Congregations and Neighbouring
Dr. Joel Thiessen, Professor of Sociology, Director of the Flourishing Congregations Institute
Would your neighbourhood notice if your congregation was no longer there? This is the question that church leaders consistently presented to our research team when asked to define the traits of a flourishing congregation. No other variable arose more strongly; if a church was not active in its community, church leaders questioned if a congregation could be considered flourishing.
We explored this topic further in our recent national survey of Catholic, mainline, and conservative Protestant congregations across Canada – over 120 churches and 4,000 individuals participated. Below I address several data points by comparing results between congregations believed to be growing, staying the same, or declining in size, according to survey respondents when reflecting on their own congregation. (Eventually we plan to conduct this analysis by comparing religious traditions, size of town/city, province, size of congregation, and so forth … stay tuned!).
All three groups show high levels of agreement that a flourishing congregation is involved in its neighbourhood, however growing congregations show a stronger propensity to strongly agree (see Figure 1).
Figure 1 – “a flourishing congregation is involved in its neighbourhood and community”
When asked if their own congregation has an active presence in the community, we see a sharper contrast in responses. Those who say their congregations are growing are far more likely to agree or strongly agree (see Figure 2).
Figure 2 – “our congregation has an active presence in the wider community”
It is one thing for a congregation to be involved in the neighbourhood, it is another for individuals personally to be active in those initiatives. As one might expect, far fewer individuals overall agreed or strongly agreed on this measurement, though again those in growing congregations were more likely to do so (see Figure 3).
Figure 3 – “you personally regularly take part in congregational activities that reach out to the wider community”
What about the groups that congregations engage with in their neighbourhood? In Figure 4 we show the five most cited populations. Keep in mind that these responses vary based on local context and region, including both the immediate neighbourhood around one’s congregation as well as the demographics of the town/city that one lives in.
Figure 4 – Prominent Groups that Congregations Engage With
Last, would my neighbourhood notice if my church was no longer here? Overall, two-thirds or more agreed or strongly agreed, with those in growing congregations well ahead in this regard again (see Figure 5). Of course, this does not mean that communities would actually notice or miss congregations if they left; these data simply reveal that those in congregations believe those in the community would respond this way. In our next phase of research, in-depth case studies with congregations across Canada, we envision possibly going door-to-door in the communities around churches to test these ideas further.
Figure 5 – “the neighbourhood around our congregation would notice if our congregation was no longer there”
Some practical insights, should you wish to strengthen your congregation’s role in the neighbourhood … and much more could be said!
Study the neighborhood – who lives there? Demographics represented? Strengths and assets? Needs and opportunities? Host a roundtable or listening session with those in your community (e.g., community association, business leaders, not for profit organizations).
Church leadership needs to embrace the vision for an active presence in the community. Is this the heart of those currently leading your church, or might you consider broadening your paid and lay leadership group to strengthen your church’s neighbouring capacities?
Group narrative on the importance of neighbourhood involvement matters. Your prayers, liturgies, stories, and opportunities for neighbourhood involvement – or the absence of these things – all communicate to your church what is ultimately important to your church. Do you publicly pray for the needs of your neighbourhood? Do you share stories during weekly gatherings or online that profile the needs and activities in the neighbourhood? Do you provide specific volunteer opportunities for congregants to make a difference in the community around?
Think/act creatively relative to the demographics and needs in your community. Free oil changes for single parents? Shoveling and yard work for seniors in the community? Weekly dinners and study spaces for university students? The opportunities are endless, but thinking and acting creatively requires knowing who lives in your neighbourhood, listening to them and their assets as well as needs, and then responding in a posture of service among equals.
Explore partnerships with other organizations. Don’t feel like you need to do everything on your own. In line with our blog in August, consider the strengths and resources in other organizations and partner with them to maximally impact the community. Remember, there is no need to re-invent the wheel or duplicate services or efforts that are facilitated well elsewhere.
Want to know more about the Flourishing Congregations Institute, get involved in our national survey, or access free resources to arise from our research? Check out our website for more information and sign up there for our newsletter.
The Millenial Mosaic
Reginald W. Bibby, Joel Thiessen, Monetta Bailey
This just released book provides an up-to-date reading on how Canadian Millennials see the world — their values, joys, and concerns; their views of family, sexuality, spirituality, and other Canadians; and their hopes and expectations as they look to the future. Drawing on data from the early 1980s through to 2016, this book also compares Millennials with Gen Xers, Boomers, and Pre-Boomers. A central thread in the book is that Millennials take for granted a world filled with pluralism and choice, and in many ways may well be an upgrade on previous generations. This book then grapples with the personal and social implications of these social realities.
Buy the Book
Register and find out more about the Global Leadership Summit for October 17-18th at: globalleadershipnetwork.ca/summit2019
Church Planting Canada Congress 2019 for October 22-24. Theme: Planting the North: Celebrating the Stories of New Churches in Canada. Click here for more information and to register.
YYChurch: Does Church Matter?- Ten speakers from church and non-church backgrounds have ten minutes to answer the question: Why church? Or, why not church? How is church relevant or irrelevant today? Speakers include Calgary blogger Mike Morrison and CBC Radio host David Gray, as well as leaders from United, Presbyterian, Anglican, and Evangelical churches in Alberta. Click here to register.
The 2020 Pastor’s Conference in partnership with The Flourishing Congregations Institute at Ambrose University: Life Together: Discipleship in an Age of Distraction; Save the date for February 19, 2020.
The New Leaf Project is a podcast that shares the stories of Canadian Christians who are instigating new things, innovating in our post-modern Canadian context, planting new churches and starting missional minded conversations, conversations, and communities here in Canadian soil. Click here: newleafnetwork.ca/podcasts
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.
Missed our latest newsletters?