Expressions: Blended Ecology

By Shannon Youell

“In a smaller church we sometimes look at our barriers rather than our assets.” Jill Beck, Co-Pastor, Wildwood United Methodist Church

During our Assembly workshop “Staying is the new going,”we began our conversation around the question, “What barriers do we have that hinder us from participating in local mission right where we are?”


Jill and Michael Beck remind us that only looking at and identifying our barriers, and in particular, the barriers of being small churches or of an aging declining congregation, can negate looking at what assets we already have to overcome those barriers.

Blended Ecology is the path this congregation took that both takes care of the saints who have long and faithfully laboured and invested into the church and also sends them out right where their own lives take them.

Pastor Michael says it this way, “Our church is no longer defined by just the ‘root stock’ or just the ‘tree’ but now people in our community experience us in all these different ways – their church in the tattoo parlour, the park, the walking club.”

One of their parishioners who has gone into the neighbourhood observes “Our church is growing and a lot of the growth is coming from people accepting Jesus as their Lord and Savior.”

Praise God! So many new expressions are attractional to already believers and the big disappointments for many mega church plants is when they realize that though they appear successful in all the usual ways, their growth is between 96 and 98 percent transfer growth – already believers!.

Here we have a small, aging, declining community being intentional about continuing the work that God put on them in the early days and stepping outside their known understandings of traditional church and their comfort zones to engage in the community in a way that is bringing growth and flourishing to all.

Pastor Jeff concludes that in all aspects there is a bountiful and fruitful exchange that’s life giving and he credits it to “an inherited mixed economy (when) you release the mission force that’s sitting in your pews every Sunday.”

Some of our CBWC churches are leaning into blended ecology mission. Northmount Baptist Church realized their barriers and their assets and determined that to continue the legacy of the faithful who had invested themselves faithfully in the work of the church, they needed to become reacquainted with the neighbourhood in which they found themselves. You can read more of their story here.

At Wildwood, the folk of the church looked at where their own passions were, where they spent time in pursuing those passions and then began to build community in those places. You can read all about them here.

New life brings excitement and rebirth and an ecology shaped around resilience, mission and faithful presence. What might God be saying to you and your congregation? Ask the questions, be quick to listen and slow to disregard or discard out of the box ideas…you could be the next tattoo parlor ministry!

The Unexpected Guest

By Shannon Youell

One of our values at my home church is to try to see everything we are and do through the eyes of the unexpected guest. The unexpected guest is the one who just randomly shows up. They haven’t been encouraged to visit by someone already a part of the church community so they don’t even have a briefing of what to expect and a familiar face to explain the lay of the land. I know several recent stories of this happening both in our church and around the city. If the doorcrasher has had previous church experience, then at least the foreign land has some familiar fare—though it may be prepared differently. For the unchurched but curious seekers, it’s all alien. Often their preconceived notions from media and culture help navigate the landscape no more than pictures in a travel magazine prepares us for a visit to a foreign country!

CC Jason Morrison

It is easy for us to shape our space and gatherings around what is most comfortable for us with no purposeful thought into how that translates to someone who is unchurched. Since the unchurched and the disenfranchised are our mission field, this should be a considered priority wherever the people of God gather.

I remember vividly, as a seventeen-year-old exchange student, going to a little country Catholic church in the hills of Quebec. I was not raised in the church, so for the most part, any type of service would be foreign to me, but the observations I made there very loudly told me I did not belong. I would have been somewhat able to catch the drift had the service been conducted in French, but, as was the practice in some Catholic churches, the service was conducted almost entirely in Latin. So I had no idea at all what was being said! Though I was there with my host family of two parents and eight children, they did not feel a need to explain anything to me and hushed me when I tried to ask. I guess they thought, as so often do we, that our unexpected guests will eventually pick everything up; assuming they even return after such an experience! Imagine my horror when all the congregation stood, something that had occurred several times already, and began to shuffle to the front. I was just following the crowd only to be refused communion (which I didn’t want anyways as I had no idea what it was). I exited quickly and not so discreetly and vowed to never shadow the door of a church again.

Before we get too smug because we tend to conduct services in the common language of the folk, think about the language we do use in Sunday services. Theology, communion, propitiation, blood, blood and blood just to name a very few. Even referring in sermons to stories we assume folk all know can cause a visitor to be lost in a strange land. Imagine a day like this where the service is focused on Communion; all the songs talk about blood, the sermon is about taking up our cross like Jesus did and dying; then we take, eat and drink reciting Jesus’ words, “this is my body and my blood.” Then the service is over and everyone goes on their way. Imagine how a stranger navigates that! How might we guide folk into not being totally freaked out, without losing the rooted meaning of our practices?

Are the spaces that we are so comfortable in becoming barriers to our unexpected guests? Next Sunday, enter your space through the eyes of the unexpected, unchurched, or disenfranchised guest. Be a stranger from the parking lot to departure. What do you immediately note as a possible barrier? Why? How could that barrier become an invitation?

It’s a hard exercise since we are familiar with the rhythms, but it is crucial for us to go through this activity. Are we saying non-verbally to our guests “it’s nice to have you here, but if you don’t return that’s fine too?”

In Jesus day, the guest was given the seat of honor. Do we do that? Do we treat that guest as though everything we do is to serve them and not us?

Next time let’s look at these together. In the meantime, take a few moments to send us your observations and ideas: what barriers does your church struggle to break down? How has your congregation grown in becoming welcoming? Shoot us an email (, or leave a comment here on the blog.