With their showy megachurch services and socially conservative beliefs, American evangelicals are a large and visible part of the Christian Right, making up about a quarter of the U.S. population.
The Protestant Christian movement has never gripped Canadians with the same force, but as a Global TVdocumentary airing Monday reveals, evangelical Christian groups are emerging here in surprising places -and even more surprising numbers.
As traditional church attendance in Canada dwindles - since the 1970s, the Presbyterian Church has lost 36 per cent of its members, the United Church, 20% -- the evangelical movement is experiencing double-digit growth, with 10 to 15% of Canadians calling themselves evangelical Christians.
Narrated by Global National anchor Kevin Newman, who also co-wrote and co-produced the documentary, Hip 2B Holy ventures inside Canada's evangelical underground to reveal its growing influence, supporters, and political aspirations.
"The growth and power of the evangelical movement is a fascinating part of Canada's current fabric," says Newman.
"But the mutual mistrust between journalists and followers has prevented a judgment-free examination.
"With our current prime minister among those who believe in this new version of church, we need to examine the evangelic movement for what it is, not what secular Canada assumes it is." (Non-Quebecers who attend regularly at evangelical churches are four times more likely to vote for the Conservatives than for Liberals or the NDP, according to an exit poll conducted by Ipsos-Reid after the January 2006 Canadian election.)
Aside from re-igniting discussions of morality and belief among predominantly young Canadians, the movement uses aggressive online proselytizing, dropping pop-culture references and making a concerted effort to be as accessible as possible.
For instance, the documentary introduces viewers to the Connexus Community Church, a church in Barrie, Ont., that holds its services in a local multiplex movie theatre, and uses the Internet and Video on Demand to reach its congregation.
The documentary also follows the stories of young people associated with the evangelical movement, including Nate, a charismatic youth pastor in Toronto who replaces hymns with hip hop, and Aaron, an atheist whose devout girlfriend hopes he will embrace her faith.
Conspicuously absent in the documentary, which was shot over a full year, is footage from what could be considered Canada's Bible Belt.
"There's nobody from western, rural Canada in this documentary,"Newman says. "This is now urban, suburban, small-town. It's everywhere - and that's new."