My context? Conservative Alberta, but inner-city Calgary. In church vernacular I’m a church planter. In the past 9 years I’ve started two churches (Calgary Missional Church and Cypher Church which I’ll blog about in a future post) and numerous other ministries. I’ve called the city home for over 30 years which has given me insight on many assumptions Canadians have about this province and city. Some are true, and some not so much. Certainly, there’s a smugness developed out of amassed wealth the energy boon bankrolled, partly a result of a certain “can-do attitude” woven into the identity of the city. A sizeable young and wealthy demographic shapes the culture, which includes the role faith has in the average life. For its part, the church has struggled to keep up with the changing times. Those that have benefitted from the riches haven’t reflected the same entrepreneurial DNA, using their resources to build bigger steeples instead.
Church preservation can be expected, institutions have trouble innovating because they’re not built for it. ‘Innovation’ for conventional churches tends to take the pragmatic form of re-packaging the Sunday service with incremental changes, in hopes it will appeal to congregations (and attract a few Christians from elsewhere too). There’s not a lot of ‘out of box’ thinking in action despite stagnation.
The current generation of leaders will be the first to leave behind fewer churches than they inherited. Amidst decline, I feel we haven’t addressed the root issue: churches lack competency to connect with people who don’t look like us. Or to put it in another way, churches in Canada have little interest, or constantly struggle, to share the Gospel with the growing minority who have little to no Christian upbringing. The sociological term for these Canadians is ‘the nones’ (whereas disenfranchised Christians are commonly referred to as ‘the dones’).
Anybody can laugh at the emperor with no clothes, big deal. I’m interested in shaping a solution, and I feel there are many.
For one, Canadian churches lack a practicing multitude of innovators willing to proclaim the Gospel outside of convention. Secondly, we desperately need leaders in the institution, shepherds in the established church, to promote and support pioneers as they explore faith in a new context. Sharing ideas, having conversations about the shape of the religious landscape in our country, and trying out a few ideas along the way, are important exercises to guide churches into deeper participation in the unfolding Kingdom.
The search for answers to this problem is something I’m keenly interested in. It’s the reason why I write, church plant, train, learn, and collaborate with the next wave of leaders and storytellers living out the calling and function found in Ephesians 4:2-13, along with the commission, “GO and make disciples….”, wrapped in our human vocation to be image-bearers of the Creator. It’s my dream to see churches move towards a movement state, not just in good theory, but in a realized practice. Step one for this dream will be to face head-on the significant struggle we have connecting beyond the ‘already churched’, a reality in churches struggling or resilient.
I’m noticing churches of all shapes and sizes taking the time to re-orient towards God’s mission unfolding in the neighbourhood, city, and beyond. What we can’t see today is whether the change will go far enough to have measurable impact on the shifting Canadian cultural landscape. We don’t have the answers, but we do have our calling to try some along the way.
The way I see it, there are a couple options moving forward. Continue to operate under the guise of institutional prestige rooted in the by-gone era of Christendom, or re-imagine an existence that seeks to subvert popular culture with prevailing Gospel. One tries to protect privilege, the other, like the entrepreneurial spirit of the Prairies, is embolden by the opportunity to join transformative Kingdom work already unraveling.