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Flourishing Update - March 10, 2021

Signs of Life - INNOVATION: Step Out of the Boat

Dr. Bill McAlpine, Professor Emeritus, Ambrose University

It is very easy for us to get caught on the pendulum that swings between being anchored to ways and means that may have been effective in the past or ministering under the tyranny of the novel. My father-in-law used to cite an old adage that said, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” to which many church boards or councils might be heard to say, “Amen!” Where would you place your congregation/parish on this pendulum swing and where would you locate your own personal comfort zone with respect to change and innovation? The chapter on innovation in Signs of Life does not provide an extensive list of novel ideas or catalogue the latest innovation paradigms for flourishing congregations. Rather it was written with the hope of fostering some thoughtful reflection on what innovation would look like in your congregation that would enable it to flourish.

Change or innovation can come in different sizes and shapes, from small, almost imperceptible changes, one could refer to as ‘tinkering’ of ‘fine-tuning’ to major shifts or what have been called ‘second order’ changes. We began our research and writing much before the advent of the global pandemic which we find ourselves in presently. As a result, some significant mid-stream adjustments were called for in our research and analysis. It is safe to say that the changes that have occurred in the average Canadian congregation/parish over the past twelve months would fall into the range of ‘second order’ changes.

What we found as a result of our face-to-face interviews and focus groups with approximately 100 leaders from Roman Catholic, Mainline Protestant, and Conservative Protestant traditions as well as our close to 9000 survey participants, was that readiness and resilience in change was nearly twice as high among growing congregations/parishes as it was among declining ones. On the other end of that spectrum, resistance or reluctance toward change was close to three times higher among declining churches as it was among growing ones.

With respect to the areas in which change or innovation was most evident, the following six responses rose to the top: music, programs (kids, seniors, etc.), preaching/homily, finances, governance/structure and evangelism. As mentioned above, most of our research occurred prior to COVID-19’s appearance, when the pressure to change was largely minimal. What the pandemic, with its radical restrictions, has forced congregations/parishes to do is to implement ways and means of connecting never before considered and to deploy technology, such as Zoom and pre-recorded services with technological devices at their disposal. Unfortunately some congregations have found themselves ill-equipped to produce online ministries. Furthermore, such equipment is costly, and with the curtailment of indoor gatherings, finances became an issue for many.

It was interesting to note how even prior to the pandemic, congregations/parishes that had already begun to establish an online presence experienced comparatively less challenge in staying connected as well as in congregational giving. Churches can no longer carry on and flourish on the basis of “if you build it, they will come.” What this means is the ‘same old, same old’ approaches that may have been effective in by-gone decades simply do not carry the same currency in today’s Canadian context. That is not to suggest that our research implies a complete sell-out or abandonment of all previous paradigms. However, it leaves little doubt whatsoever that innovative, creative thinking and carefully calculated risk-taking – a willingness to change – has become a non-negotiable for any congregation or parish desiring to flourish.

Our chapter on innovation provides you with some helpful resources in this whole area of change, as well as some questions that will assist in helpful discussion and reflection.


Win a copy of our new book!!

Tweet us or tag us in a Facebook post with one resource about innovation, that has been particularly helpful to your church during the pandemic. We will randomly draw one name and mail the winner a complimentary copy of our book!


What We Are Reading

A Canadian Resource for the Flourishing of the Church

Tired of reading about the church rooted in the context of the US or the UK? If so Signs of Life will be a refreshing resource. Joel Thiessen, Bill McAlpine, Keith Walker, and Arch Wong at the Flourishing Congregations Institute at Ambrose University, through sound and deep research methodology, have provided a gift for all churches in Canada. This accessible resource is an enlightening read for all who are interested in the mission of the church in this unique context.

There is no magic formula to flourishing as congregations. They are very clear: churches are not the same. Neighbourhoods, ethos, congregational makeup and history shape a congregation’s health and dynamic. All churches, however, can journey toward themes and directions that lead to greater effectiveness. These themes emerge out of in-depth interviews and focus group conversations with over one hundred denominational leaders in Canada and a survey of nine thousand participants. Throughout that research you discover that flourishing is a multifaceted and dynamic continuum and not a formulaic cookie cutter.

Each chapter unpacks themes that give attention to the organization (self-identity, leadership, innovation, and structure and process), internal factors (discipleship, engaged laity, hospitable community, and diversity), and outward dynamics (neighbourhood involvement, evangelism, and partnerships). Flourishing congregation hold all of these indicators in common but not all in the same degree. Yet these directions and themes provide a compass point for the journey toward congregational health and relevance.

One dynamic emerges that cannot be ignored: A congregation’s ability to grasp and engage in its mission with the new landscapes of culture and context is absolutely essential for the health and flourishing of the church. An unwillingness or inability to do so will only create obsolescence, decline and an ultimate irrelevance.

One can only express a deep sense of gratitude for the willingness and research discipline which creates such a resource. The questions at the end of each chapter make this resource accessible and usable; a tool which will allow use at all places including the congregational level for discussions by boards and elder leadership; a Canadian resource for the Canadian church.

Dr. Gary V Nelson, Former President of Tyndale and author of Borderland Churches and Leading in DisOrienting Times


Resources for Church Leaders

Resources for Safer Church Re-Opening

Want to increase confidence in your congregation and community; to increase your knowledge; and to share what you've learned over the past year?

Join Dr. Bridget Stirling (epidemiologist and former missionary), a team of public health specialists, and church leaders from around the world in the ARCC.

The Application to Reduce Communicable Diseases in Churches (ARCC) is a program that increases safety through Risk self-assessments and guidance, church-specific training and an interactive forum. Visit us at

The Flourishing Canadian Church

Thursdays, from March 11 to April 1, from 1:30pm - 4:30pm EST

What does it look like for congregations here in Canada to flourish? How do you identify transformation, define what it means for a community of faith and look for continued indicators of health and effectiveness?

Using Canadian-based social science research from over 250 Canadian Catholic, mainline, and conservative Protestant congregations (including over 9100 congregants), the Flourishing Congregations research team will be with us over 4 weeks to present their findings. We'll engage topics like innovation, diversity, neighbourhood engagement, discipleship, leadership, evangelism and more. Join us as we consider the results, think through important questions and theological insights, and offer practical considerations and promising possibilities for leaders and congregations who wish to flourish.

Increasing the Experience of the Holy Spirit in Your Parish

April 21 from 7-8pm (Sydney time)

The Holy Spirit wants to animate our lives and impact the ministries of Catholic leaders. How do we respond to this call? How can we help people in our parishes experience the Holy Spirit in a profound way? Relying on the power of the Holy Spirit is one of the three keys of Divine Renovation since we know that parish renewal cannot happen without his power. Join us for a webinar with Deacon Peter Pellicaan Executive Director, Evangelization Brisbane, and Kevin Bailey AM as they discuss how to increase the experience of the Holy Spirit in your parish.

Researching the Impacts of Covid-19 on Congregations

Several research studies are emerging on the impacts of Covid-19 on congregations. Click Here to learn from these data-driven insights.


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