Sardines and Churches

Written by Carl Greene

March 13, 2024

Sardines. They do not get a lot of positive press. Canned sardines smell, well, fishy. They were popular until the 1950s, and since then they have fallen off the menu. I have been told that the only cultural impact of sardines in North America is the history of places like Cannery Row in Monterey, CA or phrases such as “packed like sardines.”

The story told about sardines sounds familiar to what I hear about the church. A relic of history since the 1950s that still influences our American vocabulary some. I question both stories.

Sardine Resilience

I will confess up front, I am a fan of canned sardines. But, I am not the only one. Sardine consumption in the United States has actually been on the rise in recent years, particularly during and after COVID. In fact, projections indicate that the market size value of sardines worldwide will double in the next decade. Market growth will continue to increase in North America as well. Apparently, these protein dense, calcium rich, and Vitamin D infused little fish have more popularity than we dreamed of a decade ago.

The sardine is back. Even if it still smells fishy.

Church Resilience

Have you noticed that there is plenty of negative press about the church? The church is portrayed as a relic of the 1950s with the resounding theme of hopeless decline. The church of the 1950s is indeed arguably in decline–the same decline that would be experienced if you were trying to sell a can of sardines packaged in the 1950s.

The gospel is full of hope for our anxious world today. There is a relevancy of belonging to authentic community that is growing. The question is not if the church can be relevant today. The question is if the church chooses health.


The sardine might be back on the menu, but it does not necessarily represent long term health. The Pacific Sardine population has undergone a rapid decline in recent years after recovering from previous declines. In fact, the fish population has been described as collapsing. There are short-term and long-term aspects to resilience and health. What is true for the sardine just might be true for the church.

If you want to learn more about opportunities for your church to embrace health and resilience, contact Director John Pethtel at You can also register for the Unearth the Church themed SDB General Conference that will take place July 21 to 28.

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