By Shannon Youell
Journey to the Cross
There are 500 stairs to journey to the top of Mount Royal which rises behind McGill University in downtown Montreal. Cailey and I are in Montreal for the 2017 Church Planting Canada Congress. The morning prior to the conference I decided to take the 2 km journey up those stairs to the lookout point to view the city and river, and then a little further to the cross that is visible from all around the city, especially at night when it is lit up.
It is not an easy climb and there is an easier way to the top–along more gentle inclines with no stairs–but I was up to the challenge so off I went! As my legs began to burn and my breathing became more labored, I wondered what was it in me that chose the harder way up as opposed to the more leisurely route. At one point where the stair path intercepted the roadway path I almost defaulted to the path easier taken. My journey to the cross that day reminds me of our journey as people desiring to see God’s Kingdom continue to break into our nation, which finds foundation at this historical city.
A Collection of Losers
The Congress began with a daylong preconference, The Nones and Dones: The Evolving Story of Secularity in Canada, that engaged church planters and catalysts from across the nation in the conversation around the changing religious landscape in Canada.
James Tyler Robertson, Adjunct Professor, Tyndale Seminary, Canadian Religious Historian and Pastor, helped us frame our roots as people who were apolitical, fiercely independent and determined to break free of both imperialism and the control of the organized church. Our DNA as a nation is that we are a collection of “losers” (losers of the various battles that defined the settlement boundaries of North America and those whose loyalties changed due these conflicts) “who survived by hard work and partnerships.” The only way they survived was humble hard work. Partnerships with faith groups were necessary to survive.
Jamie’s description of our history has gone round and round in my head. As we in the church express great alarm at the secularization of Canada, what does this revelation say to us when the percentage of those who self-identify on census information as No Religious Affiliation (or “nones”) continues to rise?
The Spiritual Landscape
One of the main reasons for this shift in self-identifying as “nones,” and relatedly “dones” (those who have church experience but are “done” with it), is that it is now socially acceptable to say in public that you have no religious affiliation. In the history of our country, many of the social services and pillars of society centered on the church and the services that they offered. Everyone needed some kind of affiliation with the Church. Once government began to offer its citizens healthcare and education, and began to solemnize marriages, for example, people were no longer bound to the church for their regular function of their daily lives.
Sociologist Sarah Wilkins-Laflamme (Associate Professor of Sociology at Waterloo University) has been studying the secularization of Canada. Based on those studies, using Census figures, Statistics Canada and other research, she found that in our area of Western Canada, the average of 28% people have self-identified as nones.
Of our western region, BC ranks the highest at 39% of the population saying they have no religious affiliation—but among those under age 35, the percentage jumps to 47%. This is based on census and other research between 2010 and 2014.
We can’t expect to have a common history and language anymore—many of these “nones” have never had an experience of Christian Church. Almost half–47%–of teenagers in Canada have never attended a religious service (Bibby Research, 2008). Sociologists say that number now, ten years later, is higher—closer to 52%—and continuing to rise.
Joel Theissen, Professor of Sociology at Ambrose University and Director of Flourishing Congregations Institute said that the #1 reason people join any group is because they have relationship with someone inside the group.
So what does that mean for those of us who are longing to see God’s Kingdom realized in our schools and neighbourhoods and communities?
We’ve written often about how different methods and approaches have worked in different eras in the last 100 years and why these methodologies are working or not today. Missiologist Hugh Halter, in his explorations of intentional neighbouring said recently in an interview that they realized every friend and neighbour who “eventually found Jesus first found themselves drawn to the festivities in a home” (Hugh Halter, Happy Hour).
Karen Wilk is part of the Capacity Building and Innovation Team of the new mission agency of CRCNA as well as a National Team Member of Forge Canada. As part of the preconference, she shared her experience of innovating and shaping faith in community in her own Edmonton neighborhood where people are finding Jesus and faith, not because they were invited to church but rather they were first invited to community in their community (we’ve featured one of Karen’s books before, titled Don’t Invite Them to Church). She spoke of shifting our conversations from how to make church grow and how to get people in them to what is God up to in our neighborhoods and how can we participate.
Overall, the church in Canada is facing 500 stairs. There are easier paths being promoted, but the true journey needs to humbly begin climbing each stair with perseverance, prayer, and partnerships, remembering the grit required of us to continue the climb to make Jesus visible and the cross a light on the hill.
Perseverance, prayer and partnerships. This is the Canadian way after all…eh.
We’re going to have some Tool Kits for you at Banff to help start these conversations with your church leadership team and congregations. Come chat with us.
We are deeply appreciative of all our Canadian pioneers both in the past and current. Thank you New Leaf Network and Jared Siebert for your brilliant reveal of the Canadian Landscape. Thank you Forge Canada and Cam Roxburgh for your pioneering work for the past decades of re-imaging mission in our nation and in our neighbourhoods. Thank you Church Planting Canada for pressing in to gather Jesus lovers together to wrestle, share and encourage one another in this journey of sharing faith through our churches and networks.
And thank you to each of you who read this blog because you too desire to see where God is at work and join Him there in your cities, communities and churches.
Joell, Cailey and I would love to talk to you about participating in a one day conference with New Leaf Network around the topic of the Nones and Dones as we all wrestle with grasping hold of the challenges of sharing Jesus in an increasing secular environment. Drop us a note to begin!