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Break out of the holy huddle

World Vision Canada recently published a new book that speaks directly to Christians in the current demographic landscape of this country; it’s entitled Shifting Stats Shaking the Church: 40 Canadian Churches Respond, written jointly by Patricia Paddey and Karen Stiller.  

To gather data, Dr. Don Moore, National Church Ambassador for World Vision Canada, and Bruxy Cavey, lead Pastor of the Meeting House, travelled to 12 Canadian cities and asked hundreds of people two questions: how has our cultural landscape changed, and how is that influencing your church?

We tend to hear negative examples in response to that second question. Moore and Cavey wanted the opposite – to find churches that are allowing the needs of those around them to shape their ministries, with positive, God-honouring results.

From forum participants and denominational leaders, they gathered the names of 200 churches that seem to be paying attention to their surrounding communities. That number was whittled down to the 40 churches featured in Shifting Stats.

Christian Courier spoke with Dr. Moore while he was on the road in Halifax, N.S.

CC: Can you summarize this book in one line?
Dr. Don Moore: Three simple words: listen, learn and lead. Churches that are listening to their communities, really listening – not only talking but listening – will learn a lot. Once you’ve listened long enough and refused to pass judgment, comments, or even add to the story, then you will be amazed because two things begin to happen. One: you are more informed to make decisions as church leaders for the direction your church should go, and two: you have created credibility with those to whom you’ve listened, and they may give you the privilege to actually lead them. Decades ago, churches had such a central place in society that they could lead from a posture of strength. Today we’re largely marginalized; we basically don’t exist in the world’s mind, and so we can’t presume that. The commonality of all these stories [in Shifting Stats] is that everyone took the time to listen – to the Father above, to the actual participants in their community, and used that information to become a better servant in the community.

Can a church focus both locally and globally, or is it more effective to prioritize?
Actually, you need to do both. You need to be looking at the needs of the world – the Great Commission, the most vulnerable people. The actual hands-on will be done locally. Globally, you’re going to be involved less directly in terms of your time and actual energy. You may be more invested by way of prayer and financial support, with a small number that may go to different parts of the world to witness what God is doing and be involved. I believe that both are critically important.

I noticed that “hands and feet,” as a phrase and as an image, kept cropping up in the book. Have churches in 2015 gotten a bit better at, to quote John Stackhouse, “connecting with the felt needs of our neighbours”?
I think there’s a small but growing movement of churches that are doing that, who are realizing, we’ve got to break out of the holy huddle. We’re currently doing forums across Canada that help churches do neighbourhood mapping. It’s very easy for us to shut down and protect ourselves against everything that doesn’t seem to be right. But the churches that are really cutting it are the ones stepping out, and not in grandiose ways. They’re doing something as simple as asking each person in the church to meet two new people this week – people they haven’t talked to before. Take someone out for coffee. Get to know them. You’re not there to evangelize or tell them about your faith; you’re just there to become a friend. Through that friendship you will be surprised what will be exposed. Before long, you may have an opportunity to see a need you can minister to. If you do that, your church will certainly grow and expand. If you remain safe and protected in your community, you’ll remain static. You may have quality time, but you won’t have the moments God expects by way of reaching out and building his kingdom.

How do household debt levels, at a record 163 percent, affect our churches?
Let’s be realistic. When you spend a dollar and 63 cents for every dollar you earn, you’re eventually going to be in such debt that you’re going to have to do some kind of debt recovery program. Unfortunately, in that situation, the first thing most people quit doing is giving to charity or their local church. The crash about to come is that as we get more and more into debt, people are going to realize that something will happen to our economy, which will make tithing go down. That would affect every church ministry, every charity. Unless these organizations then learn to work together, some will stop functioning.

I’m on the East Coast now, in Halifax. Here’s a great example: several organizations realized that they each were giving food baskets at Christmas. They decided to get together, pool their resources and do it more effectively and efficiently. That’s where charities need to go in the future. We need to build relationships before then.

Speaking of food baskets, I noticed that food keeps coming up in almost all of these 40 stories.
Yes, food is important. In Canadian culture, food is a kind of currency. You get a quicker hearing, and a greater relational connect, when food is involved. It could be a Tim Hortons’ coffee, a dinner out. For years my wife and I hosted a neighbourhood BBQ, and we built more relationships that way than we ever did in the church.

What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in your lifetime within churches in Canada?
The biggest change outside the church has been the immigration shift. Virtually every community across Canada has seen an influx of immigrants, which is impacting our communities. This is why churches need to look at this very carefully. What do you do beyond welcoming them in the door? Invite them to participate in leadership.

From an internal point of view I see more and more hope with the upcoming leadership in churches. They are innovating, exploring creative approaches to ministry, which speaks very well for the future of the church. I see a little bit of a drift in terms of denominational allegiance, because the structures of the past are not valued as highly as what is valued today. You see more organic relationships now, rather than formal ones. It’s all about relationship, community, because the very fabric and nature of God is social, and that’s how he’s created man. Some of the more effective churches don’t even have buildings.

Do you think denominational distinctives still matter?
Yes, they do. I’m not saying that they’re not important, just that they have a different level of priority than they did in the past. Denominations may need to restructure to meet the needs of younger leaders. Some denominations are beginning to work together, but they still retain their uniqueness. How do we build the fabric of the church? I do not pick a church based on theology: “I love your theology, now I’m going to tolerate the people.” It’s the other way around. Do I love the people? And if I do, theology may not be as narrowly defined. I might be ready to participate in a wide range of denominations if the relationships are ones I sense are from God.

Where should we ask the Holy Spirit to move in Canadian churches today? What’s your prayer for the future?
My prayer is that leaders would become even more aware of the voice of God, and be ready to respond and obey. And that our leaders would be even more committed to listening, learning and leading, in that posture. Learn so that they are better equipped to lead.

That’s a strong emphasis on leadership. How do you define a leader?
Any influence you have on those around you – which therefore qualifies everyone. Whether it’s a mother influencing her three-year-old or a pastor leading a church of 5,000 – leadership is all about bringing influence to bear on the lives of others. So the question I would have for you and for me is, “Who does Angela and who does Don have to influence, and how are we influencing them?”

  • Angela became Editor of CC in 2009, having learned English grammar in Moscow, research skills in grad school and everything else on the fly. Her vision is for CC to give body to a Reformed perspective by exploring what it means to follow Jesus today. She hopes that the shared stories of God at work in the world inspire each reader to participate in the ongoing task of renewing his creation. Angela lives in Newcastle, Ontario with her husband, Allan, and three young children

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