© 2019 by Joel Thiessen. All rights reserved.

Advice for a Denomination: From a Sociologist of Religion

August 6, 2015

Advice for a Denomination: From a Sociologist of Religion

I recently met with a group from the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada. I was asked: What advice would you give our denomination? This can always be a dangerous question to answer, for fear that the response is interpreted as a critique or a list of the current or potential pitfalls. I have great respect for this denomination and they are a leader (in my view) for many other denominations to follow in Canada today. Nonetheless, a response was warranted. As I might have communicated with several other groups, I could have said many things in general about flourishing congregations or incorporating technology or passing on the faith from one generation to the next. Below is a brief overview of my oral response (in no particular order).

 

  • Embrace the many strengths of your denomination (e.g. message of hope, entrepreneurial spirit, willingness to take risks, human and financial resources, missionary impetus). Know what those strengths are and build on them.

 

  • Remain cognizant that amidst the missionary impulse to lands far away, the global center of Christianity resides in the global South and East. The global North and West (i.e. Canada) are increasingly global mission fields today. What might this awareness mean for how this denomination and a local congregation thinks about mission – practically, structurally, and theologically? How could the missionary emphasis translate to those sitting in the pews relative to their neighbors, coworkers, friends, and family in Canada?

 

  • Is bigger better? This denomination hosts some of the largest congregations in the country. Just as there are many strengths associated with larger congregations, be mindful of the institutional downsides to larger congregations for ministry (e.g. connectedness among attenders, perceive distance between leaders and followers). What strengths can be fostered in smaller congregations, and what institutional and infrastructural decisions might arise or expand in response?

 

  • This denomination is known for planting many churches across Canada, and actually fairs rather well comparatively speaking in their success to do so (especially churches that plant other churches). Still, in a recent blog I raised the question over the perceived need to plant churches in Canada – it is one that I gently caution in this context as well.

 

  • Immigration from the global South and East is a significant source of stability and growth for this denomination. Awareness of and adequate responses to this fact will largely shape what this denomination looks like in the coming decades. How does the leadership composition reflect the emerging ethnic diversity? Are churches mono-cultural or truly multicultural (multiple ethnic groups in a single congregation that exist in silos does not count)? Are different ethnic groups warmly embraced and given voice within the denomination/congregation?

 

Much more could be said and some will agree or disagree with these points – agreement or disagreement are both good and healthy. Have thoughts or suggestions? Want to read more about any of these areas? Send me an email at jathiessen@ambrose.edu and stay in touch via my website at www.joelthiessen.ca.

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JOEL THIESSEN, PhD
sociologist