Over the past while (days/months/years) of our church, we’ve struggled to find a way to move forward for the benefit of everyone, including (and hopefully especially) the entire city of London. Our church is like many others across North America. Upstairs in the sanctuary with the choir, organ, hard wooden pews and hymnals the congregation is shrinking. Meanwhile, the basement space we use for our contemporary service (I’ve been a member for about 5 years now) with comfortable moveable/stackable seats, coffee and treats served, a worship band and a terrific sound and projection system is almost at capacity every Sunday now. In fact, in an area of Canada that is among the most difficult places in North America to foster a church, we have the rare reality of a church seeing good overall growth.
This is both our strength and our dilemma.
We want to see more growth, see more people join our community, more people come to faith, see more work done in and through the church in our downtown community and throughout the city. But how do we continue to expand our services?
We’ve attempted several solutions over the years. At one time we had two different service times, but the children’s ministries found it difficult to find enough people to care for the children all morning, so we now have both services at 10:30. However, because of this, we can’t have both services in the massive upstairs space. Another difficulty with proposing sharing the space is that many of the traditional service congregants didn’t want the sanctuary “tampered” with, in that sound, projection or instruments/equipment should be added.
An 8 week trial period for a blended service was attempted last fall culminating in Christmas, which attempted to blend both contemporary and traditional service styles. This has worked very well in other churches (Sarah’s church in Stoney Creek had a great service in this style since the mid-90’s), but though some seemed to think it struck a good balance, many from both groups seemed to prefer remaining in their own services, despite the constrictions facing the contemporary service.
At the end of the trial period early in the New Year, a congregational meeting was held to discuss the blended service, and to vote on whether to adopt that style of worship going forward. With a 2/3 vote needed to pass to move to the new style, the vote was 64% yes.
Many left feeling disappointed, not only for the decision, which would take us back to the drawing board and to our own services until something new was put forward, but also for what it signalled. Clearly, we are a congregation divided.
There has also been bitterness seeping into the relationship. From the contemporary perspective, the traditional congregants don’t see them as equal partners, or respect the hard work and dedication they put into the church and community. From the traditional side, they tend to believe they are the main financial support to the church, and that the younger generations are steamrolling them despite the decades of service they’ve given the church.
Lots of valid thoughts and beliefs on both sides, but how to find a common solution, especially when perspectives are so different and varied? Suggestions have been made to attempt another joint service or use by both services of the sanctuary, but there is fear that both continued connection would only bring more friction. There is also concern that having the two groups further separated wouldn’t really be solving the underlying problems.
I’ve been thinking about this for a long time as we work through this process, and hope to share fairly everything that’s been happening to everyone involved, and convey the spirit of what’s in everyone’s hearts and minds as best I can. With so many conflicting perspectives and emotions running high, it’s hard to capture the essence of the issues we’re having. I also wonder if seen from an outside perspective, if these issues seem as terribly minimal and petty as I fear they are.
After the vote failing, the two services have returned to the way they had before, with the contemporary service continuing to push the space constraints of the space downstairs, and the traditional service in the sanctuary slowly declining. A week ago, a congregational meeting was held to discuss what action (if any) we should do to find a solution.
One of the possibilities put forward was a church plant from the contemporary service with a very specific focus on mission and community work.
Through all of this, I keep wondering, where is God in this? How do we move to start addressing what really matters?
There is so much work to do, and a lot of healing that needs to happen. I don’t want to diminish that at all. But in the end, we need to find the directions that lead to working in unity towards strengthening our city, especially as it struggles. We need to fix ourselves before we can consider helping others, but that should always be the goal we keep focused on.
I worry that as we bicker and argue and get bogged in excruciatingly small details, we only give those outside the church more reason to scorn us. With pervading perspective on the global church as a navel-gazing, insular, isolated, irrelevant, hypocritical and overall unattractive part of society, are we not only hurting our own congregation but the greater global community by helping confirm those suspicions? As we work through this, there are many times I think of how much easier it would be to be completely dismissive, and walk away from it all.
But I believe there is always great strength and potential in the church, despite my own personal misgivings. We are a diverse and complicated family, but that curse is also our strength. Only by sticking through these issues, by teaching and learning together do we grow individually and as a group. Despite it all, I want to find a way to work with my community in and out of the church, find ways to aid our city, and hopefully for ways that we can improve ourselves too.