Canadian MBs join trend to decentralize

Denomination to focus on provincial conferences, cease biennial national conventions

Jul 23, 2018 by and

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Less is going to be more in a new approach to national decision-making and structure approved by Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches delegates July 14 in Saskatoon, Sask.

With 97 percent agreement, delegates approved a “collaborative model” that emphasizes decisions at the provincial conference level by holding votes on national matters there.

Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches delegates pray for new national director Elton DaSilva July 14 during the denomination’s bienniel national convention at Forest Grove Community Church in Saskatoon, Sask. — Tony Schellenberg/CCMBC

Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches delegates pray for new national director Elton DaSilva July 14 during the denomination’s biennial national convention at Forest Grove Community Church in Saskatoon, Sask. — Tony Schellenberg/CCMBC

Biennial national conventions will be discontinued, replaced by smaller gatherings of provincial and agency leaders who carry those regional votes to produce a national decision.

“Something needed to be done,” said CCMBC national director Elton DaSilva, “because people are no longer coming to national gatherings in the same way they were in the past.”

The last national CCMBC convention was attended by 176 delegates, compared to roughly 760 people who took part in the last round of provincial conferences.

The new approach is anticipated to increase the involvement of smaller provincial conferences.

“It will increase voices from places like Alberta because they have more people coming to their provincial convention than they are sending to national, so they will have more of a voice moving forward,” DaSilva said.

He noted national delegate numbers have declined.

“We are seeing more the professional paid pastors representing their churches there instead of persons in the pew,” DaSilva said. “We wanted to find a way to go back to the layman, to the person who is not involved in day-to-day ministry, to be involved in decision-making.”

The collaborative model has been in development for about a year and a half. Input was sought from provincial conferences and MB ministry partners, the Board of Faith and Life and MB Seminary. The shift to a greater partnership with the provinces was already reflected in renaming the national leadership position from executive director to national director when DaSilva was affirmed by the CCMBC Executive Board on May 3.

Shifting major decisions to the regional level isn’t a new concept. Mennonite Church Canada restructured last year to decrease national staff and increase regional church resourcing of congregations.

Main driver of change

DaSilva said there has been a financial slowdown at the national level for five years or so, a trend that was also apparent at the provincial level. Still, he said, the main driver of the change was a lack of connection and collaboration among CCMBC’s components.

“We needed to find a way to be at the same table,” he said. “When you collaborate you can see redundancies [to eliminate] and be more effective in ministry.”

CCMBC at the national level will focus only on doing things provincial churches can’t do, which DaSilva said is a big shift.

“Not too long ago, leadership development, church planting, all of those were things existing at the national level, and we would then push those things to the churches, sometimes even bypassing the authority of the provincial bodies,” he said. “Moving forward, all that will be thrown to the provinces, and we will resource them.”

While national conventions will become a thing of the past, national gatherings won’t end. Conferences that focus on theological topics and on providing resources to congregations will continue to draw people together from across the country, as will “Multiply” conferences based on missions.

“The loss here is processing things together with people from across the country, hearing the differences that each region brings to that decision — what impacts them the most. There was a grieving to that loss,” he said.

“. . . We had a wonderful gathering, the spirit was great, the conversations phenomenal. Worshiping together and talking together, it unifies us, so that is going to be lost.”


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