What’s wrong with the church? Only 15% of Canadians attend worship services on a weekly basis. Fewer young families and young people remain engaged. Donation budgets are in decline. Aging buildings add to the financial pressures. Church denominations struggle with theological controversy, with some individual churches separating or causing all out denominational rifts.
Yet in the midst of this, some congregations in Canada continue to flourish. As the newly formed Flourishing Congregations Institute says, the church continues to be “a center of community life for many, in ways that bridge across ages, classes, and in some cases, ethnic backgrounds.” What’s more, churches make positive contributions to individuals and society, including personal satisfaction, ethical behaviour, healthy relationships, volunteer opportunities, charitable giving, and practical social assistance (Flourishing Congregations Project, 1-2).
So instead of focusing on what’s wrong with the church, the Flourishing Congregations Institute seeks to focus on what’s right. Through research and analysis, they intend to identify key characteristics of flourishing congregations and share their findings to assist congregations, individuals, and society at large.
I happily participated in an interview with Bill McAlpine, who teaches practical theology at Ambrose University and is part of the research team. I was curious to learn more about the Flourishing Congregations Project, and drawn in by this intro statement:
Research shows that churches who participate in research are more likely to benefit and flourish themselves.
I’d love to see my congregation continue to flourish, so I’m following the Institute’s progress with interest. I also have the following guest post on the Flourishing Congregations blog.
The Flourishing Church in the New Testament and Today
Several months ago, I was invited to speak to a group of pastors and other church leaders on spiritual renewal for congregations. They had been focusing a great deal on change—how to respond to changing culture, how to manage change within the church–and I had been asked to shift the conversation from what to do about change to how we might find spiritual renewal in changing times. What does it mean to be a spiritually renewed church in the midst of change?
When the New Testament speaks of the church, it’s remarkably free of our modern pre-occupation with statistics and demographics. We’re never told the membership numbers for the church in Corinth, Rome, Thessalonica, or any of the early churches. The New Testament mentions widows, but not how many, or if there were more women than men. Although Jesus welcomed parents and young children, we don’t know how many young families were part of the church, or if there were many youth and young adults.
So what does a flourishing church look like in the New Testament?