Why We Aren’t the Church Any More

Making its rounds this week is Steve McSwain’s HuffPo article “Why Nobody Wants to Go To Church Anymore.”

I get it. I do.

But then again, I don’t.

Christchurch 2011 - St Johns Anglican ChurchIt seems as though so many of the most-talked about end-of-the-world and end-of-the-church articles being passed around these days come from the United States (love y’all).

And while that isn’t a problem per se (they have a right to lament the transition, nay, death, of the church), it leaves me feeling a little exasperated.

It leaves me exasperated that we’re still talking about those things in Canada, because the death is already with us.

And while some areas of our Bible Belt remain in denial, the majority of us cannot deny this any longer. Those of us in Quebec or British Columbia have no excuse. Death is with us, has been with us for some time, and we need to figure out what it means to be church here and now, not in a cultural context that is 20 years behind the already-marching-decline-of-Christendom-that-is-our-reality. 

So articles that reference the opinions of Southern Baptists whose cultural location, is again, far from our own only serves to distract us Canadians from our current reality. It’s as if we don’t want to exegete our own culture. It’s as if we don’t want to do the hard work of ministry here. It’s as if we want to finally feel validated for that sinking feeling we’ve had for some time.

To the church in the United States of America: We are your future. You should be looking to us for your future, in the same way that we Canadians ought to pay attention to what’s going on in Europe. You want to moan and bitch about decline? Fine. But it does no good for Europe to look for solutions in Canada, and Canada in the United States. We’re going in the opposite freaking direction here.

I know that the reality of the culture wars still comes to bear in Canadian life. Whether it be about sexuality, patriarchy, whatever, I know it’s still here. And it’s not just the church. When I hear Canadian dudes (we’re progressive, eh?) refer to caring for their own children as babysitting, instead of, say, parenting, I have to wonder. Patriarchy much?

I think the piece I struggled with the most in McSwain’s article was the idea of “competition.”

I get the thought, but forgive me, I’m almost naive enough to think that church is about community. Here’s how Tom Wright puts it in Paul and the Faithfulness of God:

First, the gospel message of Jesus the Messiah created a new world with new inhabitants, no longer defined by the specifics of Jewish law, but not seeking as a replacement any of the standard symbols of pagan identity. This new community could sometimes be thought of as the new Temple, sometimes as a human body, in both cases not simply drawing on obvious and available metaphors but making powerful symbolic statements (402).

If church, the body isn’t about community, a reoriented family with new, broader, more hospitable boundaries, I don’t know what it is. It’s not a consumer choice. Although, yes, I probably treat it as one from time to time. And yes, our church leaders sometimes position themselves in just such a way.

If we position ourselves as an alternative to Sunday Morning Sports or The Church Down The Road, we’re facing an incredible challenge. And yet, how do we authentically welcome people in, and journey with them as community, one to which they contribute, rather than one they just attend, or, to a more crass degree, consume.

Let’s have programs. Let’s teach people. But let’s also, ahem, disciple one another in the ways of Jesus. Let’s come together and empower one another, in the name of Jesus, to take responsibility for a) themselves; b) their family and friends; c) the community(ies) of which they are a part.

Why does nobody go to church anymore? I’m not sure. But I’m pretty sure the most important question these days is why aren’t we the church anymore? When will we stop fixating on others’ problems, and start working on what it means to embody this crazy, messy, hospitable family in the here and now?

If we take our discipleship seriously, we’ll not stop at complaining about our leaders. We’ll work with them to embrace our own role as a part of this body, and struggle and strive to figure out what it means to stick together, in the name of Christ. Here. And Now.

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 www.empireremixed.com, and co-editor of "A Sort of Homecoming: Essays Honoring the Academic and Community Work of Brian Walsh" with Marcia Boniferro and Amanda Jagt.

2 Responses to “Why We Aren’t the Church Any More”

  1. Ron

    As I reflect on the issues concerning the church in Canada, I ask myself this question. Why do we focus so much attention on the churches that are not reaching the unchurched? We need to focus on the churches that are impacting their communities, get around them and ask questions as to why they’re vibrant and growing. Church leaders need to humble themselves and ask what it is that “those” churches are doing and walk next door and knock on the front door.

    I’m not turning a blind eye to the problem at all. It’s very real and I live it each day. I serve as a Pastor in a church that started 20 years ago with 12 people and we just celebrated our anniversary with 2700 people (yup you read that right) at our local arena. People “are” interested in church but we need to make sure that what we are living is life changing and real.

    Thanks for a great article from a Canadian perspective! Love how you wrapped up the blog!

    • andrew

      Hi Ron – Thanks for your reflections. I think yours is an incredibly important question to wrestle to the ground.

      I suppose what you’re proposing is more of an appreciative inquiry model, focused on the good that is being done in the name of the gospel. We can (and do) spend a lot of time focusing on the negative, on what’s not working, even as there are those communities who are embodying the gospel of Christ in their very own time and place.

      This is something I struggle with. Do we cut them loose? Allow them to die? Or do we throw our energy at rebirth? As I’m typing, I feel I know the answer – who is to bring resurrection and rebirth but God?!

      We must make room for truth telling. For lament. And we must do this even as we stumble forward into God’s future. I’d love to hear more of your insights on how this might all play out here in Canada.


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