« The Death of the American Liberal Class - Chris Hedges | Main | United Church of Canada People Trends - 2009 »

November 30, 2010


David Ewart

Just to be clear - the bullets you mention are from Steinke's article in the CC. They are not unique to the UCCan.

And. Rosa Parks was NOT an isolated individual acting on an impulse. She was part of a nascent social movement that had done years of self-training, planning, and was ready to act when the opportunity presented itself. And part of that opportunity was the social context of sufficient numbers of educated and wealthy enough blacks along with sufficient "liberal" white supporters.

Social context matters.

I think it is counter-productive to pretend that every single existing congregation can solve these issues by itself. (And therefore has only itself and its minister to blame for failing.)

We need a collective response that is more than "Here's 6 things your congregation can do."

We need a response that is "Here's 6 things 6 congregations can do together."

Let me repeat. People are not going to church like they used to. And we have too many fixed, brick-and-motor assets in a mobile, digital world.

We need a collective strategy that BOTH helps existing congregations be up to speed for the current demographic of church attenders, AND starts experimenting like crazy with other forms of connecting / evangelization.

David Ewart

A new day - another response.

What I gather from this is that you, Stu, are rightly wondering what a congregation should do. And I, David, am rightly wondering what the collective United Church should do.

The reality is that broad social forces shape institutions. And these contexts are by and large beyond our control.

No individual congregation is going to change the social trend of "people are not going to church like they used to."

So. Let's suppose in a given area church attendance has declined from 1,000 to 500, and 3 churches used to share that attendance 200, 300 and 500. And let's suppose that the middle church read all the books and went to all the training events and made all the changes that needed to be made when they needed to be made and still has an attendance of 300.

What are we going to tell the other two? If only you had tried harder there would still be 1,000 people going to church? Or, if only you try harder now, unlike anything any church has ever been able to do in Canada, you can get 500 new people who have never gone to church before to start going to your church?

Why is so hard for you to accept that broader social forces pretty much killed bowling but not the CFL?

And. Just to get the timeline right. It was 50 years ago, and not 20 years ago that the writing was one the wall - and was seen to be on the wall.

David Ewart

So your last sentence is the one I'll affirm. Those two things have nothing to do with property; are highly adaptible to many circumstances and still are effective.

I am not saying the Gospel will disappear. I am saying that a few (not sure exactly how many or which ones) churches will survive for those who still attend church.

But what will we do with all the excess property assets? Are there new FORMS that the life which now cherish in the form of United Church congregations could connect with folks who will never darken the door of a church building?

David Ewart

Agreed that there still are bowling alleys. My point though is that not all bowling alleys survived - and not all could.

Strategically, don't you think it makes sense for us as the operaters of a chain of bowling alleys to figure out some options other than "Let's do nothing collaboratively. Let's just let each one struggle on by itself - with a few good books to give 'em things to try. And let those that fail think they failed because of something they were doing wrong (and not the more obvious answer: They failed because not as many are bowling these days and never will in the forseeable future."

The CFL is not a comparable example because in fact sports is still a major entertainment industry. Lots of people still spend big bucks attending games. So there were things the CFL could fix and did fix.

David Ewart

I've had my head in a bucket of paint so haven't had a chance to respond until now.

By "false hope" I mean believing that something which may be NECESSARY for the desired result is thereby SUFFICIENT for the desired result to come to pass.

Second, by "false hope" I mean any analysis that only addresses variables that we actually have some ability to change and says, "Fix these and your problems are over," and fails to look at the variables beyond our control.

For example, people are not going to church like they used to and we still are trying to operate as many buildings as we did when people used to go to church. It is a false hope to suggest that if only every congregation tried this or that "fix," then all congregations would thrive and have loads of people filling all those buildings again.

I don't have any on hand, but I'll bet some author / consultant made a ton of money decades ago about jazzing up your bowling alley so that all those customers would flock back again.

Same goes for drive-in movies; newspapers; regular movie theatres; VCR/DVD/Blu-Ray rental stores; record stores; etc., etc.

Thirdly (or fourthly, I've lost track), you speak of selling an asset as though it disappears. The last time I checked $3,000,000 in the bank was still an asset and worth as much as $3,000,000 of land. The decision as to which type of asset to hold is a strategic one based on how you envision your future - what your mission is / who you are trying to reach / etc., etc.

I have no complaint about churches owning land and buildings. My complaint is that most congregations are lousy property managers and significantly under-fund actual costs of building maintenance. In other words, they balance their operating budgets by running up "hidden" but huge capital debts. Many congregations are one roof repair away from bankrupcy and closure.

Jennifer Palin

All kinds of things are possible if people want to do something. But, and here's the rub, if change is too hard for people who are already in the church and who have too much change and stress in others parts of their lives and would like the church to continue to be something easily done following familiar patterns in spare time, then it's much more difficult to see possibilities. New forms will need to be created by new people who are driven to create something which feeds them, and the institutional form which requires coherent and continuous commitment over time will probably not be useful given the new social milieu people are living in.

Jennifer Palin

Too truel. What I don't understand is that despite hundreds of articles written on this in every north american forum possible, (another good one in Nov. 14 Christian Century) eSpirit people still didn't get it. The data in Michael Adam's just published book on Canadian Boomers is so clear. The values profile of the small number of boomers who might be interested in church as we know it is not, in general, a UCC values profile. So, we can maintain institutions that are called churches that look like what we are familiar with if we make our theological practice very different; or, we can move in to community based ministry, with very little institutional stability (few paid staff). Chris Hedges book "Death of the Liberal Class" makes a similar argument from a more apocalyptic point of view.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Blogs

  • David Ewart
    A miscellany of writings, sermons, worship resources, leadership resources, spiritual practices, and church health.
  • Holy Textures
    Musings on various lectionary texts influenced by Process Theology, Rene Girard, class analysis, and feminist analysis.

Email David