Field Trip Report Toronto

One of the pilgrims on a recent outing of your church’s council said, when he heard me call this a field trip, that he felt he needed a permission slip signed by his parents.

​Our church council did an unusual thing recently and met off-site. Rev. Jenny Andison of St. Paul’s Bloor Street was kind enough to show us around her beautiful sanctuary. That church and ours have a historic relationship, punctuated by the quarter century friendship of her predecessor, Barry Parker, and mine, Andrew Stirling.

​It is important for us, as a church, to look for analogous congregations that are just a step or two ahead of where we would like to be. St. Paul’s has some 700 in Sunday attendance and more than 1000 are tuning in via livestream. Its fastest growing demographic is 20-somethings, and from a surprisingly rich array of racial and cultural backgrounds. 

​How’d they do it? And in a building as old and imposing (or more) as ours?

​Jenny told our council the story of installing screens in their nearly 180-year old sanctuary. If St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome can stomach screens, if Canterbury Cathedral and Westminster Abby can, surely we can get over some aesthetic objections, right? Jenny made an even stronger claim: the next generation lives on screens. They’re passionate about and care for the environment. Those screens allow St. Paul’s to produce an excellent worship service for the web. Folks are happy not to be murdering trees for orders of service. There are higher costs, no doubt—if we expect professional quality we cannot lean on volunteers. But there are great benefits as well. We pay for our excellent music now, we should also invest in our visuals in the building and beyond. 

​The missing generation is not only high tech, however. They are also high touch. St. Paul’s spills its welcome out of its glorious sanctuary and into the streets, with welcomers arrayed on the sidewalks, banners flying, coffee being handed out (“we spend a lot on good food and drink,” she said). A glass entryway makes a less foreboding entrance than they once had. Visitors will check out video for hours before they’ll brave an actual, physical entrance, and if that video shows thoughtfulness, and if welcomers there and in-person look like the people we’re trying to reach–from a range of ages, races, and socio-economic backgrounds–they might give us a try. 

​Jenny suggested we start with low-hanging fruit: folks who grew up in church and Sunday School but have wandered away. There are a lot of such people. Hundreds of thousands in our city, “maybe a million,” she said. Physical upgrades are not enough. We also have to pray that God would send us the folks God wants. And then get ready to meet them.

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