey Results in Canadian Congregations.” Conference Presentation (with Arch Wong, Keith Walker, and Bill McAlpine) for Religious Research Association Annual Meeting in Las Vegas, NV.

2018. “Religious Nones’ Socio-Political Attitudes and Behaviors in North America.” Conference Presentation (with Sarah Wilkins-Laflamme) for Society for the Scientific Study of Religion Annual Meeting in Las Vegas, NV.

2018. “Religiosity, Spirituality, and Secularity among Nones in the United States and Canada.” Conference Presentation (with Sarah Wilkins-Laflamme) for Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network Conference, in London, UK.

2018. “Understanding the ‘Religious None’ Landscape in Canada.” Lecture at Centre for Studies in Religion and Society, in Victoria, BC.

2017. “Creative Knowledge Mobilization.” Conference Presentation for Engaging Communities through Research Event, in Waterloo, ON.

2017. “Building a Comprehensive Model for Religious None Growth in North America.” Conference Presentation (with Sarah Wilkins-Laflamme) for Society for the Scientific Study of Religion Annual Meeting in Washington, DC.

2017. “Comparing Religious Nones in Canada and the United States.” Conference Presentation (with Sarah Wilkins-Laflamme) for Association for the Sociology of Religion Annual Meeting in Montreal, QC.