Thinking Out Loud

September 20, 2010

In Canada, The Mission Field Starts at Home

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:13 pm

I’m kinda off schedule today and this post, and possibly tomorrow’s, are a little late appearing.

Part of this is due to a two hour conversation I had last night with the man who hired me for the only local church position I have ever held.  (All my other jobs have been with parachurch organizations, or related to Christian publishing.)  It was the first time in about two years we’ve talked; probably the longest stretch we’ve had without contact.

I have more take-aways from that call — my former boss is very knowledgeable on church-related things — than I list here, but one thing that struck me is how fragile the local church is in Canada.    A consequence of this is that because things are so tenuous here, there are very great disparities between regions, even within the same province.  And the French-language church in Quebec is a story unto itself with many different dynamics.

I’ve long known about the Canadian “Bible Belt” in Western Canada, and a mini-version of it in Western Ontario; but I didn’t know the degree of contrast between, for example, Windsor, Ontario and Oshawa, Ontario.

I didn’t realize the degree to which the church is in decline in parts of Canada while seemingly growing in other parts.  He told me a story of a church plant which mailed out 80,000 advertising pieces and failed to attract one single person to the launch service.

All this comes just days after Outreach Magazine released another one of its lists of the Top 100 Churches in the United States.   Why don’t we have a list like that here?

My former boss suggested that among people who study the church, there is really no interest because, as one U.S. scholar put it, “The church is non-existent in Canada.”    When I asked the editor of a Canadian Christian periodical about the possibility of doing a top Church list here — even a top ten list — he e-mailed back saying, essentially, “What’s the point?”

I wrote him back saying,

As I looked at the U.S. data, I realized how little I know about Canada. I’m aware of two or three mega churches here in Ontario; I know the Alliance has some large churches in Alberta; I think there’s something Hillsong-related in Winnipeg and perhaps a large Pentecostal church or two in Vancouver; but I’m realizing how totally ignorant I am about my own country.

I thought perhaps knowing who the top ten are — at least — might be interesting. I can’t begin to guess who they are; let alone name the church, city and pastor. I’ll bet most Canadians know more about NorthPoint and Willow Creek and Lifechurch than they do about… whoever they are up here.

I’d just like to counterbalance the U.S. data I’m bombarded with.

But then I get a call reminding me of the other side of the story, that there are far too many small, hurting, struggling, hanging-by-a-thread churches in Canada; and with them a lot of frustrated, discouraged, burned-out, ready-to-give-up pastors.  The rate of attrition is high and climbing.

While sending out missionaries to third world countries is important, I think Canadian Christians need to be aware of the needs here at home.   It’s so easy to get swept up in U.S. Evangelical culture and just assume that we’re an extension of that.

We’re only, at best, very distantly related.

This link to a story on the new Top 100 list points out that there are actually more “gigachurches” (i.e. over 10,000 in attendance) in the U.S. than the survey reports, because some churches don’t want to be part of the annual study.    One explanation:  “Some churches don’t want to negatively affect other churches.”

For statistical information on Canadian churches, consider checking out the Churchmap Canada pages at Outreach Canada.

8 Comments »

  1. I conducted a “Mission ” style Sunday School in my area in Canada for 25yrs. I was glad to take over from two aging Christian brothers ,because I had the burden to fulfill in a small effort the Scriptures direction to “go ye—“.A Christian businessman helped with the rent of the premises I was using and my Church supplied Sunday school literature to compliment the lessons . Needless to say , I personally did all the leg work.I tried to encourage my Church to establish ” a church Plant” operation using the Sunday School as the spot to do a “launch” and starting with the parents as the hoped for initial Church congregation. Enthusiasm from the church for my suggestions was almost non existant.So my S/S remained just that for all the years I served there. This latent attitude, I now realize was a constant in my Province from the early 50’s to the 70’s.”Where there is no vision—-” Prov.29,18

    Comment by Joe Lambert — September 21, 2010 @ 1:07 am

  2. I’m a video producer with the in-house multimedia team for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA (twentyonehundred productions). We co-sponsor the Urbana Student Missions Conference with sister student movements in English- (Inter-Varsity Canada) and French- (Groupes Bibliques Universitaires et Collegiaux du Canada) speaking Canada.

    One of the speakers at the most recent Urbana was Sunder Krishnan, pastor of Rexdale Alliance Church in Toronto. We did a video for the conference to introduce him and his church that I thought you might be interested in seeing. While his church may not be among the top 100 in Canada, it does seem to be having an influence on its local community:

    If you’re interested, you can watch his 25-minute Urbana talk on prayer:

    Comment by Glenn — September 21, 2010 @ 5:15 pm

  3. Oops.

    Comment by Glenn — September 21, 2010 @ 5:30 pm

    • No oops necessary. WordPress lets me edit reader comments. It’ll be our little secret!

      You’re right; Rexdale Alliance is a very positive model. I’ll watch both videos much later today.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — September 21, 2010 @ 6:00 pm

  4. I watch Pastor Price of the Peoples Church of Toronto every week on directv. Satellite tv opened up a whole world of services, but I only ti-vo a handful. Pastor Price is one of those.

    Comment by Laura — September 21, 2010 @ 10:08 pm

    • Actually, we’re huge fans of Charles Price, and I was able to meet him a few years ago at MissionFest.

      Peoples Church in Toronto was once Canada’s only megachurch… I think it has enjoyed a resurgence since Charles Price arrived as pastor.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — September 21, 2010 @ 10:26 pm

  5. I find I’m not informed about Canadian religious trends, Canadian Christianity, faith and regionalism, needs, pros and cons either Paul.

    I wonder if my ignorance is due to a couple of things:
    a) the information and infrastructure is not in the marketplace like it is in the US
    b) top 10 lists are not part of the Cdn (or even Commonwealth) culture like it is in the US
    c) small and struggling isn’t the same as burned out leadership and expectations
    d) I ask myself regularly if we have a viable evangelical communication/media structure in Canada or whether I’m dumb about knowing where to look.
    e) scholarship and research which has been done is harder to find and I’m not clear why. I don’t see our scholars and researchers perceived as celebrities like I’d see in the US. What is there isn’t as packaged for average consumption as we see south of us.

    We certainly have needs in Canada, which may or may not be well met by more statistical information and research.
    I find myself wishing Canadian information was easier to find too, but I’m not optimistic the tsunami of info from the US can be counterbalanced.

    Comment by Bene D — September 25, 2010 @ 4:13 am

    • A few quick replies…

      (a) The U.S. is religiously Christian, Canada is religiously pluralistic. U.S. Christians have a higher percentage of Evangelicals; Canadian Christians tend to be mainline Protestant or Roman Catholic.
      (b) More than 50% of all Canadian churches have less than 100 adults present on Sunday morning, in the U.S. that’s only 23%. Our churches are small
      (c) Historically, Americans were able to give a far greater percentage of their income (as far as tax receipts go) than Canadians, though the gap has closed. Americans have a greater velocity of money in general, and a greater history of giving and supporting local churches in particular.
      (d) Americans tend to gather around larger churches and celebrate what they are doing; Canadians tend to dismiss megachurches pejoratively as extensions of American church growth philosophy.
      (e) Church growth studies written by Canadian scholars wouldn’t sell enough copies to justify the book’s printing for the same reason most Christian books don’t do well generally. A few exceptions do exist however; and print-on-demand technology will allow for more domestic research to reach more readers.

      Again, the Outreach Canada website was most useful; it’s really all we’ve got right now.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — September 25, 2010 @ 9:23 pm


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