I recently came back from a First Nations, Metis, and Inuit Education gathering where the workshops and plenary speakers highlighted indigenous ways of knowing and the importance of relationships. One of the plenary speakers, who was a treat for me to hear, was Senator Murray Sinclair. Senator Sinclair spoke about the importance of family and the effects of residential schools on indigenous family relationships. As a result of the “60’s scoop” of taking indigenous children from their families to residential schools and colonialism’s practice of dominance, indigenous children were not taught indigenous traditions. In spite of this victimized history, many indigenous people are finding their way back to, and learning about, indigenous ways of knowing and being. This hope that Senator Sinclair spoke about is the important role that education has towards reconciliation: Education is the Key to Reconciliation. Although he stated that this would take generations and each day will be a fight, institutions such as schools need to change. This left me pondering the need for the Church to change as well. Many churches and denominational traditions are responding to the 94 Calls to Action. I look with interest at how churches and ministry leaders have started and continue to respond and educate their parishes moving forward, so that reconciliation may begin to happen or continue to occur.
How Many Church Buildings Should We Lose?
I have been intrigued by the reaction of several church and denominational leaders to a CBC news report (March 11, 2019) with the headline “Canada Set to Lose 9000 Churches in the Next Decade.” Of course, the headline itself is problematic – the news item is actually about the predicted loss of church buildings, which may or may not be related to the closure of congregations. But even with that correction, I am still somewhat amazed at Christian leaders who are quick to see this prediction as a reason for dismay.
I honestly have to say that I view the loss of outdated church buildings as a very positive development that is a few decades overdue. Many Canadian Christian congregations that might otherwise be well positioned for effective ministry and even growth are instead severely impeded by historic buildings that are so expensive to heat, maintain, repair, and secure that the building is like a financial black hole that consumes the majority of the congregation’s resources while leaving little if anything for new ministry and mission initiatives that would effectively reach out to the community. These old buildings were built in the 1800s when social life was very different, when communication was one-way from pulpit to pew, when parking was not an issue, and when stained-glass windows, pipe organs, and gothic architecture were assets for the church’s mission instead of the liabilities that they are today.
The news that some church leaders seem not to have heard is that Canada is not the same place it was in the 1800s or even in the 1900s. That means that the ways people meet together, the ways we relate to the surrounding community, the ways we communicate truth, and the ways we understand ourselves and others all need to change. In this globalized, digital, consumerist, postmodern culture, the church must be something much more vital than just a historic institution or a heritage property.
My response to the news article is that it would be so encouraging to see even more church buildings closed or re-purposed in the next decade, not as a result of congregational decline, but because of an intentional decision to look to the future instead of the past. As long as our congregations are imprisoned in old buildings that keep the new life of the church hidden behind thick walls and stained glass, and as long as congregations are saddled with so many heating and repair expenses that they are prevented from investing their money in effective ministry and mission, I believe that we will continue to see the decline of the church in Canada.
When I conducted a sociological research project among declining congregations, I was amazed at the number of times people told me that they could no longer afford to maintain their historic church building, but at the same time they were unwilling to forsake the old building in order to be freed to carry out the congregation’s mission.
The news article is right that there will be major changes in the Christian church in the next decade. I am hopeful that a new generation of leaders will prioritize people over property and mission over money. What do you think?
No Silver Bullets
In No Silver Bullets: Five Small Shifts that will Transform Your Ministry, Daniel Im argues that there is no one single “bullet” that will help a parish to thrive. Instead Im contends that parishes need to make five micro-shifts:
From Destination to Direction (Defining Discipleship)
From Output to Input (Goals)
From Sage to Guide (Adult Learning)
From Form to Function (Function over Form)
From Maturity to Missionary (Spiritual Maturity)
These five micro-shifts can potentially help a parish with macro-changes. The book has a sufficient section on resources and the micro-shifts that Im recommends are backed by research in various disciplines. Although you might not fully agree with Im on all these micro-shifts, there is a lot of food for thought in this book to move forward.
May 4: Joel Thiessen will be leading an event in Abbotsford, BC on "Flourishing Congregations: From Understanding to Practice," that is open to the public. For more information and to register, click here.
May 7-8: Flourishing Congregations Institute is partnering with the Ambrose Pastors Conference to share our research on Discipleship at Ambrose University. The Theme: "Life Together: Discipleship in an Age of Distraction." For more information and to register, click here.
Include your congregation in a national congregations survey, and receive a free report with your church's data! To learn more about this opportunity visit our website, and to sign up your congregation, contact our Research and Program Coordinator, Joy Epp, at 403-410-2000 ext.2987.
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