A summary of Snapshots of Faith – Part 1
by Peter Biggs
The big picture…
In May 2017 The Light magazine embarked on a major study of Christianity in each of the municipalities/cities in the Lower Mainland from West Vancouver to Chilliwack. These monthly 3-4 page articles were entitled Snapshots of Faith. What follows is an ‘OP-ED’ by Peter Biggs’ of his overall impressions.
With more than 20 years experience as a local church Pastor, Biggs has also been a ‘networker’ among Lower Mainland Christian leaders. His desire has been to see a unified and missional Body of Christ impacting areas multi-congregationally. He jumped at this daunting task of investigative journalism to help us learn more about the church in the Lower Mainland of BC..
To read the Snapshots of Faith: lightmagazine.ca/snap
I began this journey of discovery with Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows. Sixteen monthly studies later I finished with Langley (Abbotsford & Surrey took two months, Vancouver three). What did I find?
The primary impression is that of each municipality/city’s difference from all others – demographically, ethnically, culturally and most important, spiritually.
For example Burnaby & Langley do not really have a city centre but are more a cluster of communities.
The lack of affordable housing has driven people to move out. More and more places are bedroom communities, people travelling distances to work. Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows was the most extreme example of this.
Richmond’s mostly Chinese culture is unique of course, but most places have become far more multi-cultural in recent years (something refected in the changed make-up of most congregations).
Common lack of community
The lack of community was described over and over by local pastors. Indeed, multiple studies show loneliness to have increased.
Couple this with the striking rise of new condo towers (eg. Burnaby’s Brentwood, Loughheed & Metrotown, New Westminster and central Surrey). These towers house thousands of mostly-isolated people. This was acknowledged as a daunting missional challenge.
New approaches to outreach
Grandview Calvary Baptist is in the heart of (secular) East Vancouver. Pastor Tim Dickau comments, “we find that given the secular nature, it takes a longer time for people to come to commitment, it takes them a while to figure out things. It’s more ‘belong first and believe’ vs ‘believe then belong’ (which is what evangelism used to be about).
It should be noted that this does not represent a dilutation of the message, but rather a contextualization to neighbourhoods of lonely people who crave community. So using hospitality and the (highly relational) Alpha Course along with other creative ways of getting involved in serving the poor allows people to come in, get a taste of Christian community, feel loved and hear the gospel. The Alpha Course is widely used and remains a highly effective means of evangelism.
This years MissionsFest’s theme was ‘Disipleship’. Concern of pastors about whether they were actually producing ‘disciples who made disciples’ is widespread. Fifteen Cloverdale Pastors enrolled in the demanding 10-month program named Surge to learn about making disciples. February’s influential Multiply conference at Westside Church, Vancouver is also addressing this concern about discipleship. Peace Portal Alliance Church in South Surrey, also greatly concerned, employed a program named ‘Rooted’ with nearly 1,000 completing it.
The Alpha Course was found to be widely used with reports of many conversions.
By any standards, local Christian schools are enjoying tremendous success. An example is New Westminister’s John Knox who are now building a brand new High School (Grades 7 -12) near New Westminster’s downtown area.
There have been many! Richmond is a unique community with 54 percent having Chinese background (North Richmond is over 90 percent). I was encouraged by a number of gifted young (2nd generation) Chinese church planters. It seems the city is currently experiencing a new spiritual energy. Pastor Sean Love of St. John’s Anglican Church stated, “The Ministerial has a whole new generation of pastors with a real commitment to the city and the gospel,” (there is even a second pastor’s group of ten or more).
“Many churches are vibrant, with Asian churches doing a great job of evangelism! I see many new immigrants who are newly converted,” said Roger Grose – Superintendent of Richmond Christian Schools.
Richmond Pentecostal Church’s Senior Pastor Jim Caruso added, “I had an Iranian man turn up one day and he told us that God had revealed himself in dreams to him. He was later baptized (along with his wife and his boss). At our recent Alpha Course we had over 100 guests with 13 people becoming Christians. Young, highly-qualified Asian leaders are church planting with great success!”
Part two (next month) will address Ministerials, the rise of mega-churches, muliti ethnic neighbourhoods/churches and social need Ministries www.lightmagazine.ca/snap