Thursday, April 28, 2011

Reaching Caucasian Canadians

One of the exciting gifts in my role is the opportunity to dialogue with other Canadian denominational leaders. While the Anabaptist perspective I bring is an important contribution to the dialogue I also benefit from the perspective of others.

One such meeting recently with denominational leaders within the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) produced an interesting conversation. We were discerning together what new initiatives will be required for missional effectiveness in Canada. The discussion turned to church planting and the need to develop congregations that appeal to Caucasian Canadians.

This prompted one denominational leader to exclaim: “For denominations to be effective in the future they will need to focus on new Canadian church plants. It will be the new Canadians who will reach out to the white, young adult Canadians. You see that happening already in the second generation English services of these congregations.”

It was an interesting comment that caused us all to pause in silence. I had often heard denominations lament that the only new congregations being formed were among new Canadian groups. But here was a perspective that not only applauded this reality but declared it to be of strategic importance for impacting mainstream Canadian society.

I have always appreciated the ethnic diversity within Mennonite Church Canada and feel we are much richer as a Church family because of it. We worship in over 15 different languages. This is a reality to be celebrated.

Perhaps it is true: that as we embrace the enthusiastic witness of new Canadians, our impact in mainstream Canadian society will be strengthened.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Costly Vision

A recent news release prompted a very interesting response. I have been mulling it over ever since I received it.

The news release indicated that Mennonite Church Canada was discerning the need for a smaller structure in keeping with the seven year trend of declining donation revenue. This is no small task. The article identified the current economic strain as part of the reason for the declining donation trend.

The response I received from one of our pastors provided another perspective to the analysis. This pastor attributed the downward trend in donations to the gathering steam of the missional church vision the denomination embraced several years ago. Data analysis indicates that over the same seven year period, donations to congregations have remained relatively steady. I don’t have hard evidence to back up my next claim, but it makes anecdotal sense that the greater embrace of the missional church vision by a congregation, the greater the increase of donations to that vision. In other words, where people are getting excited about what their congregation is doing, the financial support follows.

This is reason to celebrate. Indeed, it is exciting to see congregations all across Canada discerning the activity of God and becoming aligned with that activity in their arena of ministry. However, this exciting development has created a challenge. Congregations are getting so excited about what they are doing that they are forgetting the missional ministries of the national church and area churches. With this as a reality the pastor responded to the news release by saying: “living out the missional vision is costly to the denomination!” So, now the national church must reposition itself to engage differently with the success from the pews that we have worked and prayed for.

Of course, there is still important work that must be continued by the national church. International ministries, pastoral leadership development, resourcing congregations, providing a national voice - these are still core responsibilities of the national church entity. They represent activity that remains true to our values and ethos of a community of faith engaging in ministry together.

These are disconcerting times for the national church. Over time, I believe we will also see a more exciting future for the national and area churches. The missional church vision is taking root and changing what it means to be Church in Canada. But for the ministries and activities of Mennonite Church Canada, it has become a costly vision.