By Andy Kalbfleisch - Mission Strategy Committee
Published: December 2009
Related Topics: Ecclesiology, Leadership
The status quo is no longer good enough. How many times have we heard or read that phrase? Perhaps so often that it is now a snoozer. If it has become that, then it is indeed time to wake up and move out of our comfort zones and look at things with new eyes and hear them with new ears.
A few years ago somebody opined that the Meeting House in Hamilton was not a church. Why? Because it is located in theatres on Sunday mornings and therefore didn't have a real physical presence in the community. That is, people can't drive by the theatre and admire the historical aspects of the building situated on well-manicured grounds.
Did you know that in September 2009 the Hamilton Meeting Houses had an average attendance of 843 per Sunday—Ancaster with 565 and East Mountain 278? How many of our 'real' churches can boast this level of attendance? Wake up folks it's not about the building. The status quo is no longer good enough.
And there's more. The homily at the Meeting House is beamed from their central facility in Oakville to their eight satellite 'theatre' locations by—you got it—satellite! And worshippers can text message questions and comments to the 'teaching' pastor during the service, which are then answered live at the end of the talk. Between the East Hamilton and Ancaster locations there are nineteen Home Church ministries where community is formed and conversation about the teaching of Jesus happens. Then there are what we would call outreach mission initiatives; supporting local ministries as well as programs in Southern Africa focused on HIV/AIDS, food, security, water, and peace-building and sending short-term teams to Southern Africa so people can experience the situation first-hand to support and encourage their mission work.
Why do I mention this? Well, the time may be approaching faster than we think that the majority of our time, talent and offerings will be spent renewing, upgrading, repairing and just keeping open some of our older churches that in many cases have declining membership and attendance statistics. Take the $50,000 it might take to upgrade the washrooms. How far would that go to support a ministry in the local community or a food bank or a homeless shelter? Or the $200,000 that may need to be raised to replace a leaking roof that might be better suited to set up an after school program for kids at risk or an intake station for abused women and children? What is more important—the building or the ministry?
When we were in England in September many of the churches that we visited that had a variety of community outreach programs didn't worry too much about how they looked—well manicured lawns and gardens—but rather how they could serve their community and be an example of Christ's love in that community. It's not that they don't care how they are seen as a physical plant, but rather it is that their volunteers' time and talent are deployed in ministries that will make a difference in other people's lives.
At some point when churches in Niagara engage with our diocesan vision and begin to move forward in mission they will ask themselves a very important and perhaps life-changing question—does this building meet the needs of our new ministry objectives? Or put another way for those who are fortunate enough to have modern up to date, energy efficient facilities—are we fully utilizing the building that we have? Most churches—I'm not talking about the parish hall or offices—are empty more than 90% of the time. Is that an effective use of our resources? We have heard about the mixed economy church, one that may have traditional services as well as a Fresh Expression of church be it a Messy Church or Café Church at different times or on different days or in different places. A church could also be one that has an after school ministry in the local school then conducts its Sunday worship in the school's cafeteria or gym. Without the encumbrance of a little-used building, ministry could be more flexible, mobile and non-threatening to those who might be otherwise uncomfortable in a traditional church setting.
As we go forward in these financially and societal challenging times, we need to look at how we do ministry from a different perspective. Now may be the time to not only think outside the box, but act outside the box and, God willing, live outside the box—moving from our comfort zone to places where God is calling us to be.
So, who needs a building anyway?