Planning Committee Updates
The Planning Committee, an ad hoc committee of the Executive of Church Council, has been tasked with the project of looking into the crystal ball as far as the church is concerned and informing the congregation of the issues that face us and the decisions that we must make as we go forward. To that end, the committee has developed a series of information documents to enable Council and the congregation to make informed decisions. Over the weeks of 2017, these documents will appear here on the web for your consideration and response to Steve Elson who will serve as the conduit to the committee. To gain insight into the work that led to this point, see the report generated by the committee based on the fall, 2016 congregational survey. Also, read the latest update on the progress of the committee overall.
Here are possible future scenarios for First-St. Andrew's for you to consider.
This is the first of a series of background information about trends in our community and beyond that the FSA Planning Committee hopes will help people to think about our future as a congregation. A FSA Planning the Future day is being planned for Wednesday, May 3rd
Age and Gender
In 2011, seventy percent of London’s population was between 15 and 64 years old. This age bracket is often referred to as working age. Children under 15 years of age account for 16 percent of the population while senior age 65 years and over make up 15 percent of the population. London’s age profile is similar to Ontario.
Just over half of London’s population is female with London’s female population being somewhat older than the male population.
London’s population is aging. The population age 65 and older grew by 11 percent from 2006 to 2011 and the number of people age 80 years and over increased by 12.5 percent. The working age population had increased by 4.1 percent and the number of children under the age of 15 years decreased by 2.4 per cent. Draft population projections for the City of London predict that by 2016 there will be more seniors age 65 and older than there are children under the age of 15.
Across Ontario, the number of children decreased by 1.4 percent; the working age population grew by 5.7 percent; and the number of seniors age 65 and over increased by 13.9 percent.
Information Source: www.london.ca
The population of Middlesex County is likely to rise to a total of about 132,900 persons over the 2011‐2041 period. The driving factor behind this growth is an anticipated rise in the employed population, based on the employment forecast for the City of London (where a majority of the employed person’s in Middlesex County work). The gap between the total rise in population and the rise in employed population is due to declining total participation rates in the labour force, which is due, in turn, to the aging of the population into retirement years. Sources of population growth in Middlesex County include an increase of just over 24,000 persons through natural increase (the net of births and deaths) and a net inflow of about 108,500 migrants. About one third of London’s growth through migration is expected to come from international sources; the remainder from other parts of Canada. The City of London currently accounts for about 83% of the population across Middlesex County and it is expected to capture a similar share of the population growth over the projection period. All told, the population in the City of London is expected to rise by about 114,700 persons. (some edits and bold added)
Information Source: Employment, Population, Housing and Non‐Residential Construction Projections, City of London, Ontario, 2011 Update Prepared for: City of London Prepared by: Altus Group Economic Consulting June 7, 2012. (part of ReThink London)
This is the third of a series of background information about trends in our community and beyond that the FSA Planning Committee hopes will help people to think about our future as a congregation. A FSA Planning the Future day is being planned for Wednesday, May 3rd
Child & Youth Poverty in London
Child and youth poverty is on the rise in London & Middlesex County. Often children and youth who live in poverty do not have access to healthy food choices. Therefore, offering low- or no-cost after-school programs that provide healthy food choices and nutrition education is critical. The average Canadian child (6-12 years of age) has roughly 67 hours of free time every week, with most of this time during after-school hours. Many children spend this time alone, so fun, safe and caring environments for children/youth or one-to-one mentoring programs ensure they are less likely to be subjected to the vulnerabilities that childhood can bring (Boys & Girls Club of Canada: After School the Time of a Child’s Life).
Providing active after-school programs ensures opportunities for children and youth to be physically active, and helps to prevent weight and health issues later in life, which in turn saves money in future health care costs.
Information Source: United Way London & Middlesex web site http://unitedwaylm.ca/whatwedo/beginningsandtransitions/
This is the fourth of a series of background information about trends in our community and beyond that the FSA Planning Committee hopes will help people to think about our future as a congregation. A FSA Planning the Future day is being planned for Wednesday, May 3rd
Poverty in London
The growth of poverty in London and Middlesex County is a disturbing trend–one that threatens the long-term health and prosperity of our entire community. The gap between rich and poor continues to widen and low-income households are falling further behind. The proportion of area residents living with income below the Low Income Cut-Off has increased since 2006. The low-income rate is rising faster in our community than the rest of Ontario. This is likely due to the fact that Southwestern Ontario, including London, was hit particularly hard by the recession and is recovering more slowly than the Province as a whole.
Many populations, including people with disabilities, people with mental health issues and newcomers, are more likely to live in poverty as a result of having a low income. Accessing social assistance can be complicated and time consuming. Even full access to all applicable social assistance can leave a recipient with less than what is required to afford the basic costs of living. Employment is key to exiting poverty and an important first step is often the development of skills through participation in employment readiness programs. For newcomers, learning more about Canadian workplace culture is also key. Ethnic and racial discrimination in our community means visible minority groups are often unable to translate their skills and education into stable employment or proper compensation.
Information Source: United Way London & Middlesex web site http://unitedwaylm.ca/whatwedo/poverty/
This is the fifth of a series of background information about trends in our community and beyond that the FSA Planning Committee hopes will help people to think about our future as a congregation. A FSA Planning the Future day is being planned for Wednesday, May 3rd – please mark your calendar.
Immigration and Ethno-Cultural Diversity
On May 8, 2013, Statistics Canada released the National Household Survey (NHS) data on Immigration and Ethno-Cultural Diversity. This summary highlights data for the City of London. For the complete fact sheet visit: https://www.london.ca/About-London/community.../4-%20ethnoculturalJune21.pdf
- London is home to 76,585 immigrants representing 21.2% of the total population.
- Almost 15% (11,410) of London’s immigrants are recent, arriving between 2006 and 2011.
- 16% (57,965) of Londoners reported being a visible minority.
- One third of visible minorities are Latin American or Arab.
- 23% of Londoners can conduct a conversation in a non-official language – Spanish and Arabic are the top non-official languages spoken.
- 63% of Londoners are connected to or affiliated with a Christian religion, 30% have no religious affiliation or connection and 4% are Muslim.
According to the 2011 National Household Survey London is home to:
- 76,585 immigrants (landed immigrants and permanent residents);
- 279,580 non-immigrants; and
- 4,555 non-permanent residents (refugee claimants, work/study permits and any non-Canadian born family member living with them).
Compared to Ontario, London has:
- Fewer immigrants;
- More non-immigrants; and
- Similar proportion of the population that are non-permanent residents.
340,900 of London’s residents are Canadian citizens
- Almost 80% are age 18 and over
London has relatively more Canadian citizens than Ontario, Windsor, Waterloo, Toronto and Ottawa.
This is the sixth of a series of background information about trends in our community and beyond that the FSA Planning Committee hopes will help people to think about our future as a congregation. A FSA Planning the Future day is being planned for Wednesday, May 3rd. – please mark your calendar.
The London Economic Region (ER) covers Oxford, Elgin, and Middlesex counties and is home to over 670,000 residents. The region’s economic base is relatively more concentrated in manufacturing and agriculture, its primary export industries, and it has a fairly broad service industry base led by financial services, education and health. Its principal centre is the London Census Metropolitan Area (CMA), comprised of the cities of London and St. Thomas and their neighbouring urban jurisdictions. The CMA contains most of the region’s manufacturing base and is home to over 500,000 residents.
The region’s economy has experienced a slow but improving recovery from the last recession with several key economic indicators still below pre-recession levels. Much of this performance is linked to the Key indicators suggest economic performance in the London ER has been moderate overall in 2015 compared to 10-year historical trends.
Headline labour market indicators region’s declining manufacturing sector and the resulting negative spinoffs to the broader economy. External conditions such as the depreciated Canadian dollar, stronger U.S. growth, and lower oil prices seem to have begun to stimulate more manufacturing exports from the region.
Key indicators suggest economic performance in the London ER has been moderate overall in 2015 compared to 10-year historical trends. Headline labour market indicators have performed the best since the recession with employment growth tracking above two percent led by full-time employment and the unemployment rate falling to nearly six percent….
Forecast job growth is led by manufacturing, construction and real estate services. … The region’s unemployment rate will decline to 5.8 percent in 2016 and 5.3 percent in 2017 from an estimated 6.2 percent in 2015. The London CMA (Census Metropolitan Area) will continue to generate the bulk of regional jobs given its more diversified industry base than in the rest of the region.
Information Source: 2016 Ontario Economic Update: London Economic Region Presented by the Credit Unions of Ontario and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce. To read the full report go to: www.occ.ca/advocacy/ontario-economic-update-2016/london-region
This is the seventh of a series of background information about trends in our community and beyond that the FSA Planning Committee hopes will help people to think about our future as a congregation. A FSA Planning the Future day is being planned for Wednesday, May 3rd – please mark your calendar.
A message from Canada's Chief Public Health Officer
Health is fundamental to our quality of life and to Canada's prosperity in the world. I think most Canadians would agree that their health and the health of their loved ones is what matters most to them.
Using a collection of health indicators to monitor the health status of a population helps us understand areas where we are doing well and those areas where we can improve. This report tells us Canadians are experiencing good health on a number of measures - almost 90 percent of Canadians reported having good to excellent health. If you feel healthy, then you likely are healthy. Canada's average life expectancy of 82 years ranks us as among the healthiest nations in the world. A long life-expectancy reflects well on many social and environmental factors in Canada that influence our health.
There are some worrisome trends. Over a relatively short period of time, the proportion of Canadians living with diabetes has almost doubled from 6% in 2000 to 10% in 2011. This is a concern as we know that more Canadians living with type 2 diabetes is linked to a higher proportion of people with an unhealthy diet, low physical activity and higher rates of overweight and obesity - which are all associated with higher rates of other diseases and conditions.
In addition, some Canadians are not as healthy as others or are at higher risk for poor health outcomes.
- In 2008/2010, more than half of First Nations households on reserve reported not having access to enough safe, affordable and nutritious food;
- In 2011, almost a third of women single-parent households reported living in housing that was not adequate, not affordable and/or not suitable;
- Between 1991 and 2006, men in the lowest income group died of cancer at a rate more than double that of women in the highest income group; and,
- In 2014, the rate of new or retreatment cases of tuberculosis was almost 50 times higher in the Inuit population than in the Canadian population overall.
This snapshot is a useful tool to help bring us closer to narrowing health gaps in Canada and preventing illness in the most vulnerable.
Ultimately, my hope is that this report provides a glimpse to all Canadians about the health of our country while illustrating how many different factors interact to makes us healthy.
This is the eighth of a series of background information about trends in our community and beyond that the FSA Planning Committee hopes will help people to think about our future as a congregation. A FSA Planning the Future day is being planned for Wednesday, May 3rd – please mark your calendar.
Key Messages from the Public Health Agency of Canada’s 2016 report – Health Status of Canadians
HOW HEALTHY ARE WE?
- Canadians are living longer than ever with an average life expectancy of 82 years, although life expectancy in Canada is not the same for everyone.
- More babies are being born with a low birth weight than in the past. A higher proportion of babies with a low birth weight are born to mothers under the age of 20 and between the ages of 35 to 49 years.
- The proportion of Canadians who reported a strong sense of community belonging in 2014 was lowest among those aged 20 to 34 years.
- Almost 90% of Canadians reported feeling in good to excellent health – the highest proportion of people among G7 countries.
- At 70%, most Canadians considered their mental health to be either very good or excellent in 2014. People living in lower income households had lowered perceived mental health.
WHAT IS INFLUENCING OUR HEALTH?
- The gap between the highest and lowest income groups is widening. Men and women are now equally likely to have a low income.
- More Canadians are completing their high school and post-secondary education than ever before — in 2015, 90% finished high school and 66% were a post-secondary graduate.
- Canadians with the lowest incomes report the highest rates of core housing need and food insecurity. In 2011, 29% of women single-parent households were in core housing need and 54% of First Nations on-reserve households reported food insecurity in 2008/2010.
- The vast majority of Canadians do not meet recommended levels of physical activity with
9 out of 10 children and youth not meeting the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines.
- The proportion of Canadians who smoke is decreasing, but just under 4 million Canadians currently smoke.
Immunization rates for measles and DPT in Canada are below national immunization coverage goals of 97% by age 2.
HOW ARE WE UNHEALTHY?
- Cancer continues to be the leading cause of death in Canada.
- In 2014, Canadians with the lowest income were twice as likely to report living with cardiovascular disease than those of the highest income.
- The proportion of Canadians 20 years and older with diabetes almost doubled between 2000 and 2011 - up from 6% to 10%.
- The proportion of Canadians reporting having been injured in the previous year increased to 16% in 2014 from 13% in 2003. An estimated 20% to 30% of seniors fall each year in Canada.
- The proportion of Canadians saying they had been diagnosed with a mood disorder increased from 5% in 2003 to 8% in 2014.
- In 2011, just over 340,000 Canadians were diagnosed with dementia, representing an estimated 2% of the Canadian population aged 40 years and older.
- Tuberculosis rates for Indigenous and foreign-born populations in Canada are higher than the overall Canadian population. Rates are almost 50 times higher for the Inuit.
This is the ninth of a series of background information about trends in our community and beyond that the FSA Planning Committee hopes will help people to think about our future as a congregation. A FSA Planning the Future day is being planned for Wednesday, May 3rd – please mark your calendar.
Note: The West region of Ontario includes the following counties: Brant, Bruce, Chatham-Kent, Elgin, Essex, Grey, Haldimand, Hamilton, Huron, Lambton, Middlesex, Niagara, Norfolk, Oxford and Perth.
The West region of Ontario has a population that is generally older with over a third of the population over the age of 50 years, married and living in their own homes. Residents speak predominantly English and very few having a working knowledge of both official languages or of another language. Relatively low numbers of people — about 1 in 10 — are members of a visible minority.
People in the region have one of the lower after-tax median incomes in the province as well as a somewhat lower level of employment, although unemployment is about the same as for the province overall. Perhaps because of their economic circumstances, the region has the second highest percentages of people compared to Ontario overall in low income and facing food insecurity. These characteristics are of concern because they indicate that a significant number of the residents in the West region are facing greater economic uncertainty.
People in the West region feel safe in their communities, even though the incidence of serious crime is higher than for the province overall. The region boasts the highest percentage of people in the province who volunteer, especially for recreation and cultural organisations. Even though voter turnout in the last federal election was the lowest in the province and fewer people expressed confidence in Parliament, the second highest percentage of people volunteered for a political or advocacy organisation — so their engagement in democracy takes a different form.
West region residents are facing more serious environmental issues like smog and greenhouse gas emission than elsewhere in the province — the region has much higher levels of ground level ozone and especially greenhouse gas emissions (due to the concentration of many of the province’s major facilities in the region). Also, participation rates in waste reduction through the Blue Box program are somewhat lower than elsewhere in the province.
More so than anywhere else in Ontario, both adults and children of the West region are taking advantage of various learning opportunities offered by their libraries, and parents are somewhat more engaged with their children in talk-based interactions. While elementary schools are measuring progress in children’s development of citizenship skills more so than anywhere else, they are measuring progress in health and wellbeing and in social-emotional skills less so than any other part of the province. As part of the province’s goals for elementary school education, greater emphasis on these aspects of early childhood development should be encouraged.
Residents are most like the province as a whole in their participation in arts and culture pursuits, in monthly physical activity, and in social leisure activities, even though the percentage of people reporting long working hours is the highest in the province. They do, however, report the highest average nights away on vacation each year. Overall, then, residents in the West region appear to be ensuring they have a diverse and active leisure lifestyle in spite of having longer work weeks.
Finally, compared to the province as a whole, the West region has lower percentages of people with good overall health, good mental health, and more health or activity-related limitations to their day-to-day living. In contrast, the region also has the second highest percentage of people getting immunized against influenza. Nevertheless, a majority of residents (86.1%) report being satisfied with their lives, although this is the second lowest level in the province.
There is much to celebrate about living in the West region of Ontario. As this portrait of wellbeing illustrates, however, there are numerous factors across all domains of life that contribute to and detract from the residents’ quality of life. By recognising how these circumstances interact and intersect to affect the lives of the West region’s residents in different ways, we are in a better position to make informed decisions that can lead to enhanced quality of life in their communities, and ultimately, the province overall.
Source: Smale, B. (2016). A Profile of Wellbeing in Ontario: West Region. Waterloo, ON: Canadian Index of Wellbeing and University of Waterloo, pages 4-5. For more information: www.ciw.ca
Bold has been added.
This is the tenth of a series of background information about trends in our community and beyond that the FSA Planning Committee hopes will help people to think about our future as a congregation. A FSA Planning the Future day is being planned for Wednesday, May 3rd– please mark your calendar.
Find out more about how UCC folks compare with the Canadian population.
This is the eleventh of a series of background information about trends in our community and beyond that the FSA Planning Committee hopes will help people to think about our future as a congregation. A FSA Planning the Future day is being planned for Wednesday, May 3rd– please mark your calendar.
Find out more about how UCC folks compare with the Canadian population.
This is the twelfth of a series of background information about trends in our community and beyond that the FSA Planning Committee hopes will help people to think about our future as a congregation. A FSA Planning the Future session is being planned for the evening of Wednesday, May 3rd – please mark your calendar.
A blog by Rev. Dr. Keith Howard http://www.united-church.ca/blogs/round-table/5-reasons-church-may-make-it
Last week I published a blog, 5 Reasons the Church May Not Find a Way Ahead. This blog is the counterpoint.
First, a couple of preliminary clarifications.
When using the word “church” I do not mean the abstract theological concept of wherever there are people who try and follow the Way of Jesus there is church. While I believe that is true I have in mind some version of a more mainline oriented church, like The United Church of Canada, who hold some centre like the Basis of Union and whose culture contains the practice of open theological and ethical inquiry and the practice of engaging the larger culture.
By using the phrase “make it” I have in mind the continuation of some affiliation of congregations/communities of faith who associate for the purpose of mutual support, discernment and action in the Way of Jesus. They exist beyond the charisma of one leader, develop the faith and practice of their members, and have a continuity of engagement with the world God loves.
My criteria for finding pro-survival signs was not theological or ethical but based on the tradecraft of leadership. What are the signs of hope?
1. Leaders are whining and grieving less and so are more able to pay attention and move forward
There is less denial about the sociological situation of the church. In part this means that leaders are more able to look at challenges and opportunities actually before them.
Although gathering places are still important there is growing recognition that if the ministry of a congregation is tied to the sustenance of a building the gospel train is close to derailment. Many congregations are shifting their focus to building up the people of God and/or mission to the surrounding community. Congregations can remain active and healthy even if they sell their property or rent or lease other space.
Also, there is the gradual dawning upon many who are “called to distinct ministry” - particularly those newly entering paid, accountable work, that the timeline is short in which they can expect the church to provide them with a full-time salary, and benefits, roughly equivalent to a teacher’s salary package.
2. Opportunities abound
Increasingly congregations and their leaders, being less preoccupied with survival, are lifting up their eyes to see the vast multitude of spiritual and practical needs around them. The church is a fish swimming in an ocean of spiritual yearning and physical need.
Whether or not one agrees that loneliness is the #1 affliction of North American society there are yearnings for a community in which to live and through which to offer service.
People are overwhelmed and, at times, need others to help them reset their priorities or to lean on in times of struggle and heartache.
Although the word is seldom used now, the desire for salvation grows profound and urgent. We do not need to look at the most obvious - addictions to drugs, consumerism and workaholism - to hear a heartfelt desire for what is more commonly termed as “transformation” or “a new way of life.”
A world in which the label “un-truth” is acceptable proves unacceptable to many. Information, much of it acknowledged as false, abounds. Where are the touchstones? What are the safe places where people can wrestle with principles, practices and projections?
3. There are multiple ways for the church to engage the public realm
For long past the due date, the church fancied itself the conscience of the nation. While still important to raise and advocate for important concerns the bulk of congregations and their leaders now explore the many other ways in which the church can engage the public realm. Acts of charity and compassion - once denigrated as somehow unfaithful because they were not about systemic change - are now being embraced not only as ways of meeting immediate need but as authentic ways of building relationships with the communities in which congregations are situated.
The presence of a more “monastic” style of discipleship is also a time-honoured means by which the church has engaged the public realm if only as a sign of “another way” or a means to preserve important values and practices in danger of being lost.
Partnerships are another code word to signify that the church wishes to engage but no longer expects to set the agenda or dominate the outcome.
4. Old practices are being taken more seriously
The ancient practice of Christian hospitality provides one clear example of an old-but-new-again practice. Congregations are moving past the expectation that all people need to do is come and see how great we are and then they’ll be hooked. Now people are striving to actually listen and engage the real people with whom they come in contact without the vampire expectation of fresh blood. When the prime purpose is not recruitment but developing a relationship, to discern where God might be present and moving in a person’s life, the old practice becomes new. And, as a result, each new relationship changes the community.
Other examples include renewed interest in worship, daily prayer, meditation, among others.
5. Ministry with children, youth and their families
The Achilles heel for many United Church congregations has long been the lack of intentional pathways of leadership development and faith formation. The result has been that many young parents who show some interest in having their children be part of a Christian community feel themselves ill-equipped. They know more about parenting books and some of the awesome children’s books available than they do about their faith.
While “youth work” has long been a concern for congregations and conferences often those youth feel they have nowhere to go when they “age out.” They cannot find where they fit or experiences that match the great connections made in youth events. Some of that is changing.
In British Columbia Conference, long known for its strength in ministry with children, the conference has decided to initiate and fund a specific program aimed at developing leadership skills for those working with children, youth and their families. In keeping with the technological opportunities available, the program will be a mixture of short in-person intensives with online and other delivery methods. In part, this initiative arose because congregations are becoming aware that “how they love the children is how they love the parents” and they seek qualified and trained leaders.
Isn’t that hopeful?
Rev. Dr. Keith Howard is profoundly curious about the interface of the Christian gospel and the social context in which we live. This curiosity has drawn him into many roles, including 23 years of congregational ministry in the United Church; more than five years as executive director of the Emerging Spirit project; and most recently, team leader for LeaderShift in BC Conference. Keith blogs at keithhoward.ca. Sign up for his newsletter here.
The Future of the Church is Becoming Clear (Almost) Aug 30, 2016 blog by Keith Howard (PART 1 of 2)
Will the church be left trying to engage a world that no longer exists with outdated methods?
At the risk of sounding naïve, the shape of The United Church of Canada, in my corner of the continent, seems to be emerging from the fog generated by massive cultural shifts.
Congregations - Large, Medium, Small
In larger centres, we may have one large congregation - Vancouver, North Vancouver, etc. This congregation is heavily endowed or has another significant revenue stream. The property, in some form, will be a significant part of their budget. The large congregation(s) will be the only ones with multiple full-time ministerial staff. At this point, it seems unlikely that any United Church congregation will approach, much less break, the 1000 member mark. So “big,” within the context of British Columbia, is relative and a far cry from the mega-churches in the U.S.
Many of our churches will have an average Sunday attendance ranging between 80 and 350 people. The property will be a factor but those that survive will have found ways to renovate their facilities and bring them close to 21st century standards. Alternate revenue streams will be necessary to keep these congregations solvent. The old business model of a congregation surviving based solely upon the giving of its members no longer holds. Centres like Victoria and some parts of the Lower Mainland may support 3 (or more) of these congregations but most cities and towns outside of the Lower Vancouver Island or Lower Mainland will, at most, see one or two of these United Church congregations.
A number of smaller United Church congregations will continue. Very many of these may be quite healthy and have a vital and faithful ministry to their communities even if they are no longer supported by a full-time ministerial staff person. In smaller communities, these United Church congregations will increasingly be seen as community churches with some of the maintenance and upkeep being done by people in the community who “support” the church but do not attend any regular Sunday service. Services, when held, may be led by an itinerant minister or, most positively, by local people with an interest (and, we hope, training and support).
We will continue to support ministries that seek to be the hands and feet of Christ - street ministries, ministries that help people transition from a destructive style of living to greater health, and other more service oriented projects.
There will also be a small number of newer ministries. Some may be based on an “intentional community” model; others may use models not yet envisioned. The long-term survival of such communities is problematic without significant support from the larger church or creative revenue generation from other sources. Such initiatives are a lot of work and the larger church has not yet found a way to evaluate those initiatives with promise and those that remain passionate ideas without root. Perhaps because of this the larger church does not seem willing to invest the amount of money, in the medium to longer term, to ease the burden of staff trying both to develop new ministries and find ways to support themselves and their families financially. Not to sound too pessimistic because some will survive and provide a glimpse of new possibility. Some good people are, even within institutional restraints, working at these models of church but the numbers are few.
The Future of the Church is Becoming Clear (Almost) Aug 30, 2016 blog by Keith Howard (PART 2 of 2)
Will the church be left trying to engage a world that no longer exists with outdated methods?
The Digital World
One dimension of the emerging church that seems predominantly clear but has not yet been engaged significantly is the online dimension of ministry and faith development.
Among the many reasons are these.
1. Much of our current leadership belongs to those generational cohorts that are not digital natives. My boomer generation, in particular, tends to think of digital and online as “add-ons” as opposed to integral to life, work and the way we see the world.
We understand one-to-one, face-to-face interactions but do not feel networking as it now exists.
Catherine Rodd, Executive Officer, Communications, for the General Council of The United Church of Canada, says that, theological pronouncements aside, we still tend to equate The Word with the printed word. We are then suspicious of technology and the visual. Faith drifts towards becoming “an intellectual exercise to be treasured and delivered firmly, with little positive emotion.”
Related to this is the matter of control.
“Writing down things, you have the illusion of control - in this new space, not so much. The church has been used to telling people what to think and believe, despite our openness, finds it difficult to actually engage in real time with people who think differently in a public space. So we need to shift our culture to one that listens, engages and is prepared to adjust, rather than just talks.”
2. Part of our reluctance to explore this comes from our anti-evangelical bias. Many evangelicals and fundamentalist Christians rushed to the online world seeing it as another powerful tool for ministry. United Church people recoiled at much that was displayed and retreated to a more comfortable zone. We stepped back from the medium as well as the content.
3. Despite the rush to embrace the language of “mission” our focus is predominantly inward. The online communication of most congregations still follows the Web 1.0/billboard model that sees ourselves as the primary reference point. We do not ENGAGE.
Aaron Gallegos, Digital Content Strategist for the General Council of The United Church of Canada, names the result.
“The more we talk about ourselves (our denomination, our church work) the less people engage with us online. But when we talk about faith and make posts that directly engage our audiences' experience of God and the spiritual life, we get lots of engagement because we're connecting with where they are at, rather than informing them about where the denomination or local congregation is at. What people want online (and in "real life" as well) from the church is a spiritual experience, a connection with the divine.”
4. We carry the remnants of Christendom.
Gallegos again. The church “culture is still one where we expect our audiences to defer to us rather than the other way around. This is very similar to the response many of our churches have towards visitors, requiring them to conform to "the way it's done" in church instead of allowing them to reshape the way we do things. This isn't especially successful in real life, and in the digital world, where people have a billion options at the flick of a finger, it's even less successful.”
5. All indications point to the increasing importance of the online world for development and training of all sorts.
Most congregations now recognize that they at least need to have a website but usually, their staff are overwhelmed with the current challenges of ministry; they do not have the time or other resources to fully engage the potential of the virtual world.
So who does?
Some congregations carve out part of their staff budget for communications support but, in times of pressure on scarce resources, they can hardly be expected to lead the revolution!
Will some of the significant monies being realized from property sales and a reconfiguration of the structure of the church be invested in an exploration of and training for this new world? Or will it fall to the spiritual but not religious crowd to develop their own models, as is currently happening?
Is the mainline mentality even able to see and grasp the opportunity or will we come late to the potential?
In the last federal Canadian election, Liberal strategist Tom Pitfield said “digital had the greatest ROI (return on investment)… We focused on it as a strategic advantage.” The Liberals spent $8.8 million mostly on digital strategies; the Conservatives spent less than $2.1 million. “The Tories, meanwhile, shelled out $5.1 million on call centres, whereas the Liberals spent just $436,000.” (Canadian Press)
Strategically, has the United Church moved from being the NDP-at-prayer to being the Tories-at-prayer?
Will the church be left trying to engage a world that no longer exists with outdated methods?
Some scholars argue that not only did the printing press assist the Protestant Reformation but, in fact, caused it. And that many of the changes brought about by the decades-old printing technology quickly moved beyond the control of the church.
We are now in a similar time when the impact of the information/online world will not only transform the world of which we are a part but how the Christian faith is understood and practiced.
Now that’s interesting!
Rev. Dr. Keith Howard is profoundly curious about the interface of the Christian gospel and the social context in which we live. This curiosity has drawn him into many roles, including 23 years of congregational ministry in the United Church; more than five years as executive director of the Emerging Spirit project; and most recently, team leader for LeaderShift in BC Conference. Keith blogs atkeithhoward.ca. Sign up for his newsletter here