Tag Archives: Third Space

Stay Out! (but you can come back Sunday at 11)

Last year while I was running an errand, I drove by a church on 20th Street and noticed that it was surrounded by chain link fence in all directions.  The outside of the church was a mess and I assumed that they were renovating as the outside of the building needed repair.  Weeks later I was by again.  The fence was still up.  Months later the fence was still there.  After the church moved locations down by the Tim Horton’s I purchase my morning medication at, the fence was still up.  Finally it clicked in that the fence wasn’t to protect the community from a crumbling facade, it was to protect the church building from the community.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.  While at college Wendy and I heard the founder him give a talk running down the idea of helping out the poor at Christmas (because they will waste it was the reasoning).

Years ago some friends of mine were at WillowCreek at their Art’s Conference.  Leonard Sweet was speaking and everyone came back and paraphrased his quote,  “You need to love the community you are trying to reach.”  It stuck with several of them and I have thought about it for months now and the idea of turning your church lot into a compound sends the opposite message.  It isn’t just compounds.

The church next door to me put on a great Halloween party for kids.  I thought it was a great idea until I heard the pastor the next day badmouthing my neighborhood on the radio complaining about the kids and the mischief kids get into on Halloween and how the church needed to send out patrols to protect the neighborhood.  His goal in having the party was to stop trick or treating in Saskatoon.  His comments didn’t really bother me that much as I ignored them but our neighbors were upset over the criticism of our home turf and they thought he was exaggerating the problem. In a decade of living there, the only problems we have had in Mayfair are my Jack-O-Lantern gets kicked off the steps occasionally.  As a response to that, he came across as being angry and resentful of where he was.

I am sure that church that has a big 8 foot fence all around it’s compound has it’s reasons.  Stuff stolen, girls working off the front steps, needles, and domestic violence.  It’s a tough neighborhood and at 6’4” tall, it isn’t always safe for me to walk home from work.  But is a giant fence around your church building the answer?  By setting up a massive fence around it’s building, it sending the clear message that you aren’t welcome here.  It also tells me that instead of trying to change the community or make it better, you are just resigned to it and are afraid.  Not all people can handle the prostitutes, those that are violent, and the theft but as I read the New Testament, those are who Jesus spent a lot of his time with.  It wasn’t just the children who he called over to him but everyone. 

This church took it further than most but most churches do it.  Wendy has to work most Sunday mornings and Saturday nights.  Where does she go to church now that many churches don’t have a Sunday night worship service?  She doesn’t have a scheduled night off which makes it hard to do things like a small group.  One commenter a couple of years ago pointed out that those that the church says are the most needing of salvation are by the hours they work, the least likely to come to church.

I’ve often thought of the assumption that those who don’t fit in with the regular programming don’t deserve it. Thinking particularly (in my area) of the strippers, casino workers, prostitutes, and restaurant employees who work late in the same neighborhoods, working with the same clients.

How about a 3am service. That’s when a lot of folks are finishing up work.

We think that once they find Jesus and change their life, and get a new job, and fit into our lifestyles that then they’ll fit into church.

That’s crap.

The church as Third Space I have often wondered why churches don’t open themselves up and make themselves third spaces.  I have linked to Steve Collins (blog) stuff on church and third spaces before and many of us (by your response in comments) has agreed with it and yet too many churches still look like fortresses instead of open spaces.  You have probably heard your own excuses for why it can’t happen, I know I have heard mine (locks would have to be rekeyed, worried about internet porn on the computers, lack of supervision) or people look at what the Freeway has done in Hamilton and think it has to look like that when it really doesn’t.  At work we host one out of our chapel and dining room.  My favorite third space in Saskatoon is the deck of City Perk in the spring and summer.  It is a gathering spot for everyone in City Park.  With free wifi, the deck is a great place to read, work, or meet up with friends.   A couple thousand dollars could open up your church to the entire neighborhood but you have to want to be open up to the entire neighborhood.  Contextually it looks really different.  A third space in your hood may be reopening and running a neighborhood hockey rink and warm up shack.  It may be an unused place of your church made into a place to work, study, write, and chill out like Paragraph is in New York.   It may be investing heavily in the kids of your neighborhood, changing the culture, helping kids stay in school.  I was watching an interview with Indianapolis Colt’s coach Tony Dungy tonight and he mentioned that in Indianapolis, 19% of kids graduate from public schools.  When 4/5 kids are dropping out of school at time when education is more important, there has to be opportunities.

When I hear church planters talk about church planting in Saskatoon, they talk about the creative class off Broadway Avenue.  A place full of better then average coffee shops, art galleries and pubs.  Who wouldn’t want to live and pastor a church in that area?  I think of my friend Karen Ward who speaks passionately of the neighborhood she planted Church of the Apostles in and how they waited until they could find a place in the neighborhood until they planted.

As I was reading Jane Jacobs over the holidays, I was drawn to her idea that if we want to create safer neighborhoods, we may be better off creating neighborhoods that people care about.  Neighborhoods with art, open spaces, and places where people like to congregate.  Whether that is on church property, on the front yard or down the street.  Investing on making the places better in the end will pay off and create places that are safer, more secure, and community focused.  Does that take longer than tossing up big fences or complaining to the press about hookers on your front step (a church on 20th years ago complained about how inappropriate it was for prostitutes to be hanging out on their property—a church is the last place a prostitute should be according to their complaint)?  Of course it does but by retreating behind your wall, you are neutering your ministry and making it worse for your neighbors and in the end yourself.

It makes sense but if you want to be somewhere else and you are just in a certain part of town because of convenience or cheap rent, it is going to show in everything you do.  Especially when you are saving rent but resenting your neighbors.  A little money in the bank may be nice but I wonder if it is worth the cost to the Kingdom.

The Church in an Age of Scarcity

A couple of weeks ago Jason Evans started to post about the recession and the church which started me thinking as I was reading Howard Kunstler’s excellent book, The Long Emergency (Wikipedia summaryFull text available on at Google Books) for about the third time.  If you haven’t read it, you need to.

thelongemergencyI don’t know if I totally accept all of Kunstler’s findings.  While I accept that technology today does not allow us to deal with the problems of living in age of scarcity, technology in a capitalistic society does tend to bridge a lot of gaps when the capital is there for innovation as it will be in the future.  At the same time I accept his statement that the western world as we know it is not based on democracy, Christianity, or the pursuit of liberty, it is based on cheap oil and natural gas.  Of course we are running out of those two commodities…

The upshot of all this is that we are entering a historical period of potentially great instability, turbulence and hardship. Obviously, geopolitical maneuvering around the world’s richest energy regions has already led to war and promises more international military conflict. Since the Middle East contains two-thirds of the world’s remaining oil supplies, the U.S. has attempted desperately to stabilize the region by, in effect, opening a big police station in Iraq. The intent was not just to secure Iraq’s oil but to modify and influence the behavior of neighboring states around the Persian Gulf, especially Iran and Saudi Arabia. The results have been far from entirely positive, and our future prospects in that part of the world are not something we can feel altogether confident about.

And then there is the issue of China, which, in 2004, became the world’s second-greatest consumer of oil, surpassing Japan. China’s surging industrial growth has made it increasingly dependent on the imports we are counting on. If China wanted to, it could easily walk into some of these places — the Middle East, former Soviet republics in central Asia — and extend its hegemony by force. Is America prepared to contest for this oil in an Asian land war with the Chinese army? I doubt it. Nor can the U.S. military occupy regions of the Eastern Hemisphere indefinitely, or hope to secure either the terrain or the oil infrastructure of one distant, unfriendly country after another. A likely scenario is that the U.S. could exhaust and bankrupt itself trying to do this, and be forced to withdraw back into our own hemisphere, having lost access to most of the world’s remaining oil in the process.

We know that our national leaders are hardly uninformed about this predicament. President George W. Bush has been briefed on the dangers of the oil-peak situation as long ago as before the 2000 election and repeatedly since then. In March, the Department of Energy released a report that officially acknowledges for the first time that peak oil is for real and states plainly that “the world has never faced a problem like this. Without massive mitigation more than a decade before the fact, the problem will be pervasive and will not be temporary.”

Which will mean that we need to make some changes

The circumstances of the Long Emergency will require us to downscale and re-scale virtually everything we do and how we do it, from the kind of communities we physically inhabit to the way we grow our food to the way we work and trade the products of our work. Our lives will become profoundly and intensely local. Daily life will be far less about mobility and much more about staying where you are. Anything organized on the large scale, whether it is government or a corporate business enterprise such as Wal-Mart, will wither as the cheap energy props that support bigness fall away. The turbulence of the Long Emergency will produce a lot of economic losers, and many of these will be members of an angry and aggrieved former middle class.

Over the years I had a lot of discussions on what this will mean to the church.  Chris Marshall is wondering the same thing

My truck is paid off but the gas prices are killing me. I don’t drive that much and its over $300 per month, not including my wife’s car. So what does this project to as a national economy? 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? As builders pass on who are the committed givers what is left? 1/2 of boomers are there to give and the other 1/2 are driven past their financial margins with consumerism and can’t help. Gen X and Millenials have very little value in long term commitments, are all about instant gratification and consumerism is their native language. Commonly this group of up and comers are living on 125-140% of their income taking on exponential debt per year. What will be the result of these decisions having no margins when the shoe drops?

Will American churches go the way of their European counterparts? Becoming really funky coffee houses, restaurants, art galleries and dance clubs. Just things I wonder about.

I know a couple of people who are the boards of Bible colleges and seminaries who talk about getting new projects done in the next couple of years before the builders who give most of the money to churches and institutions pass away.  After that they know that the money will be in far less supply.  On top of that, while churches like to talk about sacrificial giving and committed tithers, most studies show that people give when the economy is good and are more casual tithers.  When faced with higher heating costs, much higher fuel prices, and more money to go to food, will the cash go to paying the churches bills or their own bills?

One thing that economists have been saying for a long time is that our lifestyle is being financed by VISA and when a recession hits, it will hurt those that are carrying debt the most.  In 2004, Maclean’s ran this story about Canadian’s personal debt being at record levels.

And so this summer Russell Kent and his wife, Mary, joined the legions of other young families in opting to ignore the admonitions they’d heard from their parents and taking the plunge into home ownership. They bought a house in the suburbs north of Toronto – and in the process have run up their debts far above anything they’d ever imagined. The house cost more than the top amount they’d intended to spend. They had to drain much of their savings and load up on personal lines of credit to muster a 25 per cent down payment. In total, they now owe roughly $340,000, spread across a mortgage, three lines of credit and two credit cards. Every month, $920 goes to pay interest on the cards and bank lines, and another $1,460 toward the mortgage. Mary also spends $300 a month to lease her car. Debt payments eat up close to a third of their after-tax income. Russell says making ends meet over the next few years will be “like stretching a gnat’s ass over a rain barrel.”

If the Kents feel intimidated by the debt challenge ahead of them, they’re not alone. Collectively, Canadian consumers now owe $752.1 billion, according to Bank of Canada, up 36 per cent in the past 10 years when adjusted for inflation. Over the same period, personal disposable income, or take-home pay, has risen 15 per cent. In other words, Canadians are piling on debt more than twice as fast as their income is growing.

It is conceivable that many churches in a particular region of the country could find themselves in a horrible financial mess when funds drive up and the demand on church and other social services intensifies.  While many recessions are relatively short lives to the last big one in the 1970s, there are many who are forecasting the next economic meltdown to last much longer.  Of course this will hit the church in a couple of ways.

  1. visamc The Church, Powered by VISA.  Several friend who are pastors bring up the point that their churches have some serious debt and if giving goes down then things will be really tough… of course the good news is that banks aren’t all that thrilled with foreclosing on banks but have been known to demand spots on church boards as a condition for continued solvency.  For churches who are owing to their denominations, the money that comes from those investments is now tied down which impacts other areas of church life.  Depending on the denomination, it could have a serious impact on church planting/missions or other areas that are dependent on investment income (as if the downtown in the economy won’t have a big of enough negative impact).  Even in a church of people committed to tithing (which Barna reminds us is a rarity), 10% of a reduced income is still less.  Add on top of that rising food and fuel costs, we may have a lot less to give above and beyond.
  2. Running on Empty| With today’s gas price at $1.31, Wendy and I are driving a lot less then we ever have before.  I am walking to work and if Wendy wasn’t on medical leave, she recently was transferred down the street to 33rd Street Safeway.  She says that even at -40 degree Celsius she is walking (I’ll believe it when I see it) to work.  I was listening to a podcast with Todd Hunter who talked about that at a church he previously pastored, they would track how far people were driving to the church.  At Lakeview, we used to talk about being a city wide church where people used to drive in as far as Borden to attend church there.  Will people drive at $1.50 a litre, $1.75 a litre, $2.00 a litre?  Kunstler talks about a localization of the economy in The Long Emergency and I wonder if that applies to the religion as well.  Will the small Baptist church at the end of the street look more attractive then the regional megachurch on the outskirts of town?  Especially when you can do as Charlie Wear blogs about where he found his sermon to listen to last week on YouTube.  Of course some are going to say, video churches are the answer and they might be if you believe that only dominant alpha males have the right to speak about how to deal with stress in your families for 14 weeks straight.  I personally prefer the idea of local expressions of Christian community throughout the city.
  3. Expensive Natural Gas | When natural gas was cheap like borscht (which itself is becoming more expensive) I hated visiting mostly rural churches that lowered their ceilings to save on heating costs.  Now they are looking smarter and I look out of date.  Most churches are really costly to heat and keep functioning for what is still primarily a Sunday event.  Of course you can keep it cold in there during the week and hot during the summer to keep costs down but churches are pretty expensive to run considering many of them aren’t used that often compared to other facilities their size.  There are other options that can be used.  Look at how the Freeway uses their space for the community or as I have blogged about forever.  Of course there are a lot of options for making it cheaper to heat but perhaps going the other way and making them useful spaces again is the better option.  nomoreteavicarI keep thinking to what Steve Collin‘s did up as his efforts for rebranding the Church of England.  He was re-imagining church interiors as public spaces again in the city, the local church as a third space, a place to work, rest, and pray and being surrounded by spiritual resources as opposed to something that was open from 10:30a to 12:30p on Sunday’s.  To answer Chris Marshall’s earlier question, maybe the future of the church is to embrace what the Europeans are doing to churches before the churches themselves die off.  Of course the other alternative would be to start weaning ourselves off our addiction to church buildings.  Look at what ReImagine is doing in San Francisco or what the Hawthorn House is doing in San Diego is doing without a traditional church facility. 
  4. The one other thing that needs to be addressed is the issue of the Clergy Class.  I don’t have a problem with highly educated and well taught clergy but the process to get them to this point is expensive and this is paid for by one of three methods.  1) Rich parents 2) Marry rich (this idea was suggested to me in college) 3) Student loan debt.  All three of these funding options have advantages and drawbacks but the most popular option is often student loans which tends to make hiring clergy expensive.  I am not badmouthing clergy but if we stick with the current method of church leadership, the economics will need to be rethought out and since our current best idea is debt financing, I doubt there is a pile of money out there to fix the issue.  Either we figure out a way to make private education a lot cheaper, we accept the fact that only wealthy churches get qualified church leadership, or we rethink ways to develop leaders.  During the Great Depression, my grandfather’s theological education came through correspondence classes.  During the age of YouTube, I am sure we can come up something as least as effective and maybe quite a bit better.

I am a disciple of Thomas Homer-Dixon and I tend to think that there will be an upside of the coming age of scarcity.  I think the church has a tremendous opportunity during this period of change.  Of course a lot of things we think are sacred cows will be turned into black angus burgers but c’mon, it isn’t as if we did that well during the age of abundance anyways.  While managing to start a bunch of megachurches, we also managed to usher the church into a very long period of decline and irrelevance and that was after spending billions and billions on church growth.  As we enter into a new age of global warming, scarcity, and perhaps conflict over resources, maybe the church adapt a little better this time.

Also: Alan Creech has posted some more thoughts on his blog


Rudy posted this article a while ago and I just got around to reading it this weekend. It is a story on why gang intervention doesn’t work. The last three paragraphs of the article struck a chord with me as a parent and as someone who works with high risk kids

I realized that my role as a mentor was to provide a space for self-discovery, there is no setting better than a youth retreat outside of their hoods. Two weeks ago, along with some colleagues, I took 14 youth camping, three of them were females and the rest were males. They were all 8th graders. They came from all gang backgrounds, Norteno, Sureno, Cambodian and Laotian Crips. Half of the kids had criminal records, and most of them had been involved in a gang related fight at their school. Some of them had tattoos and all of them claimed to have a gang affiliation.

During the first day of the three day camp I asked them to introduce themselves by answering, “What is it that you fear?” With the exception of two kids, they all said that they feared their fathers. For the first time, they all shared an intimate moment with their “enemies.” Through out the camp we did activities that talked about our own strengths, families, and other discussion that dealt with us taking control of our destinies. For those three days they bonded; they played hide and seek together, ate together, laughed together, and shed tears together. The last night young Crips, Surenos, and Nortenos hugged one another.

Although they returned to their hoods represented by different gang sets, they will embrace the moment when with the help of there rival gang members, they were able to share some of the most symbolic moments of their lives, reflect on them, and heal their wounds.

After hearing the testimonies of so many kids, I know for a fact, that the only way to help anyone transform their life is by creating a space where people can have intimate moments by sharing their lives, reflecting on them, and finding the solution for their problems by themselves and for themselves.

On a fairly related note I am taking some early steps towards setting up a safe house for teen aged boys in the city. It is a long shot right now but if it happens it would provide that kind of space for 10-12 boys who are at high risk.

The Dusty Cover Used Bookstore

Jamie Arpin-Ricci and YWAM Winnipeg are launching The Dusty Cover Used Bookstore.

The Dusty Cover is a non-profit used bookstore started in October 2007 in Winnipeg’s historic West End neighbourhood and is dedicated to serving and investing into our community. In addition to being a good source of used books at great prices, our comfortable lounge is an excellent place to enjoy a hot cup of coffee, tea or hot chocolate, all fair trade products.

I can’t wait to check it out.

The Present Church

Below is a rather wordy article for my denomination‘s magazine to help get people thinking outside the box in how we see the local church. Not sure if it worked but people have been saying nice things about it to my face at least 🙂

For Lent this year, I decided to give up politics. In the past I had given up caffeine, chocolate, television, and even NHL hockey playoffs but this year I decided to step back from following politics which is something I spend too much time thinking and reading about. Of course this meant trying to ignore the Quebec election of which I had some success in doing. On Monday, March 27th, I was agonizing over the final edits of this article, which was supposed to be about the future of the church. I decided to take a brief television break and was confronted with some really boring choices. While surfing channels, I found myself watching CTV Newsnet and seeing what the talking heads were saying about the Quebec election. Before I caught myself, I heard the panel chortling to themselves over the comment, “Who could have predicted that this result was going to happen to Jean Charest?” I remember the exact same comment being said during former Saskatchewan Premier Roy Romanow‘s final election when he was handed a minority. A couple of hours before that I remember a well known political commentator leading off his networks coverage with, “Is there anything that will stand between the NDP and another strong majority? No there isn’t”. Well the prognosticators were wrong that evening as well.

The phrase made me think about a book I had read a couple of years ago by Canadian political scientist Thomas Homer-Dixon called The Ingenuity Gap. One of the books recurring themes is that we live in a world with a tremendous amount of variables which are overwhelming and make it very difficult to predict the outcome of our decisions. The book goes to show how complex our inter-connected world is and how poorly we understand how it works despite our proclamations to the opposite. From the food chain in the English Channel, to water planning in Las Vegas, to international markets during the Asian currency crisis; time and time again experts missed something that invalidated all of calculations for the future. Not only is it hard to know all of the variables that will influence our future, we are constantly hit by fads that while seem important, really aren’t (like election news stories over which tie color resonates best with voters)

As I returned to edit my article for Mosaic, I realized that I was probably making the exact same mistake. There are too many variables, too many things that can change. If the all knowing pollsters and Mike Duffy can’t forecast a 40 day election, how do we talk about the future of the church farther than that? All of the variables of culture plus the complexities of denomination and local church dynamics make it hard to predict any future.

So what can we talk about? Instead of talking about the future, it may be helpful to discuss the the factors that are happening now that will impact the future. To often organizations live in the past as it is easier to understand and don’t have the needed conversations on what is happening the present that will shape their future.

Post-Christian Canada and the West

In a couple of books I have read in the last year, they have referenced some recent studies that point out by 2040, under 5% of people in England may be Christian (only 9.4% are attending church now) According to church statistics, the four main UK denominations, the Church of England, the Roman Catholic, the Methodist, and United Reformed Churches, are all suffering from a long-term decline in attendance figures. The good thing is that they realize this and are trying new ideas to reverse the decline. The Anglican and Methodist Churches have started their Fresh Expressions initiative which encourages new expressions of church like alternative worship, and even the Archbishop of Canterbury plans to be broadcasting his sermons on YouTube in an acknowledgment that more and more Anglicans just aren’t in church on Sundays. While some of the initiatives talked about as other Fresh Initiatives seemed a little off the mark, it is encouraging that the Church of England the Methodist Church in England are acknowledging that something has to change.

In Australia, things aren’t that much more encouraging but in a recent book called The Forgotten Ways, missiologist Alan Hirsch sees it this way

A combination of recent research in Australia indicates that about 10-15 percent of that population is attracted to what we call the contemporary church growth model. In other words, this model has significant “market appeal” to about 12 percent of our population. The more successful forms of this model tend to be large, highly professionalized, and overwhelmingly middle class, and express themselves culturally using contemporary, “seeker friendly” language and middle-of-the-road music forms. They structure themselves around “family ministry” and therefore offer multi-generational services. Demographically speaking, they tend to cater largely to what might be called the “family-values-segment”–good, solid, well-educated citizens who don’t abuse their kids, who pay their taxes, and who live largely, what can be called a suburban lifestyle.

Not only is this type of church largely made up of Christian people who fit this profile, the research indicates that these churches can also be very effective in reaching non-Christian people fitting the same demographic description–the people within their cultural reach. That is, the church does not have to cross any significant cultural barriers in order to communicate the gospel to that cultural context. (pg 35)

In the United States, the number attracted to the idea of church may be as high as 35%. Canadian polls suggest that about 20 – 30% of Canadians may share values that would be open to going to church (approximately 20% of people say they attending church regularly but that number is often inflated by people exaggerating how often they attend church). That number is a both a blessing and a curse. It shows that at least about six to seven million Canadians are open to the values articulated by the church which do provide a large pool of Canadians for the church to draw from but even that is difficult as pollster George Barna sees the family values segment of the population to fall by half in approximately fifteen years.

While nothing is wrong with those within that segment, most of us as Free Methodists would be there and by in large, they are not that offensive of a people group. Six million Canadians is nothing to sneeze at and does provide a significant opportunity for the church but that is only part of the story.

Of course what is to make of the people outside of that family values segment? Depending on how one looks at the numbers, anywhere from 65% to 85% of Canadians are removed by various degrees from that category and from those values. They make up the vast bulk of Canadians that have to overcome some obstacles to come to our churches as the church is not even on their radar. According to what Alan Hirsch writes in The Forgotten Ways, in addition to not being on the radar for most people, a large percentage are at some level alienated by the church. From bad experiences, to strong preconceived ideas about Christianity or from a cultural context that is hostile to Christianity, it would be as hard for them to be a part of a church as it would be many Free Methodists to join a non-Christian religion. Doing “church” better; PowerPoint, better music, wittier or more theologically astute sermons probably won’t make any impact on those that are outside the church because they are unlikely to bother entering the doors in the first place.

The other factor in society is that there has been a breakdown in the mass markets. Where at one point a church used to pick a neighborhood and then put down it’s roots and if church was “done right”, it had a good chance to reach their area for Christ. Depending on the church, property values actually rose if you were closer to a church. A middle class neighborhood would have middle class people in it with middle class values. Today that is changing where traditional people groups have segmented and segmented again. The mass market is shrinking and those neighborhoods are made up of a variety of sub-groups.

What does that mean for the future of the church?

While it is popular to lament the loss of the Christian fabric in Canadian culture and condemn those that don’t share our values, that probably won’t do anything to reverse the change. Complaining that people don’t go to church anymore won’t change anything.

When Anglican Bishop nd missionary, Leslie Newbiggin came back to England at the age of 65 after spending most of his career in India, this is what he found.

Ministry in England, he discovered, “is much harder than anything I met in India. There is a cold contempt for the Gospel which is harder to face than opposition. . . . England is a pagan society and the development of a truly missionary encounter with this very tough form of paganism is the greatest intellectual and practical task facing the Church” (Unfinished Agenda).

It is hard, Newbigin knew, for a Hindu or a Muslim to come to worship Christ. For an Englishman, it would seem, it had become even harder.

Whats life for the church going to be like in a post-Christian Canada. A world in which we are seen more and more irrelevant? There isn’t a definite roadmap or program to follow and I think the mass segmentation will force the church for the first time in a long time to chart their own paths as we enter into new territory. That being said, there are some that have been at this for a little longer and have adjusted to their own contexts.

The Freeway in downtown Hamilton is both a church community and coffee shop serving both those looking for coffee and a place to connect online as well as the urban poor.

Three Nails in Pittsburgh is an Episcopal church plant that has embedded itself into the community by meeting a need that I never would have thought of and that is making really good New York City style hot dogs. They helped open a restaurant that used to be called Hot Dogma but was sued over the name so now they are called Franktuary. Their motto in case you are wondering is And the meat shall inherit the earth.

Harambee in Pasadena, California Back in 1982, Navarro Avenue in Pasadena, California had the highest daytime crime rate in Southern California. Believing that the only way they could make a difference was to move into the neighborhood, Dr. John Perkins started a ministry on “blood corner” (named because of the drive by shootings). Twenty five years later it had largely changed the neighborhood and curbed the violence. Not only that but it has prepared two generations of church leaders as well on a campus that is essentially several small houses with a common backyard. It doesn’t take much to change the world.

The same can be said about emerging congregations and church plants in the Free Methodist Church. Ecclesiax and ThirdSpace reach artists and creative types in different ways because their local contexts are different.

Some Anglican churches in London, England empowered and nurtured new faith communities who met in their own buildings. Most often with no staff or clergy, these communities formed what is now called alternative worship and is engaging a portion of England’s population that would never enter into a traditional worship context. At the same time they give new life to traditional congregations.

Some churches in urban areas saw what a place called Paragraph NY did, which is create a place that is essentially a gym but instead is a place for writers and creative types to work. They looked at a lot of unused space, got a good coffee maker, and wireless Internet and opened up the doors… and people came in.

At the end of the day, the church is going to have to learn to reconnect with their community as opposed to rely on the community to come to them. Whether or not churches can do that will largely determine how long of a future they have.

The Future of Theological Education

I remember being a conference years ago when the comparison was made between the average income of baby boomers measured against things like education, mortgage, and transportation. Then they compared my generation. Everything was more expensive but especially education and at that moment I realized that the Freedom 55 commercials were not targeted at me. The presenter put it into what it meant for the church. To go to seminaries like Wheaton or Fuller, it meant that you either had to be older and saved up some money, come from a wealthy family, or willing to take on a large amount of student loan debt. This has affected even smaller Bible Colleges who are faced with an aging donor base and less contributions which has meant higher tuitions.

The costs associated with education keep many interested learners at arms length. A building costs money; faculty need to be paid and they expect certain privileges associated with their position. Beyond that, the physical space of education limits the number of students who can participate (those who can get to the location, those who can fit into the facilities). After a while the school’s priorities shift toward the necessities of taking care of the building and faculty, and these begin to displace the original educational goals.

This starts to impact the wider church in a couple of ways as it also influences students. As I heard one seminary faculty member say it, whether the student or his family is footing the expensive cost of seminary education, it makes students less inclined or less able to enter the mission field or enter into a ministry context that does not pay a certain amount of money or safety.

The long term consequences of that happening to more church leaders is easy to see. Only wealthy churches have access to quality theological thinkers and the church may have to withdraw from areas that can not afford a certain level of compensation.

There has been others who have seen this happening and are working to create an alternative future. City Seminary of New York is a collaborative project of churches across New York City who brings in theologians and speakers to help church leaders in their local contexts. Fees are as low as $10 (to cover meals). The Alternative Seminary in Philadelphia is developing training materials and offering classes for those that can not afford it. Closer to home, in Kingston there is the Invisible College which tackles big issues from a Christian worldview. Topics like globalization and how technology impacts our lives have been past topics. Resonate has hosted several local discussions with theologians and thinkers over the last three years in Toronto and Hamilton all for free.

While seminaries and many local churches have been slower to adopt this model in favor of selling content, more and more universities are giving away their lectures, course work, and even tests for free over the Internet. M.I.T.’s OpenCourseWare allows you to tap into M.I.T.’s vast teaching resources as a teacher or self-learner for free. It doesn’t grant you a degree or credits but it does share the wisdom. TED, a world leading conference of big thinkers has recently used Google Video to make their entire conference available for free online. While I questioned the Archbishop of Canterbury’s use of YouTube when the idea was floated, almost 8000 people have watched his latest video in three weeks, far more than what would have heard him speaking in a church and that number will keep climbing.

While the Free Methodist Church in Canada’s Foundational Courses and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s efforts come from a denomination, many of the other alternative forms of theological education are coming from the grassroots of the church. Motivated local church leaders striving to make a difference in their communities. Whether that will be online or offline in churches and third spaces, in partnership with existing educational institutions or creating new ones, how it shapes up and we decide to view new forms of education will go a long way in shaping how we see church.


This is related to the discussion on theological education but we can’t ignore the issue of discipleship or lack of it in local churches.

In his book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, Ron Sider points out that evangelicals do a rather poor job of living out what we preach. In fact in some areas that evangelicals profess to care about, we tend to live worse then those we profess to want to “save”. Robert Webber writes on this topic in his book, Ancient Future Evangelism where he suggests that discipleship is a forgotten practice in many churches, a theme which is echoed in Dallas Willard’s book which is aptly named, The Great Omission. Duke University’s, Stanley Hauerwas suggests that we have confused North American values with Christianity and reduced being a Christian to being a good neighbor and good American [or Canadian]. Eugene Peterson simply asks that how can we know so much and live so badly. Both Eugene Peterson and Dallas Willard talk about the church services.

Eugene Peterson says this,

The operating biblical metaphor regarding worship is sacrifice. We bring ourselves to the altar and let God do to us what God will. We bring ourselves to the eucharistic table, entering into that grand fourfold shape of the liturgy that shapes us: taking, blessing, breaking, giving—the life of Jesus taken and blessed, broken and distributed; and that eucharistic life now shapes our lives as we give ourselves, Christ in us, to be taken, blessed, broken and distributed in lives of witness and service, justice and healing.

But this is not the American way. The major American innovation in the congregation is to turn it into a consumer enterprise. Americans have developed a culture of acquisition, an economy that is dependent on wanting and requiring more. We have a huge advertising industry designed to stir up appetites we didn’t even know we had. We are insatiable. It didn’t take long for some of our colleagues to develop consumer congregations. If we have a nation of consumers, obviously the quickest and most effective way to get them into our churches is to identify what they want and offer it to them. Satisfy their fantasies, promise them the moon, recast the gospel into consumer terms—entertainment, satisfaction, excitement and adventure, problem-solving, whatever. We are the world’s champion consumers, so why shouldn’t we have state-of-the-art consumer churches?

Dallas Willard says something similar but in just three sentences,

We must flatly say that one of the greatest contemporary barriers to meaningful spiritual formation in Christlikeness is overconfidence in the spiritual efficacy of ‘regular church services,’ of whatever kind they may be. Though they are vital, they are not enough. It is that simple.

Even if we get every other aspect of church right and people do engage with us again. What do they get when they get here. An entire “discipleship industry” has formed within the church trying to sell me an answer to that question and there are a lot of different opinions.

As technology and culture change, it changes the world in which we learn in. What would have been considered deviant behaviour a generation ago isn’t questioned today as being abnormal. I remember reading a book on how young Christians needed to act and it concentrated on issues like how long should your hair be and if sideburns are okay. It was as funny to read then as it is today but it does go a long ways in determining what we saw were important things back then. Today, things have changed. A friend showed me his high school son’s instant messenger buddy list. Every single one of them was a sexual reference. While we were talking about that, a song came over by an underage artist talking about sex acts with her boyfriend. What does the church look like in a culture that is changing, materialistic, confused, and intolerant of how it sees the church being intolerant? While the much of the discussion centers on the forms we use for discipling, statements from many theologians suggest that we may have to rethink what a Christian is in today’s world.

If there is good news in all of this, it is that many Free Methodists are having these kinds of discussions all over the place, both formally (like at last years Ecclesiology Study Commission) and informally. Many of those voices will go into papers and ideas to presented at the next General Conference and of course are being discussed in local churches. As I told a colleague not that long ago, some of us are too young to have experienced the “good old days” of the church but this is the time that God wanted us to be here for and there is something exciting about that.

Ecclessial Mercenaries

Soon after the Church of the Exiles website went live, I started to get some e-mails in asking me who was funding our little church plant.  I think everyone assumed that either Resonate or the Free Methodist Church in Canada (through the Life Cycle Project) was funding it.  They were shocked to find out that Resonate doesn’t fund church plants (neither does Emergent Village as far as I know) and we never applied for funding from the Life Cycle Project (although that is an option).
Why no money?  I am not opposed to the idea of outside funding and we do have some needs (a small soundboard would be great) but we don’t have that much financial needs right now.  We don’t have permanent office space or salaries and our technical needs can be met by modest (cheap) means rather than expensive ones.  While some of us in leadership have had staff positions at churches, we are all working outside the plant.  People call us bi-vocational but that seems to suggest two paychecks.  We are doing it out of passion and fueled by coffee.  I could say that we were lucky in finding affordable space but it also came through Wendy probably making 100 phone calls to pubs, schools, businesses, churches, and other third spaces trying to find a space that would work.  It wasn’t so much luck as perseverance and desperation :-). In some ways we have taken on the business philosophy of bootstrapping.
During that time as I have shared that with other prospective planters, the response has been disbelief but I am not that sure why.  My grandfather pastored a small Free Methodist church in Davis, Saskatchewan (Rural Municipality Number 461, just outside of Prince Albert, neither the church or the town exist today) during the Great Depression.  There was literally no funding as Saskatchewan was bankrupt and he was paid in potatoes, turnips, and wild game meat which was all that many in the congregation had to give.  From his records, the only money seemed to come from his atheist father who would send up money for train tickets home at Christmas.  Now that was a different time and context and seems like worlds away from today but a quick read of most of the churches in Saskatoon show very modest and humble beginnings and a character that was created out of the shared struggles as a faith community.
For some of the people I have talked to there seems to be a desire of instant success.  I am not sure where it comes from, whether it be from the instant churches of 200 that get planted out of larger churches who hit the ground running with a building, staff, and mature congregation and leadership or if it is just part of the church culture that worships size and success (whatever that is) and 10 people getting together and praying and worshipping in a rented room isn’t success.
A while ago I asked someone why they needed so much funding.  Earlier in the conversation that couple had described themselves as “ecclessial mercenaries” – people who would church plant for whoever would pay the bills.
Of course they had their list of needs.
  • A Macbook so they could run both Windows and Mac software
  • Essential software, MS Office, Adobe Photoshop, Premiere, Illustrator, InDesign, and After Affects, Dreamweaver.
  • Projector, Sound system
  • Web host that can handle streaming audio and video.
  • Comfortable office space with a street front access
  • Rental space for worship in a historical location.
  • Salaries for him to be high enough so his wife would not have to work.
  • Operational funding for two years at least.

The one thing that work has taught me to do is question statements by people.

  • What do they need a Macbook to do that my Compaq Armada m700 won’t?  Not picking on Mac users here.  The same question could be asked about what does he need a Macbook for that a G3 won’t do either.  Yes the Macbook is a far superior notebook and OSX is a better OS than Windows 2000 but for the money (1/10 of the price) that you don’t have, something cheaper may work pretty well.
  • What are they using Premiere, Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator for that Premiere Elements, Photoshop Elements or Paint Shop Pro , Ulead Video Studio, or even Microsoft Movie Maker (shudder) software won’t do.  Again, I worked with an excellent and talented digital media creator for years that can do things that would make some movie makers blush.  He also does great stuff with crappy tools as well.  My point is that there is cheaper alternatives to professional grade software that creative people can still make things look very good with. It may be a pain in the neck (and other places at times) but if the money is tight, you have to make do. If you have someone with professional talent, it is a great investment, if not, it is a waste of money.  One church I know of bought the same animation software that they used to create Jurassic Park with.  Even if someone was capable of mastering the interface, they would have needed a server farm to render their creations.  In the end it was a massive waste of money.  I have loved Microsoft Office since 4.x under Windows 3.x  but again, it comes down to is there anything I really need that Open Office and NeoOffice can’t do?
  • Had they not heard of Google Video or ODEO?
  • They had talked of their respect for Wendy and I so I asked, if it is okay for Wendy to work and for us to raise a child (however poorly we are doing with it), why can’t other church planter spouses work?  Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing wrong with stay at home parents and Wendy and mine schedule stinks right now where we go weeks without a full day off with each other but if the money isn’t there.

I was being a pain and it was a good conversation but I think one of the things that church plants need to figure out is cash and how to do things without it.

I am not that sure if it is any different than it has always been.  You need to start something before it you know if it going to turn out.  I can’t think of too many startups that were guaranteed instant success but they just kept working towards what they knew they had to do.  Kind of like the graphic from Andrew Jones old post on How Do You Build a Cathedral.

Another way of looking at it is from this interview with a designer turned wine maker, Courtney Kingston (of Kingston Family Vineyards)

One of the biggest challenges for me was going from a job that was reactive (e.g. a highly scheduled day managing other people) to starting a business with a blank slate every morning. Every day, there were a thousand things that seemed urgent that I needed to do to get things going. It was a little paralyzing and I didn’t know where to start. My friend Rob gave me a great piece of advice: decide what *one thing* is critical to your concept’s success. Write “ONE” on a little yellow stickie, and stick it on your computer monitor as a daily reminder to accomplish one thing–no matter how small—that will get you one step closer to that goal each and every day.

The person who helped clarify this for me was Guy Kawasaki in his book, Rules for Revolutionaries and his idea of starting out with what you have and going from there making it better and working towards your final vision.  The vision and ideas for Exiles are a lot more than what we have no but slowly we are making out way there as a community and no it doesn’t take a lot of money to start.

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Church as a Third Space

This is a concept that I have been talking about since I first posted about Paragraph NY.  While the post wasn’t about the church, a bunch of pastors talked about how they all wanted something like that to go to.  My response was that you already had a place like that and all you needed was to add some wifi, a couple of comfortable chairs near plugins, and open the doors.  Of course there was a lot of reason by the same people on why it could never be done.

Steve Collins is asking people to reimagine church as a public space again.  A space with free wifi, good coffee, personal and spiritual resources being available, as well as a space for work, rest, and prayer.  Pernell has some good thoughts on what a third space is here .

Seriously, this would work, all it needs is someone for a vision for it happening and the willingness to rethink what the church is for during the week.

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There is a rumor out there that I am involved in a new church plant, regardless of whether that is true or not, we are meeting tomorrow morning to talk about some things.  Earlier in the week I may have tried to schedule a gathering and it was really hard.  All of our work schedules are all over the place.  I work nights.  Wendy‘s work schedule may run her from starting at 8:00 a.m. some days to other days her getting home at 11:15 p.m.  I want to say that others have crazy schedules as well but crazy seems to be the new normal for work.  It isn’t that we are workaholics, we all work from 37.5 to 40 hours a week and get a couple of days off.  It is just that those hours are often not 9-5 anymore.

Safeway, Superstore and other grocery stores are all open until 10:00 p.m. but all have staff working 24 hours a day.  Most other big box stores are open until at least 9 p.m. and Wal-Mart in Saskatoon has experimented with 24 hours a day store hours which it does in many other cities.  Even smaller retailers are now open on Sunday and open at noon.  Banks which used to set the standard for never being open when you need them are even staying open later.  As I was running some errands today, I heard a radio ad saying that the casino in Prince Albert is now opening early on Sunday mornings.  Those restaurants that everyone goes to for Sunday lunch have to be staffed by someone and I bet their shift doesn’t start at 12:10 p.m. on Sundays so they can go to church.

It used to be that you could schedule a gathering or a meeting at 7:00 p.m. in the weekday and people would be there.  No it isn’t quite that easy.  One of the frustrations that I had while at Lakeview was that Wendy worked every weekday evening except for Monday and we had to choose between giving up our one evening alone or going to a small group.  For us it was easy because there wasn’t any couple small groups that met at Monday while I was there but you get the point.  I don’t blame Lakeview for it as we were in a very small minority where small groups didn’t work for us.

I think it was Leith Anderson who first talked about the 24/7 church and I admit, it sounds cool and is something that all mighty morphin’ mega churches should aspire to but it is something that I don’t see us making a lot of progress on.  It is the chicken and egg dillema.  Most churches don’t see the need to diversify their offerings because for the most part, the people that need that kind of community, aren’t coming to their services and small groups because they are working already.  The people who are coming have the work schedules that work within a traditional work week.

The sad/funny/ironic thing is that I know a bunch of people who work shifts that don’t fit into the church week and they talk about wanting to come to church!  There is actually a group of people out there that want to be a part of a church community and can’t find one, even in the Canadian Bible belt that is Saskatoon.

For all of our talking about North America being a mission field, a good place to start may be thinking about those that are working while the church is worshipping.  This sounds stupid but what about looking at life with a missional eye and asking the question when you are out late or grabbing a coffee before church, “If they wanted to attend my church and work, could they?”  There are so many ideas that one could work with.

  • Podcasts.  Like I said before, the Mosaic, Allelon, Cedar Ridge and other podcasts get listened to and influence my thinking because they are automatically added to my iPod.  I may not be there physically but I am under their sphere of influence and teaching.  Most churches record their sermons anyways, how hard can it be to upload them to their website and provide a RSS feed.  There are numerous tutorials available online.
  • Paragraph NY :: Everyone loves the idea of a third space like Paragraph NY.  A space where people could read, find some silence, and even be creative during the day and be around other people but not too many churches want to do it.  Here are some actual objections that I have heard.  “We would have to add a couple of locks” and “People would get upset if there was spilled coffee”.  Very few church buildings don’t have an empty room or twelve and I just saw an ad faxed to work for a 1.5 ghz computer with a 40 meg hard drive with a CD/RW for $150.  You can get 19 inch monitors for under $100 and a mouse for $10.  Why not?
  • Instead of offering everything in the evening, how about something in the mid-afternoon or morning?  If you are going to do that, why not offer something else than just for mothers as well.  Yes parents and kids need their play time but what about those that aren’t parents but are home during the mornings but can’t make the evening stuff?

I am not a big fan of Wal-Mart but Sam Walton was brilliant in his ability to try something and if it doesn’t work, try something else.  Anyone else have any ideas?

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Resonate Greenhouse :: Peterborough

A Resonate Greenhouse has been started in Peterborough as well.  If you are a church planter or thinking about planting in the wonderful city of Peterborough (home of the Peterborough Petes, Third Space, probably the most effective YFC chapter in the world and one impressive used book district), check out the weblog, and subscribe to the RSS feed

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Third Space (s)

I made my last post from a church planting network meeting in the basement of Free Methodist mecca in Mississauga (Flickr photos are here). After the meeting we spent some time in Jared’s office where Dave Blondel spent some time reading the Free Methodist directory looking at pictures of other pastors with beards. His goal is to grow the longest beard in the Free Methodist Church and he wanted to see what the competition is. There are some competitors but Dave can hold things in his beard right now which is a start.

After the meeting and a gross Vietnamese soup at a diner (like spicy soup but some big pork bones covered in fat in it along with some disgusting tofu or soy product), I headed back to Peterborough with Dave and spent the night at Dave and Mel’s place.

Sunday morning I attended Dave and Chris Vinn’s church plant called Third Space. I will post some pictures later today on Flickr (updated: here they are). I really appreciated the time of worship and community. The cool thing for me who gets kind of tired of singing the same old stuff all of the time is that there was no singing or music. Some sharing, a short sermon, coffee, kids make cookies. They also had a great idea called a mix tape club where people in the church made mix CD’s and added them to the library to help other people find, like, and support new music. It was all excellent. Dave was saying earlier that Third Space isn’t on anyone’s radar but it really should be. If I was in Peterborough, I would love to worship more with the Third Space.

After a really good lunch, we got ensnarled in traffic on the 401 and were a little late to the Frwy.ca where I was speaking in Hamilton. When I was out in the spring, the cafe wasn’t close to being done but it looks great. It is a former CIBC bank that has been converted into a cafe and also a place of worship on Sunday night. The food was tremendous, coffee was fair trade, and Pernell aluded to the fact that him and I may be internet lovers in his introduction of me. The Frwy.ca is another kind of third space, as in the concept identified by the book, The Good Great Place by Ray Oldenburg where people can hang out, use wifi, drink coffee, and do cool stuff. During the mornings, the Frwy.ca offers a free babysitting service to young mothers downstairs and gives them a break and serves coffee upstairs. Nice. Some Flickr photos are here.

Two amazing interpretations of a pretty cool third space idea. Two great congregations.

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This looks really cool. It is like a gym but for writers. I thought about this a couple of months ago. I was up in Spiritwood for a board meeting and Wendy was out chatting. The board meeting got done about 90 minutes early and I didn’t know where Wendy was and I had her cell phone with me. So I spent some time just relaxing and praying in the sanctuary in total quiet. City quiet and country quiet are two totally different things and in the sanctuary that night, there was not a bit of sound.

I remember thinking how much I would love to find that in the city and thought maybe I might not be the only one. I got thinking of all of these churches in the city that are locked from Sunday to Sunday and thought of the great service they would provide to people just looking for a sanctuary from the noise. Maybe some comfortable chairs, a ban on cell phones, and some good coffee. Even some wifi with chairs spread far enough apart that you can’t here other people typing away.

It isn’t a church doing this but Paragraph has done this in New York. What a great idea. I wish I had someplace like this in Saskatoon. If you know of any places where I can find silence, leave them in the comments below. via