Gerald Gerbrandt recalls a Mennonite Church Canada staff member at a regional assembly “bringing greetings from Mennonite Church Canada.” He thought this revealed a basic problem: Members viewed their denomination as something different and distant from them.
The solution might be to end the denomination as they’ve known it.
Any organization whose members don’t identify closely with it can’t expect to thrive. MC Canada is coming to terms with this reality by proposing to reinvent itself. A Future Directions Task Force, of which Gerbrandt is a member, proposes eliminating structures and staff it can no longer afford.
The proposed changes go all the way to the core of what a denomination traditionally is: a body with members. Congregations would no longer belong to the national church but only to regional conferences. The current national structure would end, and a cooperative relationship between the five regions would take its place.
The scaled-back national entity might adopt a new name, like Community of Anabaptist Congregations in Canada, though the task force suggests it wouldn’t be necessary to change the name.
Over the past couple of months, the provincial conferences, known as area churches, have been studying the proposals. A decision is expected at the national assembly this summer.
Without taking a position on what MC Canada should do, we make two observations: 1) Downsizing and reimagining the national church makes sense in light of the decline of denominational loyalty among many Christians today; and 2) The local church is incomplete without the national church and the global church.
In an editorial last summer, we asked: What if Mennonite Church USA stopped being a denomination? Or even disbanded in favor of a vision for a broader Mennonite alliance? This coalition would shed denominational baggage. It would not be a place to pass judgment on whether any other group is too lax or too strict, and it would not claim the duty to decide what to do about them if they are wrong. It would refuse to fight the battles over sexuality that preoccupy denominations and divert them from their mission.
In a time of declining loyalty and growing conflict, denominations as we have known them may no longer be sustainable financially or emotionally. Redefining national structures might clear the way for regional conferences to cooperate rather than clash. In MC Canada, the task force hopes a new structure that focuses on the regions will “invite congregations to engage more closely with the work of the larger church.”
This broader engagement is necessary for a postdenominational church to prevent its worldview from shrinking. There are trends to resist: Individualism that turns faith inward. Congregationalism that loses touch with the global body of Christ. Regionalism that assumes our ways are always best.
The reinvention of MC Canada is a test case for a postdenominational future, a preview of decisions others will face.