Presenting a report from the Vital and Healthy Parishes project with Eileen Scully, director of Faith, Worship and Ministry for General Synod, the Rev. Jay Koyle told the Council of General Synod (CoGS) that the crisis of the church in decline has been misdiagnosed and requires a different approach for treatment.
Congregational development has typically focused on dwindling attendance and resources, he said. And so questions have revolved around ways to stop or reverse the decline so that the churches can again have strong congregations and there is a future for the church.
Koyle, congregational development officer from the diocese of Algoma, observed that there seem to be three types of conversations that dominate in the church these days. All three are needed, but it is a problem when “maintenance conversations” about the upkeep of buildings and resources, and “preferential conversations” about how to attract new people or keep those you have happy, come to dominate discussions, he said. “The kinds of conversations that need to be sparked more and more in our church…are what we call missional conversations, that are concerned first and foremost with ‘What is God doing in the world? And how do we get involved in those things?’ ”
After hearing from 74 people working on the ground to revitalize churches across the country at gatherings such as the Vital and Healthy Parishes conference held in Niagara Falls, Ont., in May 2013, Koyle said that strong congregations aren’t the end in and of themselves; they “are important because that’s where lives are transformed and that’s the mechanism that God can use.”
Churches that are vital see themselves in mission beyond their current membership. Their orientation is outward toward the community and to those not involved in church,” Koyle said. And he underlined that congregations need to be clear about what kind of a difference they want to make in their community.
“We long to be a church that exists for the sake of others. We long to be a church that is patterned by the story of Jesus Christ. We long to be a church inspired by robust hope, and we long to be a church dependent on God’s grace and on one another,” Koyle said, echoing central message in a joint Lutheran and Anglican report on the issue.
This year’s Vital and Healthy Parishes conference will be held again in Niagara Falls, Ont., from May 11 to 13.