Restructuring can be good news, says archdeacon

Published February 25, 2010

When the diocese of British Columbia released its long-awaited transformation plan for the diocese, Bishop James Cowan emphasized that the plan was not merely about responding to declining numbers of people attending church by closing churches and restructuring. The aim is also to focus resources and the energy of Anglicans into new ministries and evangelism.”We will only engage with the un-churched and the lapsed if we go to where they hang out, which is not in parish churches, but at work, in homes, in the malls, at coffee shops, at book stores, at school etc. We must go to them where they hang out, be prepared to have conversations with them about the great love of our life – Jesus Christ,” the transformation team charged in its report. But the report also recognized that this will require a shift away from a reserve that is typical among Canadian Anglicans when it comes to talking about their faith. The diocese of Niagara has already travelled some of these paths. Although Niagara closed churches through attrition, not a centrally planned transformation as British Columbia is attempting, it did focus on increasing evangelism. Archdeacon Michael Patterson spent five years working as the director of evangelism for the diocese, before taking up his current position as chief executive officer. “I think the whole issue of restructuring is…good news about acknowledging the resources and the ideas we have and…paying attention to the things that matter – evangelism, mission and social justice work.”Archdeacon Patterson said his task in the diocese of Niagara was “helping people understand that the Anglican Church needs to begin to bring the gospel message to the streets and to find ways of doing that.” And it worked, he says. “There were certain parishes who embraced it and have succeeded and are growing.” He added that he also worked to help people understand that “evangelism is not a dirty word in Anglican parlance and that we need to embrace it and reflect locally on what it might mean for each of our communities.” When asked why they are reluctant to talk about their faith, Anglicans say they don’t want to be perceived as trying to convert people or force their religion on others, or they worry that other people might find their worship experience boring and not meaningful, Archdeacon Patterson says. “One of the big pieces for many parishes was the ability of Anglicans to talk about their faith. That was a huge, huge challenge, that Anglicans have never been comfortable articulating clearly what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ in the world…. When people ask you at work in the secular world ‘Why do you go to church?’ How do you answer them? … ‘It’s something I have always done.’ Or is it ‘because this is about living out my life faithfully as a believer in Jesus?’ And finding language that you are comfortable with.”To that end, Archdeacon Patterson says the diocese offered Christian education. “We used NCD [Natural Church Development].” According to its website, NCD is “a way of thinking about church growth. [It] suggests that quality (health) should precede quantity in church growth thinking. Size itself is not indicator of healthy growth. A healthy church is better able to grow….” Founded by Christian Schwarz who now heads an NCD institute in Germany, NCD assesses the health of a church and uses a long-term strategic process for improving that health. “I brought NCD to this part of the world. Toronto is using it quite effectively as well,” said Archdeacon Patterson.But the most effective kind of evangelism doesn’t really require any education, just a bit of confidence. “Inviting someone to church is the single most important thing you can do to evangelize,” Archdeacon Patterson said. “I ask the question rhetorically, ‘Why is it easy to invite someone to your home or to the theatre or to the movies or to anywhere to a restaurant, but when it comes to inviting someone to church, we get nervous and tense and find it very awkward? This is also the Back to Church movement – the ability to invite people back to church,” he said. Parishioners at the aptly named St. John the Evangelist Church in Thorold, Ont. made a concerted effort to invite people to church and had great success with it, he said. Parishes such as St. Christopher’s church in Burlington also worked on ministries of “radical hospitality,” said Archdeacon Patterson. “What does it mean to be a parish that is hospitable … to the community, across the threshold…. What does it mean to welcome the stranger and create an environment where you can act as the mentor and tour guide?”


  • Leigh Anne Williams

    Leigh Anne Williams joined the Anglican Journal in 2008 as a part-time staff writer. She also works as the Canadian correspondent for Publishers Weekly, a New York-based trade magazine for the book publishing. Prior to this, Williams worked as a reporter for the Canadian bureau of TIME Magazine, news editor of Quill & Quire, and a copy editor at The Halifax Herald, The Globe and Mail and The Bay Street Bull.

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