The Church As We Know It

by Andrew Stephens-Rennie

Now this is interesting. Or at least I think it is. In the past couple of weeks, there have been a flurry of blogs discussing the church’s response to a fragile economy. These bloggers are (thankfully) digging into these rather deep issues that will unquestionably impact the shape, societal role, and mission of the church in years to come.

My friend Dave, an inestimable theorist of inevitable urban apocalypse, and I have been talking about these things on an ongoing basis for months now, which is one of the reasons why it caught my attention to see these conversations bubbling to the surface elsewhere. Back on April 23, Chris Marshall posted:

Recession seems inevitable, will it go way beyond that? A nation already ruled by fear and over-spending with no margins by individuals and the government, what will be the consequences? How will this impact churches and mortgages and credit lines that can’t be fed?

And in blogged response the same day, Jason Evans writes:

We’ve got to start thinking long term about some of this. The trends do not seem to say that we can fend this off by building bigger, regional churches. Though there is limited success there, I don’t see it being a long term fix to a growing problem. I’ve said this before, but I really don’t think the experts have many answers for us. They have too much invested in the Christendom machine. So, it’s going to be up to the rank and file folks to come up with the solutions.

Tracing the line of questioning even further, on May 1st, Alan Roxburgh of Allelon adds:

The point is that very, very soon a huge number of existing churches will find themselves in the position where the economic model out of which the church has functioned is no longer viable. This means high anxiety for a growing number of clergy who have grown dependent upon the salary systems of their church bodies.

We have to ask how we sustain experiments in moving back into the neighborhood. We have to start working on genuine conversations across congregations, house churches and with many who have simply given up on the church, in order to discern the things the Spirit is saying to us about the shape of Christian life in the West – a context which the late Jane Jacobs talked about in terms of the ‘coming dark ages.’

Jane Jacobs’ understanding of the walkability of neighbourhoods is of integral importance when we consider the shape of our church (especially in size and built form), as they are all contributing factors to the wider world’s interaction with it.

And while (in emerging circles and in megachurch circles alike) we have emphasized attractional values (noting that the ‘network church’ can be just as attractional as the ‘attractional church’ model condemned by emergents) a coming recession and (inevitable?) depression might change things. With travel more expensive. With resources fewer. What then happens to the regional church? What changes for the neighbourhood or parish church?

There are a couple of questions that remain for me, that I’m going to wrestle with a bit in subsequent posts. The issues that linger for me include:

And after just finding and reading Jordon Cooper‘s recent post on an age of scarcity also tracking these events, I have a feeling there’s a lot more thinking to do along these lines. I’m off to find some coffee and a notebook. But don’t worry, I’ll be back soon, with some theories of my own.

Andrew Stephens-Rennie on FacebookAndrew Stephens-Rennie on Twitter
Andrew Stephens-Rennie
Andrew is a writer, dreamer and organizer with a keen interest in developing leaders in faith, compassion and justice.

He currently serves as the Director of Missional Renewal for the Anglican Diocese of Kootenay on the unceded territories of the Sinixt, Syilx, and Ktunaxa nations. He previously served as the Director of Ministry Innovation at Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, BC.

Andrew is cofounder and contributing editor at, and co-editor of "A Sort of Homecoming: Essays Honoring the Academic and Community Work of Brian Walsh" with Marcia Boniferro and Amanda Jagt.

3 Responses to “The Church As We Know It”

  1. Lon

    great post… i totally agree.. i don’t really know where things are going, but i’m looking forward to church-as-we-know-it being very different…

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