will constantly look south of the border to
the latest and greatest thing, which isn’t
to discount it. But there are some things
that are distinct to Canada. This is to help
the local church.
FT: Our cover story in this issue is about the
differences between Canadian and American
evangelicalism. What do you think those main
JT: I think one is the scale. The number of
megachurches in the U.S. far outpaces
what is happening in Canada. There is
this American narrative in general that
bigger is better. That feeds into a lot of
stuff that comes out of the U.S. It just
doesn’t resonate culturally or religiously
with our life.
There is that corporate narrative that
factors its way through the U.S. And there
is an aspect that all organizations need to
be organizationally savvy that is heightened in the U.S.
Evangelicalism is the largest segment
of the Christian population in the States,
The ways in which reli-
gion is deeply entrenched
in American society and
politics is different. There
is still a cultural frame of
reference that locates
Christianity at the centre
of daily experience in the
U.S. that is not the same
in Canada. The rise of “religious nones”
[as in “none of the above”], for example.
Canada is further along that continuum
than the U.S.
When you talk about a church growth
conference and tactics, even the non-Christian in the U.S. has a framework in
which to understand and locate Christianity. That’s not the case in Canada. That
changes how we do things.
FT: What kinds of resources or strategies are
you expecting to produce?
JT: It’s hard to know for sure. I would say
one of the things we know in terms of
congregations that are thriving is that
they do have an active presence within the
community. I mean that in terms of both
evangelism and social justice. They are
making a difference.
In terms of evangelism, the number
one reason someone joins is that someone
they know in the group has asked them.
So how are we creating space within
people’s schedules to allow them to foster
relationships with people who are not
part of their religious group? To share
their faith as an extension
of their participation in
A second aspect, that
comes from our review of
the literature, is this idea
of equipping and empowering leaders from within
the group that contribute
to a flourishing congregation.
The sense that people
have gifts that can be
used, and when you release them to use them,
But some of these things are speculative
until we get out there and tackle these
FT: This idea of the Church as a positive
contributor to Canadian life seems important.
Can you expand?
JT: This is the “Who cares?” question. If
we are increasingly secular, why should
anyone care? There’s a lot of data that has
come out in the last years that show the
kinds of things that churches, and those
who attend regularly, contribute.
We know volunteering and charitable
giving is higher in those who attend regularly. We’re not just talking about to one’s
own church. They give more of their time
and money to secular organizations than
those who are not involved. And that’s to
both secular and religious organizations.
We know in all kinds of indicators of social engagement, being kind, honest,
generous, those who attend regularly
score higher on those.
They complement and fill in the gaps
from government service, helping those
with addictions, counselling-like services,
all these kinds of things help people
The two caveats are that we also know
religion does a lot of bad things in the
world. We’ve just hosted a few days of
conversation on the residential school
experience. We could cite all kinds of
other examples where churches have
contributed to highly divisive acts within
society. We have to always remember that
there is another side to the story that
people would say is not good.
The most poignant examples that come
up are people who accuse regular attenders of being the ones against same-sex
marriage and are therefore not good
Canadians. They are not tolerant. In those
discussions the idea of being religious is
not seen as being of benefit to Canada.
There are societies that are not particularly religious that score very high on social variables. Some of the least religious
nations in the modern Western world,
Sweden, Denmark, etc., have all kinds of
quality of life indicators that outpace us.
They have high levels of charity and volunteering, which is to suggest that reli-
THE FT INTERVIEW
One of the things we know in terms of congregations that
are thriving is that they do have an active presence within
the community. I mean that in terms of both evangelism
and social justice. They are making a difference.”