Flexible Existentialists

By Guest Blogger Kevin Vincent – Director of the Centre for New Congregations Canadian Baptists of Atlantic Canada

Recently I heard Simon Sinek explain his philosophy of “existential flexibility”.  He said, “existential flexibility is the capacity of a leader or an organization to shift 180 degrees and begin to plan and behave in an entirely new way, given an entirely new reality and environment. It’s the capacity to make a 180 degree shift to advance your cause.”

In addressing that specifically for churches, he said that as the church moves past the COVID-19 chapter, many faith leaders are simply moving back to the way it was, to what they know and to what they have always done. He said, “They know they can’t do what they used to do, but they don’t know what to do!” 

Perhaps you can relate.  As it relates to your church, you would say, “I know we can’t go back now!  But I don’t know where to go now!”  Let’s be “flexible existentialists” for the next few minutes.  Let me prompt your thinking by heading down what would be a 180 degree shift for most churches moving forward and let’s begin with a radical question. Here it is.

Is it time for your church to cancel your Sunday morning worship service?  Is it time to say that the current model of how most of us “do church” has run its course? Is it time to embrace the reality that the culture has shifted, people have little interest in weekly, larger, group gatherings and POST-COVID it’s not coming back.  Is it time to abandon a tired old model of church?

If I’ve already said enough to tick you off, stick with me because I’m much more hopeful than I’m sounding.

A recent survey in the United States by the UNSTUCK group reported that churches that have re-opened have seen about 36% of people return.

Now I know those are American statistics. Hold your fire!   BUT at least anecdotally, even if we don’t have as clear Canadian survey results, a lot of pastors are experiencing the same and are wondering, “Who’s coming back?  When will they come back?  Who’s not coming back?” 

Let’s just imagine that we’re twice as good as the Americans (Canadians like to think that!).  Let’s imagine that we get 70% of people back!  Are we OK with that?  Is 70% good enough?  Perhaps we should just conclude that those that don’t return are simply the hard soil, the rocky and thorny ground, of Jesus’ parable. They’re a good excuse to clean up our membership list.

Even more shocking is that the American survey discovered that only 40% of those under the age of 36 prefer larger in-person gatherings.  That means that 6 in 10 church-goers under the age of 36 aren’t sure that they care about your Sunday morning worship service anymore and aren’t looking to return. So should you cancel Sunday?

I believe the answer is No!   But let me suggest an “existentially flexible”, new way forward that was true pre-pandemic and has been dramatically accelerated as we move toward becoming a post-pandemic Church.   Here it is.

The future of the church in Canada will not be grounded in a single site expression but in a multiplicity of congregational gatherings, meeting at different times, in different places, with different people.

Single site. Single gathering. Single location. Single time. See you Sunday at 10:30 is not the future.

Now what could that look like for your church if you adopted that type of a posture?  Is there still a place for a Sunday morning worship gathering?  Of course!  There are many who love that expression of church.  In fact, 70% of the church-going Boomers surveyed want to go back to that traditional Sunday gathering.  It’s still meaningful.  It’s what they know and love.  We can’t steal that. Moving forward it needs to be a piece of the reimagined church.

But the great majority of younger generations don’t share that conviction. They’re finding connection in the digital church.  They’re enjoying a house church that has emerged with 4 other families.  They’re creating dinner church experiences with a dozen friends on a Thursday night.  They’re a Sunday morning “huddle church”.  Some are creating their own “worship gathering and liturgy”.  Others are joining together for a “watch party” of their church’s online service.

What would it look like for your church to consider a multiplied model?  What would it look like to embrace a true hybrid expression of church that still celebrates the traditional Sunday gathering but also cheerleads and celebrates multiple, smaller congregations meeting during the week, in various locations, at various times, with many groups of people? 

I think I can already hear some push-back.  “Yeah but we’re a little church!  We’re only small! We can’t multiply anything!  That’s a big church model!” 

No it’s not!!  Don’t take your “existentially flexible” hat off yet!   What if there were 31 people meeting on Sunday at 10:30am in your church facility.  Perhaps there’s another group of 14 on Thursday night over dinner?  And another group of 23 on Tuesday night over coffee in a café?

And what if fellowship happened?  What if care happened? What if teaching happened?  What if you started serving together?  Could that in fact be a true congregation by New Testament standards?  Could that simply be another expression of your church, another congregation, at a different time, in a different place, reaching different people, tethered together as multiple congregations and still ONE church?

Could THAT be a new forward?  Could that be the answer that your church needs to consider?  As Simon Sinek asks, “Do you have the capacity to make that 180 degree shift to advance your cause.”  We must! It’s a new day for the Church!   Jesus is still building His Church and His cause is too great not to try!

Kevin Vincent is the Director for the Centre of Congregational Development with CBAC. He is part of Canadian Baptist National Cohort along with Cid Latty from CBOQ and Shannon Youell from CBWC. Together we dream and vision and work towards sharing resources and imagination for our churches as they join God in extending the Good News into multiple communities in which the folk in our churches live, work, play and pray. And we laugh a lot.

Could the principles of café church transform your community?

BY: REV. CID LATTY, Congregational Development Associate Canadian Baptist of Ontario & Quebec

The now almost legendary TED talk by Simon Sinek about the essentiality of understanding ‘the why?’ is worth considering before you contemplate any new venture especially one that will affect the lives of people.[1] The idea is simple, if you are strong about the ‘why’, you are clear about the ‘what’ and it’s easier to do the ‘how’. Therefore when thinking about micro church or a version of them like café church we must begin where any good seminary student begins, with good biblically based theology (the why) so that we can work out in our practice (the what & the how).  Thankfully I don’t have to use much space here developing a theology of place or the repercussions of atonement as this has been done extensively elsewhere[2] however let me summarize how I read a key scripture that I see as giving us a strong enough ‘why’ for the what that I’ll illustrate in the form of café church later on.

One of my favorite passages of scripture is found in John 1: 35-38 where we read:

The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”

I call this (somewhat humorously) the least preached on verses in the bible. Why would the disciples want to see where Jesus lived? Notice first the context is one where years of prophetic silence have just been shattered by the loud call of the uncommon revivalist John the Baptist. His declaration is simple; Jesus, the carpenter’s son, the one from obscurity, was actually the long awaited Messiah. He is the bringer in of a new epoch who could put right the defragmentation of the cosmos. This was no small matter. It would be life transforming for everyone who believed. Now hear the words again of the disciples who have just been confronted with the culmination of Israel’s history. They say, ‘where are you staying?’ Yes, let me say that again, on the backdrop of a huge paradigm shift they enquire ‘where are you staying???’ This sounds like a strange question for sure. You see I think I might have asked a different question in that moment, maybe something like ‘how will you take away our sins?’ or ‘explain to me what Daniel meant when he saw the Son of Man?’ or better still ‘how will God rule the world when the culmination of the end times occurs?’ No, they don’t ask our good theological questions. Their question is all about hospitality, locality and humanity. In my paraphrase they are asking ‘can we come over for a coffee?’ or ‘Where is your house?’ Or even ‘Do you live like we live with the same mod cons?’ And it’s this line of questioning (not the one I would have) that John gives credit for seeing ‘his glory’ (John 1:14) because the one who was in the ‘closest relationship with the Father has made him known.’ (John 1:18) It seems that through the ability of Jesus to be relatable, accessible, giving people a view into the normal parts of his life they were able to connect with God. Now it follows that our good theology will ask ‘if God is like this how should we behave?’ Our theology will be seen in praxis. What we do as a result of what we see in God will be crucial. So any café church or micro church for that matter will need to incorporate being relatable, hospitable and accessible if it is to reflect the way of Jesus.

This was definitely the basis for what began in 2006 when we started a café church in Welwyn Garden City (a commuter town just outside London in the UK). Our question was how could we incarnate the gospel in the café culture around us? We could see how a thriving café culture was rapidly developing in our town. Coffee shops were opening up everywhere and this was also replicated all over the UK. In fact a staggering 50% of the UK adult population at the time visited a coffee shop (something that was unheard of before this time). Our own church congregation were a part of this café culture with many of them using coffee shops as ‘third places’ between home and work. With this in mind we asked our local Costa Coffee[3] if we could develop a community in their store and were amazed when they said yes.

What we planned then was a themed event with quizzes, a short talk, discussion and live music – all with the added benefit of being served by friendly coffee shop staff. Our purpose was to help people engage with issues like debt, parenting or the environment from a faith perspective. We called it ‘coffee with a conscience’. People would not only be invited to enjoy a lively evening of chat, hope and humor but we would offer them resources and prayer to help them take action after the event was over. All this would form the basis of our hospitable community.

What we ran on that first night proved to be so popular that I began discussions with Costa Coffee Management and a few café churches were piloted in other stores. Due to the success of these, Cafechurch Network was formed. This registered charity was later given the ‘OK’ to put a café church in every suitable Costa Coffee store in the UK. Over the next ten years we would help to start more than one hundred café churches all over the UK.

Running a café church in a main street coffee shop was a win-win for the church and coffee shop. Stores benefit as café church helped them to feel part of the local community. The church would benefit as people who might not enter a more traditional church setting interacted with people who did. This may be one of the first steps for some towards going to church. For others they may feel that café church in a main street location was the kind of community they wanted to belong to. This then challenged us to re-imagine how we could help people in a café context move forward in their faith journey.

When developing a café church (or a micro church) one of the challenges can be the word ‘church’ itself. It can be a loaded word for some people as they may have either misconceptions about what it means or real experiences of pain in a church context that could be off-putting. While running a café church we often found ourselves having to reassure people that what we were doing was inclusive and not accusative in tone and texture. We therefore found that we ourselves had to learn how to communicate differently in a café context. For instance, while it may be acceptable in churches to expect people to sit patiently through whole services, offering only polite contributions and encouraging sentiments at the end, in a main street café context this is not the case. People come ready to talk with each other and are familiar with connecting in a relaxed environment. If the subject is not engaging and the talk is monotonous people will begin to talk among themselves and the whole evening will be lost. I would often say to café church leaders ‘whatever you do, don’t be boring.’ It is better to keep it lively and make a mistake (correcting yourself later) than to be mind-numbingly dull and risk jeopardizing the whole meeting. Part of the thrill of serving in this context is that the content needs to be transformational not just informational. We need to be an engaging presence not just a welcoming one.[4]

The questions I ask today in Canada are ‘what do people enjoy doing?’ ‘Where do they enjoy meeting each other?’ ‘where do conversations happen?’ ‘where do people yearn for hospitality?’ ‘How can we address the pandemic of loneliness?’ If you can think of an answer to these questions then you are a step away from taking the principles of café church (being accessible, hospitable, a relatable community) and applying them to your situation. Our Canadian adventure could be a similar one to my UK story because the needs are the same even though the cultural expressions may be somewhat different. Here is a leaders guide that will help you run an online café church  https://baptist.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/cafechurch-at-home-leaders-guide.pdf

If you can dream about the needs around you for a while, I’m sure that you can also translate your thoughts into doing something good to transform what you see. And as Paul said to the Ephesians God is ‘able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.’ Our first step is to begin with our own creative imagination so that we can step into the opportunities with our actions. Café church is a micro church expression that you could do today. The decision is yours. By the way I can hear my community asking me one question, and if you listen closely you’ll hear your neighborhood asking you the same question too. The question is this ‘where are you staying?’ What will your answer be?

Rev Cid Latty Clatty@baptist.ca

Congregational Development Associate Canadian Baptist of Ontario & Quebec


[1] You can watch the talk here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4ZoJKF_VuA

[2] I will not offer a list of books and resources as these are readily available and almost without limit however a surprisingly good book that summaries the effects of the incarnation is ‘A community called atonement’ by Scot Mcknight Abingdon 2007

[3] Costa Coffee had at the time 900 chain stores of coffee shops similar in style to Starbucks. Costa Coffee is owned by Coca Cola today

[4] There are some excellent points on how to do this in the book ‘How to revive Evangelism’ by Craig Springer

History of Compassion

This article by Gordon King is from the blog of our brothers and sisters at the Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec. Thanks CBOQ!

Hunger and access to food during times of crisis are a threat to global stability and the well-being of millions of people. Four numbers illustrate some of the dimensions of this humanitarian challenge.

9 – One out of every nine people in the world suffers from hunger or under-nutrition.

70 – Seventy percent of hungry people live in rural areas where food is produced.

80 – Eighty percent of the food consumed in Africa and Asia comes from family farms of less than two hectares.  Increasing the production of these farms is a key to addressing rural hunger and feeding the growing population of the world.

30 – Over the past 30 years foreign aid to agriculture has declined.

By Marc Di Luzio

Canadian Baptists have a long history of compassion for people that suffer from hunger. During the Great Depression, meals were provided in church halls and the homes of families. The government of Canada donated food to hungry populations following the Second World War. The Sharing Way was established to care for people threatened by hunger, disease, and poverty. Ethiopia was shaken by an immense famine in the early 1980s. Farmers from Baptist churches in the prairie provinces sent their crops to care for the starving. Bruce Neal and Arnold Epp were leaders in the founding of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

Today Canadian Baptists continue this tradition with an instinctive understanding that witness in our communities and our world requires us to respond to the needs of hungry. This mission is enacted in creative ways:

  • Community gardens.
  • Support for food banks
  • Classes on cooking and nutrition.
  • Sustainable agriculture projects in East Africa and India.
  • Food relief programs for families displaced by the Syrian civil war.
  • Advocacy to the Government of Canada to increase the percentage of international aid offered to farmers with small landholdings in the Global South.

“When I was hungry you gave me food” is a phrase from the final parable of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus goes on to say that we show our love for him when we care for the needs of those who are weak and vulnerable.

What are some of the other ways you’ve seen Canadian Baptists showing compassion for Canada and the world? Share your thoughts here.

Extreme Makeover: Dream or Reality?

by Shannon Youell

Chris Stefanidis, a pastor in our partner family CBOQ (Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec), tells the story of how the church he was called to pastor was discouraged and dying and now is renewed, in “the state of being made new, fresh, strong again.” See Chris’ article in its entirety below.

We all love articles like this! Especially if we are a part of a community where discouragement has taken root due to falling attendance, aging out, retiring pastors and leaders, and a multitude of other reasons. If this is you, then you are likely yearning for your church community to be renewed. And, as Chris writes, it is not impossible—all things are possible with God!

As a friend of mine often says, “it’s simple but it’s not easy.” Chris attributes their renewal on three crucial things:

  1. the power of Jesus Christ,
  2. loads of prayer, and
  3. their partnership with a sister church and with CBOQ.

What he didn’t have space to explain was how much intentionality would have been required in all those areas.

“Loads of prayer” doesn’t just happen. It happens when people make it happen and keep making it happen even when nothing seems to change and they want to give up. This requires the whole body of Christ to rise up together. To press in. To persevere. To be thankful always for the privilege of praying together, even when it’s like plowing a bog.

“Partnerships” don’t just happen. Again, they require intentionality and becoming vulnerable with one another both inside a congregational community and to other colleagues and peers who may seem to be more “successful” than you. I believe partnerships between believers should always be relationally based—there for one another; to pray, to resource, to encourage. There will be times for sure when it seems one partner is giving and another is receiving. That’s the beauty of being blessing! But when invested in relationship, there is that comfort of knowing there are connections of heart, mind and strength willing to go the hard mile with you and you with them!

Combine prayer and servanthood relationships with the empowerment of the Holy Spirit who works grace in and through us, strengthens us in our weakness, groans with us in our desperation and I think we get a glimpse of the kingdom of God unfolding around us!

A church makeover in a weekend? Likely not. But a church that hears and sees the voice and hands of Jesus in and through others and participates together to serve those who are struggling. A beautiful story in the making.

Here’s the article from Chris for your reading and encouragement:

Renforth Renewal

Renewal: the state of being made new, fresh, or strong again; the state of being renewed.

When my mom proudly shared with a friend of hers that I was called to be the pastor of Renforth Baptist Church, he replied with a bit of a sneer, “That’s a dead church!” At the time, she felt indignant, but the sad truth was he was right.

Remembering back to when I first walked into the place, there was a deadness there. A heaviness seemed to hang in the air making it hard to breath. These are not poetic descriptions or exaggerations. It was the truth. Early on, there were roughly 12 devoted souls who ventured to show up to hear me preach. The impression I got was that we were all just hanging around, waiting for the church to die. There seemed to be no life, no future and no hope. I wished I had never come.

UntitledI knew the only one who could renew the life in this place would be God, who is more than capable of restoring life to the dead. The good news is this is exactly what has happened. In the past few short years at Renforth, through the power of Jesus Christ, loads of prayer and our partnership with Mississauga City Baptist Church, Toronto Baptist Ministries, and the Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec, we have been renewed. Where there was once a deadness about the place, now there is fun. Where there was once an eerie silence, now there is laughter. Where there was once no hope, now there is a fresh wind of God’s Spirit breathing back His life. There is nowhere else I would rather be.

Renforth2Some of the highlights in the past year include: A growing fellowship that now averages 70-80 people each Sunday. Our annual community BBQ that served more than 250 of our closest neighbours and friends. Our one working bathroom is in the process of being renovated to become two fully accessible bathrooms that will be easier for our guests to find. We have hired a part-time children’s ministry director to lead our growing children’s program. God has brought us many talented musicians, teachers and small group leaders to equip us for service. Each week, more and more new people come by God’s leading and chose to remain with us.

If renewal means . . . to be made new, fresh and strong again, then Renforth is being renewed, but it is not on our own. We could not have done it without our family of churches. God bless you for hearing his voice and being a part of his work at Renforth.

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Chris Stefanidis

This article from the CBOQ was originally published on their website here.

Share your thoughts about renewal here! If you are considering undertaking any level of renewal in your church, talk to Sam Breakey, CBWC’s Church Renewal Consultant at sbreakey@cbwc.ca.