According to a report in the Canadian “Anglican Journal” a recent annual Resources for Mission stewardship gathering in Mississauga, Ontario received some sobering wisdom and helpful insight for the church from Mark Dunwoody, diocesan missioner for the Anglican diocese of Montreal.

Dunwoody pointed out that institutional commitment has softened in the Anglican Church, as it has in all Canadian mark-dunwoodyinstitutions in the last three decades. We can no longer assume people will step up to the plate and contribute simply because we are the Anglican Church of Canada.  People under fifty do not commit to institutions; they commit to activities they perceive to be having a transforming impact in the world and in peoples’ lives.

Dunwoody argues that

folks want to see life change. They want the brokenness that they perceive addressed. They don’t want to hear you talk about it—they want to see it.

There is an experiential dimension that religious consumers are seeking today in their communal embodiment of faith. They want to see that their faith practices make a difference in their lives and in the world.

This has not been a strength for the Anglican Church in the past which, as André Forget in his “Journal” article says, Dunwoody points out:

Ever since the Enlightenment, …. Protestant churches have been structured on corporate, programmatic models that emphasize the efficient pursuit of what they believe to be the will of God on Earth. This model assumes that the church exists in a largely Christian society into which it can speak with an authoritative voice—it assumes that the context is “Christendom.”

But, in the past three decades, there has been a shift toward a model based not on “politics or power, but on participation and presence.”

According to the Journal Mr. Dunwoody brought two sobering realities to the attention of conference participants:

1. Gen Xers and Millennials have less money than their parents and grandparents. They will support something they care about, but they want to know it isn’t simply “to keep a sinking ship floating.”

2. “There are going to be fewer Sundays where a household is going to be in attendance,” he said. “What that means is there are going to be less times in a year when people’s bums are in the seat so they can get the money in the plate.”

The short “Journal” article does not point the way forward. But, simply being honest about the the current context in which we are challenged to do church is certainly a good beginning.

To move from the place of acknowledging reality to the place where we engage that reality in a meaningful way requires genuine listening, openness, and honesty.

We must acknowledge how much of our vision for ministry has been driven in the past by our determination to keep the machinery of the institution ticking over. When the church is little more than a self-preservation society for people who already belong to the club, it is unlikely to be attractive to anyone not already on board.

Our culture offers a vast array of alternative ways of embodying and nurturing the spiritual life. Church is certainly no longer the only show in town. It is a competitive market.

If we are going to be a player in the spiritual market place, we must be able to demonstrate that we stand for something more than buildings, fund-raising activities, and the perpetuation of privileged elitist models of leadership that only alienate people who have been raised in a context in which hierarchy no longer has any appeal.

To find a way forward we must begin by getting first things first.

When Jesus was asked which is the greatest commandment in the law he answered with uncharacteristic directness saying,

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. (Matthew 22:37)

This is the starting place for church. Our unique contribution to the social fabric is to focus our community’s attention on the transcendent presence that haunts all creation and to encourage hearts to open to the intuition of this subtle reality. When we start here, the other things will follow.`