Thinking Out Loud

April 16, 2018

Missing Church

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:19 am

There have not been a lot of weekends in my life where I’ve missed church, in one form or another, altogether. It’s even more weird to think that yesterday this was also true for most of the people I know.

Unlike our friends in nearby Buffalo, we don’t get hit with a lot of church closings. We get Sundays when the weather seems to definitely impact attendance. It will have been a great week and then a weather system rolls in on Saturday night. Is God just testing the resolve of our pastors and church leaders?

Attendance sags on those occasions, volunteers don’t show up, and you can bet your bottom dollar (pun intended) that offerings are down. But we’re hearty and our cities, towns and villages all have snowploughs (the preferred spelling here) because, after all, this is Canada.

But consistently on Saturday night, church after church looked at the satellite imagery, looked at the forecast, and looked out the window and announced closings. Well all except for The Salvation Army. They’re an army after all, and it takes more than a few inches of freezing rain to shut down an army.

But some were reluctant. Like these guys, who I won’t name:

Apparently, not “forsaking the assembly” is sacrosanct; an eleventh commandment so to speak. So it was going to take an act of God for this church not to meet.

But in the end, they caved to the planetary conditions in their region and shut down like the rest of us.

Well, not all of us.

You see to this point, I’ve not told you the full story. To the best of our knowledge, based on websites and church Facebook pages, it was the Evangelical churches which cancelled services. In the Mainline churches, it was business as usual.

My son, who is currently helping out a Roman Catholic Church choir director in another city, weighed in with the news that his church, “only cancels if it’s snowing in the Vatican.” (For the record, Sunday in Rome was, as today will also be, 21°C or 70°F and partly cloudy.)

Now it’s true that many Anglican (Episcopal), Presbyterian, Lutheran, Catholic, etc. churches operate on something closer to a parish system — meaning if you live in that parish you go to that local church — rather than having regional churches as do Evangelicals. It is also true that Evangelicals will drive greater distances because of the charisma of a particular speaker or the doctrinal distinctives of a particular tribe. (I have one contact in this area who drives, in good weather, about 90 minutes deep into Toronto for that particular reason.)

It’s also a fact of life in most of the Mainline churches that the pastor/rector/priest has a manse located next door to the church. Commute Time = 0.00 Minutes. So there’s no reason for him/her not to be there on time to open the building.

Despite all this, I still find it surprising that without exception all the Evangelical churches in my little corner of the world opted to shut down.

…The saving grace this morning was churches streaming live, or delayed sermon podcasts. I can’t emphasize enough how blessed we are to live in this age of technology where so many resources are available to us.

Television, the resource of an earlier generation, is less of a factor as local stations claim more time to sell advertising for programs highlighting the weekend in sports, or Sunday morning political round-tables. You might catch some programs, but without access to a dedicated Christian cable or satellite channel, you won’t see much.

Nonetheless, I still missed the interactions, the corporate worship, the corporate prayer and sitting in person under live teaching taking place in the same room. 

The forecast for next Sunday promises weather that is much more balmy.

 

 

 

January 15, 2017

Christian Bookstores Wondering What Happened to Christmas

Only a small handful of you would know that I also write a blog specifically for Christian bookstore owners and managers in Canada. This past week we’ve heard from a few about how their year ended, and the common theme seems to be that the bottom fell out of the month of December. One store apparently had a 20% drop from the same month a year previous, others reported less severe drops, and I suspect many of our brothers and sisters in the US experienced a similar year.

So what happened? Were there weather factors? Was there a gravitational pull to other types of retail to buy hot items this Christmas? Was it the Trump effect?

I can only say that I know the value of these stores and the ministry that can take place when such a place exists. The “category killing” of bookstores in general may not have stopped people from reading, but where Christian stores are concerned, the loss of stores is a loss of a neutral meeting place for Christians of all denominations and the loss of potential referrals to those churches.

Someone put it this way:

we-heart-christian-bookstores-2

Tomorrow we’ll take another look at why the stores are hurting.

 

November 16, 2010

Losing a Christian Bookstore, Even in a Small Town, Is Sad

The staff at the Christian bookstore where I hang out several days a week has reason to be concerned.   Christian bookstores have been dropping like flies over the past few years.    For all the reasons you know, plus in Canada, one extra one:  Deflation.

Deflation is what happens to a business when its costs are going up, but the retail price of its products are going down.   It happens in Canada because the retail price of Christian books is indexed to the U.S. price, and the Canadian dollar has been holding its own during a period where the U.S. dollar has been battered on world markets.

So while our brothers and sisters in the U.S. have lost their stores because their economy has been so devastated, the resulting effect on their dollar means stores here have been hit hard because our economy is so strong, relatively.   (Don’t worry if you don’t get that.   I’ve been writing a blog for two years now just for Christian retail store owners, and not all of them fully understand the full ramifications of selling in deflationary times.)

The staff have been cautiously asking questions about the long-term direction of our little set of two stores.    I’ve told them not to be careful in asking questions.   This is a rough time for brick-and-mortar bookstores of all stripes, and every question can be on the table.

But I’m not really sure how to answer their questions.   I feel like God was in this when we established it all those years ago.   I often tell the stories of how God brought our little business into being.   But I don’t always see God at work in the day to day maintenance and ongoing operations of those stores.   There are encouraging moments, but mostly the sense we get is that things are slowly drawing to a close.

There are two reasons for this.

First of all we live in a province — Ontario — that is currently governed at what most of my readers would call the state level by a liberal government that is very, very anti-business.   Especially small business.   There is not enough space in this blog to list all the things that they have ‘undone’ during their time in power.  And are continuing to ‘undo.’   With all due respect to any entrepreneurs reading this who happen to live where I live, you’d have to be nuts to start a small business in the province of Ontario.

Second, one of our stores is located in a town where mathematics has dictated that one local church actually holds the deciding vote on which way our store there will go.   How can I explain this?   Remember a past Presidential election when it all came down to the Electoral College votes from the state of Florida?  Well,  Florida didn’t ask to be in that position.   They didn’t know, going in, that it would all come down to their state’s ballots.   But the mathematics of the situation ended up handing them the final election decision.    In this case, a local church that is ordering many, many, many packages of Christian resources per month online is holding the deciding vote.   And we’ve told them that.  And we’ve told them we’re sorry that the dynamics of the situation has ended up where it is.

A Christian bookstore has a whole lot to offer a local community.   I’m determined not to be another casualty — we even joked a few years back about being the last one standing — but with each passing day we see the proverbial marker writing on the proverbial whiteboard.

The only lighter moment today came from my youngest son:  “So, Dad, is there any way you can get paid to write a blog?”

October 12, 2009

Sharing the Spotlight, Passing the Torch

Coming Events sampleFor the last five years I’ve been doing a project on the side that represents something I once swore I would never do.    I’ve been publishing a monthly newsletter that lets people know what’s going on that would be of interest to the local Christian community; and with our twin-towns having a population of less than 40,000; there often isn’t much going on at all, and the whole project seems hardly worthwhile.

Years ago, I met a guy — I think his name was Bill Scarborough — who published the Christian Activities Calendar magazine in several cities.   At the time I thought the whole thing was rather pedestrian.   Why not produce a magazine that does outreach, or discusses doctrine, or deals with youth and family issues?

But now I do the same thing.   The newsletter still goes out, but we modified a blog page to get online quickly.    It’s filled with concerts, car washes, bake sales, conferences, church picnics and lots of advertising for our local Christian bookstore.    It would be easy for someone to say I should be using that energy for evangelism, or theological discussion, or examining parenting and marriage issues.

But nested in between the seminars and the fundraisers and the singles events there are often things that are worthy of reaching a greater audience, often put together by people who aren’t connected or established or loaded with the money it often takes to make things happen.

I just finished watching the first two parts of a four-part series on DVD by Andy Stanley called Playing God and it reminds me of the need to use whatever power and influence I may have to help those who have even less.  His example in Part Two was Jesus stripping himself (literally) of his status and position to wash His disciples feet.

When it comes to these new or unknown or untried or unproven ventures I think my goal is obvious:

  1. We need to promote them
  2. We need to elevate them
  3. We need to resource them

To me, if the premise is valid and the doctrinal convictions of the organizers are sound and the spiritual benefit to the participants will be real; then I want to be seen as someone lending support.   Just as the business world has “incubators” for new ventures, so also do we need to incubate local ministry providers who want to serve the communities where we live.

Christian Events headerWe need to celebrate that in this chaotic world, there are individuals who are still willing to get their hands dirty in ministry; still willing to risk failure; still willing to attempt new ministry start-ups.

I don’t want be a skeptic sitting on the sidelines waiting to see if it will happen.   I want to make it happen.

Right now there are people in your town who are starting something or dreaming a dream or are out there in the trenches doing real ministry who need your support.   Whatever power and influence you have, use it to share the spotlight or pass the torch to those who will follow after.   Especially those next-generation projects that are so easily dismissed by the “religious establishment” as non-consequential.

What will you do to help ministries where you live?

If you want to see what our “Coming Events” site looks like you can click here.   If you don’t have one of these in your community, why not start one?

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