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Monday, May 4, 2015

"Shifting Stats" (Patricia Paddey and Karen Stiller)

TITLE: Shifting Stats Shaking The Church: 40 Canadian Churches Respond
AUTHOR: Patricia Paddey and Karen Stiller
PUBLISHER: Mississauga, ON, World Vision Canada, 2015, (241 pages).

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The world is changing, and changing fast. As the people of God continues to live in the world, remembering that they are not of the world, it is still important to remember the unique witness churches have for God. In spite of shifting sands and changing environments, the Church must learn to stay the course in proclaiming Jesus everywhere she goes. Amid the struggles, there are successes. Amid the good happenings, there are challenging moments. Whatever the circumstances, churches will do well to know the contexts of the ministries they are in. Beginning with a startling foreword that paints the unique times of Canadian culture and religious climate, faith journalists Patricia Paddey and Karen Stiller were commissioned by World Vision Canada to help tell the stories of Churches in Canada that are making a difference in their neighbourhoods, how they are contributing to society, and the unique roles they play. The forty churches in this study range from churches as small as 15 to as large as 3500+. Based on stories shared at "World Vision's 2014 Shifting Stats Church Leaders Forum," the forty stories span every Canadian province and territory, multi-ethnic and multi-denominational settings, both rural and urban centers, covering churches of different sizes. The stories focus on creative adaptations and ministry initiatives that are sensitive to immigration patterns, changes in family, youth, volunteer work, and other important aspects of Canadian society. From Victoria BC, we read of how Emmanuel Baptist Church open their doors and hearts to students at the University of Victoria, with welcoming hospitality, warm meals, and friendship. Providing dinners, space, as well as free Wi-Fi, the initiative has become so popular that students even say that the thing they miss about leaving school eventually is the time with EBC. From Fredericton, New Brunswick, we read of Smythe Street Cathedral reaches kids through a leadership camp called "Camp Lead" that goes beyond mere Vacation Bible School, and empower kids toward real-life interactions and contributions to community. By training young children and youths about the potential of changing the world, readers are given a fresh does of how to engage the young. From Mississauga, Ontario, Gateway Church welcomes new immigrants through a 25000 square foot community center that not only meets for weekly worship but also provides various forms of programs to help integrate new immigrants to Canadian society. It has also received government funding as it helps contribute positively to Canada. Emmanuel Mennonite Mission Church (EMCC) based in Altona, Southern Manitoba adopts a "tapping shoulders" approach in reaching out the newcomers such as new immigrants. Through their ESL programs and a welcoming community, they begin with building friendships. They also use the shoulder tapping strategy to enlist volunteers for the outreach programs. What is needed it genuine interest both ways.

There are also several initiatives that use technology and social media. From Longueuil, Quebec, Eglise Nouvelle Vie reaches out through a vibrant social media outreach. With more than 11000 Facebook followers, and 750,000 page visits worldwide, they embrace various visitors coming from all over the world, drawn by the excellent and catchy content. Halifax based Shiloh University Church uses podcasts to reach out to students. Grant Memorial Church from Winnipeg, Manitoba uses an online prayer community to make digital connections, while Kensington Commons Church from Calgary, Alberta uses both old and new technologies, including the humble texting to enable members, clergy, and friends to connect. Redeemer Church in Ajax, Ontario is a Church plant that began with "missional listening" by Ryan Sim using a simple approach: "Find them online. Fill a need. Connect in person." Through this simple strategy, Sim made friends who came, who connected, and who remained with the Church.

Family and relationships are also big in many of these stories. In Lacombe, Alberta, Wolf Creek Community Church embraces the small farming community and adopts a "pioneering, homesteading, hard-work-and-community-building roots" mentality to enable a tightly knitted community with willing hands and open hearts. The Compass Church in Regina, Saskatchewan has a laser sharp focus on youth ministry building, aiming to reach kids through missional home groups. While it has lost some members due to this focus, it has gained a new generation of members. In Vancouver, British Columbia, New Joy Church strengthens community by being open about topics like sex, frank communications, marriage, family ministries, and acceptance. As a result, people were not afraid to share openly and experience authentic living. Families and friendships are also big at Trinity United Church in North Bay, Ontario. In one example, more than 40 people turned up after a simple Facebook invitation. Families hung out in droves and seemed to enjoy being together. Staying current and relevant, they continue to meet and gather with much joy and enthusiasm. Emmanuel Congregational Christian Church in Middleton, Nova Scotia reaches out to single parents, calling them today's widows and orphans. Recognizing Church can be a scary place for some, they assured members that they are there to care, not scare.

There are churches that focus on diversity, like The Life Centre in Abbotsford, British Columbia that believes that churches are not just for white people. Through the years, members have reached out and welcomed Sikhs, Koreans, Filipinos, Indians, and others through creative use of languages, customs, and diverse practices. On one occasion, the putting up of different flags in the premises bring about lots of emotional connectedness. In Grand Bay-Westfield, New Brunswick, the Parish of the Nerepis and St John, Church of the Resurrection believes that reaching out is more than simply providing a meal. It involves hanging out with young people, partnering with other churches, and simply making human connections. Grandview Calvary Baptist Church in Vancouver, British Columbia is unique in having more than 60% of its members living in the East Vancouver neighbourhood. Some of their outreach ministries include a pottery house, an art room, homeless ministry, offering meals, and others.

So What?

Many people have stated how religiously hostile and pluralistic Canada has become. With reports of rising liberal orientations in Canadian churches and how challenging it is to maintain a pure witness of the gospel, it is easy to be discouraged about Christian ministry in secular Canada. As a result, many in the Church become disillusioned with Church work. Young people get disenchanted about going to Church. Even more sees Church as a liability rather than an asset. With this book, we see how some Canadian Christians buck the trend to shine rays of hope that ministry is not only possible, but is producing fruits in different ways and different places. The authors who were born in the 60s remembered how the Church used to be the centers of culture and community. With that background, they are particularly sensitive to how the modern Church has become marginalized and in some quarters, non-existent. The forty stories in this book give glimpses of light in a large land of spiritual darkness. Indeed, darkness cannot overcome light. Things of this world cannot overwhelm the things of heaven. The world can never overshadow Christ.

May this book spur more churches and Christian communities in Canada not to lose hope. The times may be tough. The secular society may be hostile and militant in resisting the Christian witness. :Like the popular saying, where there is a will, there is a way, when one genuinely seeks to want to care, God will provide the opportunities for caring. When one desires to bless the community around us, there will be avenues to do that. The main thing is the heart. Home is where the heart is. When one's heart is home in Christ, one will naturally do the things of Christ, to serve the needs of the people that Jesus has willingly died for. I am aware that many churches may have tried some or all of the approaches mentioned in the 40 stories. For instance, many have ventured into social media but still find it ineffective in reaching out to the youths. My observation is that it is less about the hardware but HEART-ware. One can try to adopt the latest technologies and tools to do outreach. The initiative is good but there is also a need to sustain the efforts. This is where the heart of love comes in. Programs, initiatives, and ideas can stir up initial interest, but it takes the genuine interest in people that will sustain any loving outreach. People will know how genuine the care is.

So, whether you are clergy or member, leader or follower, churched or unchurced, this book offers many ideas on how to live out as a people of God in a very challenging country called Canada. Who knows, Canadian churches can lead the way in doing ministry despite a very difficult spiritual terrain.

Rating: 4,75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of World Vision Canada and Graf-Martin Communications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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