One-on-One with Gary Nelson on the Decline of Christendom

“The church needs to re-introduce itself as a place, as a possibility, and as a neighborhood impact, as opposed to a place people ‘attend’ or ‘go’.”

Ed: One of the things you talk about in your book is the decline of Christendom in Canada. This has led to a clear sorting out—those who are in (Convictional Christians) and those who are out (Nominal). How does that shift impact the way Canadian church leaders lead their churches?

Gary: For starters, church leaders can no longer assume people know anything about biblical Christianity. One of the lines that I use a lot is that Canadians have less and less Christian memory.

This doesn’t mean they aren’t spiritual. They are certainly searching. But in their search, they don’t necessarily think about biblical spirituality nor about the church as the place where one would go to explore that kind of reality.

Second, particularly for Canadians, church leaders must understand that we are a mosaic and not a melting pot. In other words, Canada has a stronger emphasis on being multicultural. As such, there has to be a sensitivity to navigating diverse cultures.

For instance, I was shaped by a Western-framed theology. But in the cultural milieu of Canada, that framework—and the common stories therein—no longer are the gathering stories. What might be “Remembrance Day” for us (“Veterans Day” for the States) may be something totally different to a Malaysian, Chinese, or Zimbabwean. Thus, church leaders must be more aware of the stories around them and look for ways to bridge a connection.

Ed: How is it different to lead when you’ve got so many ethnicities and worldviews in one place?

Gary: Once again, assume nothing. Don’t assume people understand what you mean when you use a certain phrase. There’s more dialogue that needs to take place in seeking clear communication …

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