What is the future of the church? How should the church respond to the changes in our culture?
These are some of the questions that are being addressed by a new online resource developed by Fresh Expressions Canada for Canadian Anglicans and other denominations.
“Re-Imaging Church: shaped for mission” is a five-week course geared to developing leadership among lay people in parishes across Canada.
As the Anglican Church of Canada faces the challenges of dwindling membership and resources, the reality is that “we’re going to need leadership from the laity as well as from clergy,” says course developer Dr. John Bowen, professor of evangelism and director of the Institute of Evangelism at Toronto’s Wycliffe College.
In the Church of England, 50 per cent of fresh expressions of church are being initiated and led by laypeople, notes Bowen.
Re-Imaging Church is meant to “stimulate people’s imaginations, to help them think outside the box about the way the church has traditionally operated,” he told the Journal. While the course offers examples of fresh expressions that have been initiated in other parishes, they are not meant to be prescriptive, he adds. The goal is for participants to return to their parishes ready to start new kinds of community outreach. “The intention is for people to start dreaming and imagining, and listening to God,” says Bowen.
Participants are asked to delve deep into the following questions: Where is God working in your community? How can you cooperate with the work of God? These questions are important because “we shouldn’t assume that the work of God is only happening within the walls of the church,” explains Bowen.
The course has been field-tested for 18 months in 20 parishes across the Anglican diocese of Toronto. It incorporates various media and includes lectures, small group discussions, visual illustrations and videos. “In each session there’s engagement with the Bible and a chance for personal reflection and prayer,” says Bowen.
The materials are culled from different sources but have significant Canadian content. They are also applicable to other faith traditions facing similar challenges of congregational growth. “My hope is that people in other denominations will take it and change it in a way that works better for their tradition,” he says.
The course has had some success in the diocese of Toronto, where new applications for outreach grants have come from parishes whose members have taken the course. Bowen hopes it will have the same effect on many others. “I will be very happy if it helps people think freshly about the mission of God,” says Bowen.