Yes, we can be innovative. But it’s tiring!
The Rev. Bronwyn Corlett
Innovation takes a lot of work. And sometimes it doesn’t take as much work as you think it will, but it takes a ton of energy. Being innovative and creative is exhausting for many people. And in churches, frankly, many of us have enjoyed the comfort of familiarity for a long time. It’s one of the things that we like about church: it’s traditions, familiar hymns, and welcoming faces.
During the pandemic, communities of faith across Canada (and the world) have pivoted in creative and innovative ways. Almost everyone went online, a few didn’t. Some engaged brand-new ministry from afar: zoom gatherings, walking ministries, innovative music sharing, etc. Many are now planning to continue hybrid worship services where some gather in person, some gather online, and some watch the recordings of these gatherings.
Many are ready and perhaps even desperate for things to go back to normal. Despite all the innovation and success, people are tired and are ready for the comfort of doing things the way they’ve always done them.
Yes, people have done church without their buildings but people miss their buildings.
People have done church without meeting in person, but people want to meet in person or in real life (IRL). People have done worship, Bible study, fundraisers, funerals, weddings, birthdays, coffee hour, and other small group ministries online, but people want to do these things IRL.
I met with a church a week ago who has loved the pandemic.
They have had four online celebrations of baptism since the initial lockdown in March of 2020.
They have done different things during worship including live streaming a walk around their neighbourhood, discussion group topics instead of a sermon, and invited a variety of preachers, including lay people from their own community.
They are running multiple, online faith formation groups that are drawing people they have never met before, likely people who would never have entered their building. Some people who never will enter their building because they live in different cities or even countries.
As this community of faith considers how to return to IRL there is concern about how their community will be defined going forward. Hybrid is difficult. So they are trying to hold on to what they’ve learned from their pandemic flourishing:
Empower new leadership
Invite and try new ideas
Focus on faith development through questions that matter to people
I have heard amazing stories of innovation in the past two years:
A congregation that moved senior-focused small group ministry online and now engages hundreds of seniors within their community every week through various offerings.
Several congregations whose donations have remained steady or even increased, despite congregations not being able to meet in person.
Music meditations offered online that have reached the spiritual-but-not-religious community.
Families and friends who can worship together again, despite living in different places.
Guest preachers leading from the other side of the world.
But several churches and communities would like to retire their innovative efforts and return to what they know and love about their home communities. That is not a bad thing, in fact, it makes perfect sense to me. The challenge is that these communities of faith very likely aren’t the same anymore. Some have moved or died, or simply won’t return. Some will want to engage differently now. Some won’t be vaccinated or will feel more vulnerable and won’t want to gather IRL. Some will simply want to remain in their pajamas with a coffee while joining a live-streamed service.
Innovation is tiring and people want to go back to the way things were. Or at least, that’s the story I’ve been hearing recently. I’ve also felt the passion and excitement that some of these innovative ministries have inspired.
I wonder, as we attempt to return to old patterns, if we’ll realize that we’ve built up far more tolerance for innovation than we think we have. I wonder if our previous practices won’t fit as well as we think they will. I wonder if we’re realize that we’re far more resilient that we think.
Be sure to rest and engage your Sabbath time. It has been a tiring two years. But our work is not done yet. In fact, I think it might just be beginning.
The Rev. Bronwyn Corlett
New Ministry Animator, Network and Coaches Coordinator
EDGE: A Network for Ministry Development / Réseau pour le développement des ministères
The United Church of Canada / L'Église Unie du Canada
What We Are Reading
I have found it interesting to compare two pieces by the same author that have addressed the impact on the Church as we slowly move towards a post-pandemic church, those two being: 8 Disruptive Church Trends that will Rule 2021, and 12 Trends that will Shape the Church in 2022, both by Carey Nieuwhof.
In his first article, Nieuwhof suggests the following trends would influence the church in 2021:
The majority of attenders may no longer be in the room
Growing churches will shift their focus from gathering to connecting
Some Pastors Will Try to Fill Auditoriums While Others Focus On Fulfilling The Mission
Growing Churches Will See the Internet and Their Buildings Differently
Content Alone Won’t Cut It: Community and Connection Will
Generational Differences Will Become Clearer Than Ever
The Political and Ideological Churches Will Lose Influence With The Unchurched
Spiritual Entrepreneurs Will Thrive
In summary, Nieuwhof strongly cautions against gauging the effectiveness of a church’s ministry by the numbers in attendance at weekend gatherings. Connecting is as important as content, and must take place out-of-facility and even online. Innovation and a willingness to risk will prove to be non-negotiable.
In his second article, Nieuwhof identifies the following 12 trends that will shape the church in 2022:
The Demise of the Old Model of Church
Growing Churches Will Innovate Beyond Weekend Services
The Vision for the Future Will Become Clearer
Attendance Will Normalize (And You’ll Have a New Church)
Hybrid Church Will Simply Become Church
In-Person Will Become More Personal
Information Will Move Online and Transformation Will Move to In-Person
Location-Independent Church Members Will Increase
Pastors Will Sense a Diminished Authority
The Brain Drain Will Become Acute
The Exit of Uninvested Investors (A Recalibration in Giving)
Like the first article referred to above, what Nieuwhof suggests could prove to be disheartening for those committed to doing things as they have always been done and a return to pre-pandemic normality. The reality that he points to is that much of the apparent demise of the church was already in process long before COVID hit. However, the bottom line that emerges from both of these articles is that there is reason to be hopeful for the future of the church. But such an optimistic prospect is absolutely contingent upon leaders maintaining a solid commitment to the essential mission of the church along with a willingness to relinquish anachronistic models of church ministry and to venture into the unknown with an entrepreneurial spirit and the courage to risk. Failure to do both of these guarantees a very short shelf-life for the church as we have known it for the past several centuries.
Rev. Dr. Bill McAlpine, Professor Emeritus, Ambrose University
Evangelical Fellowship of Canada Resource Reveal Webinar
THURSDAY, MARCH 3, 2022, 1 – 2PM EST
The EFC has recently launched four new resources to help churches engage with politicians, host conversations on racism, participate in reconciliation, and welcome newcomers to Canada. To find out more about these new resources, register for this Resource Reveal event register here.
When All Things Aren’t Equal: Tackling Global Gender Equality
TUESDAY, MARCH 8, 2022, 3 – 4PM EST
Join us online on March 8th, International Women’s Day, as we connect with global experts about gender equality. You’ll hear from three international Food for the Hungry staff as they speak on gender norms, child marriage, gender-based violence, and more. Register Here.
Answering God's Call for Your Parish
Online event for priests
THURSDAY, MARCH 10, 2022, 1PM EST
The present moment offers a turning point for parishes: to orient everything towards mission like never before. What opportunities lie ahead of us? What holds us back? What can mission look like in this new context?
Following our event on what God is saying to the Church, we’re inviting priests from around the world into a global conversation to explore what prioritizing mission might look like in concrete ways as we emerge into a post-pandemic world. Register Here.
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada Pastors Zoom Prayer Gathering
Wednesday, March 16, 2022, 11AM – 12NOON EST
The purpose is to pray that God’s presence, direction, and strengthening will be with you in these challenging times as you navigate your church’s mission and ministry in 2022. Please invite fellow pastors, staff, and lay leaders to also join you for this special prayer time. Register Here.
Small Church Surveys
If you’re a small church pastor (150 people or less), Faith Today wants to hear about your experience leading a church of this size.
Click here for more information about participating in an online survey conducted by a Canadian ministry partnership.
The New Faces of Church Plantings
Did you see "New Faces of Church Planting"? It’s the most extensive North American study of church “multiplication” ever conducted. Run by Dr. Warren Bird and ECFA, you can get a unique survey link for your church and get a report back with the findings. Take the Survey
Canadian Religion in Global Perspective
The goal of this report is to provide a concise high-quality descriptive portrait of key religiosity indicators in 81 countries from 2017-2020 European Values Survey (EVS) and World Values Survey (WVS) data, with a special focus on Canada. Read Report
Religiosity in Canada and its evolution from 1985 to 2019
In recent decades, the religious landscape in Canada has undergone significant changes, including a decline in religious affiliation and the practice of religious activities, both collectively and individually. Data from several cycles of the General Social Survey were used in this study to paint a portrait of the diverse relationships Canadians have with religion. The study also presents key trends in the evolution of religiosity in Canada since 1985. Download Report
How might churches flourish after the pandemic? in Faith Today.
This article explores some of the realities that churches might anticipate moving forward, with focused attention given to innovation and engaged laity. Read Report
Report on Catholic Parishes in Canada
This report captures the descriptive findings on perceptions and experiences in areas such as congregational identity, leadership, innovation, discipleship, engaged laity, hospitable community, neighbourhood involvement, and evangelism within Catholic parishes in Canada. Download Report