When we’re young, many of us decide “bigger is better”. Small town boys and girls head for the big city. Big box stores trump small local shops. Who wants to work for a small company, when you can build a career at a large corporation?
Statistics show that many of us in larger urban areas have traded our small church for a larger one, and the reasons are practical: generally, larger churches are able to provide better ministries for children, better preaching, better music and better overall organization. The fact is, there is a certain critical mass required to operate a modern day church so that all of the critical bases are covered, by a combination of motivated staff and volunteer leaders.
But in Canada, there are only about 150 churches with attendance greater than 1000 people (while our neighbours in the USA have over 7000 churches over 1000!). The vast majority of Canadian churches are less than 100 in attendance, and sadly, as we see from the growing list of vacant church buildings in cities and towns across Canada, many of these aging congregations are on life support, or have given up completely. Others remain strong, spiritual assets to their community. What happened to make some die and others flourish?
We Canadians are strung across a vast wilderness, and many of us are not anywhere near a thriving, large church. Interestingly, a growing number of churches in cities and towns across our country are climbing their way into the 250-500 category. Some of these congregations are growing in health and vitality, and are adopting systems, methods and creative ideas from their big-sister urban counterparts (often through conferences), while fostering their own unique, hometown culture. These are the churches to watch in the decade ahead!
The Flourishing Congregations Institute at Ambrose University in Calgary, defines a “flourishing church” as a group with:
1) active spiritual life among congregants: prayer, scripture reading, small groups, and volunteering;
2) people are invited and welcomed into a vibrant sense of belonging and participation;
3) worship services and mission are inspiring;
4) leaders empower others to use their skills to lead and serve;
5) faith-based outreach and service, within and beyond; and
6) an active presence in the community at large.
Here’s the great news: a church of any size can achieve the list above. Last summer, while on vacation, I participated in inspiring Celtic flavoured worship at a small church called Margaree Baptist in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. On the outside it was an unassuming old white country church, but on the inside, it was alive with young families and spiritual vitality!
There is room (and need) across Canada for all shapes and sizes of vibrant churches. Our goal is to help churches large and small to thrive, in ever-emerging, creative ways.