After 39 years the ministry of Mission Central, formerly Missions Fest Vancouver, is coming to an end.
On January 27 – 29 we had an amazing weekend at Canada Place, following a break from in-person conferences for two years. It was a weekend full of mixed emotions.
Although attendance was lower than expected there was a palpable joy at being together again. There were also a few tears as we bid goodbye to this iconic regional event.
Missions Fest Vancouver began in 1984 and was the grassroots response to a shared desire among six churches to hold a missions conference. The conference was developed to “inform, celebrate and challenge” people with the call to participate in the Great Commission through engagement with mission agencies and global mission stories from “powerful communicators.”
The hope was that people would be inspired to participate in overseas mission to the least reached.
To a very great degree, the success of the conference in 1984 and through the years can be attributed to the shared interest of local churches. From these local churches, Missions Fest gained its planning team, volunteers for the weekend and attendees for the conference.
Richard Dodding, recalling the first planning meeting, wrote, “As we speak, excitement grows. The idea of churches working together for the sake of the Great Commission is a novel idea!” (Uncovering Missions Fest, Richard Dodding)
Others in the early meetings were Alan Marsden, Jean and Sandy Bergeron, Richard and Arlene Dodding, Brian Shepherd, Ruth Zacharias, Ida Sullivan, David Mannings and Ray King.
Even in 1984, some expressed concern that a missions conference was “passé”, but God blessed the efforts of the enthusiastic team, and Missions Fest grew to be the largest annual missions conference in North America.
In the year of our founding, the demographic and religious landscape in Canada was entirely different than today. Although Canada was multicultural, people from the Western (white) nations still made up the largest portion of society. Christians made up the largest religious segment in the population, and regular participation and attendance in church services was significantly higher.
In 1986, those who attended a religious service at least once a month was at 43 percent, compared to only 27 percent in 2012 (Pew Research). Churches were full of baby boomers, and the echo of the hopefulness of the Jesus People movement was still resonating.
Because there was no internet, this showcase of mission agencies became the first exposure for many people to the diversity of ministry going on the world. Networking opportunities between the attendees, local churches and mission agencies thrived.
The Christian organizations in attendance represented a diversity in mission and in denominational background, demonstrating by their presence together a beautiful picture of unity for the sake of mission.
The original plan was for one conference, but thanks to the nudge of the Holy Spirit and the faith of the planning team, they continued. Thirty-nine years later, the positive impact of that decision has been felt across Canada and around the world.
Over the years Missions Fest became an item in the Christian calendar in the Pacific Northwest. Since moving to Canada Place in 1989, the conference has drawn thousands of attendees annually. From its founding, Missions Fest Vancouver and now Mission Central, have been passionately concerned about mobilizing the whole people of God to participate in Jesus’ mission to the whole world. The good news is too good to keep to ourselves!
Our last chapter
I was hired in 2014 by a board of directors who were interested in shifting Missions Fest Vancouver to a year-round ministry. At that time a concern was voiced, that a missions conference might not be meeting the needs of the Christian community. The board was right to be concerned.
Evangelicalism in Canada has experienced a steady decline, and some research suggests that, at this time, our numbers are around six percent. We hear it regularly, that it is harder and harder to recruit people to participate in traditional mission work – a large part of the reason is that the pool of recruits has shrunk significantly.
To do our part in reversing that decline we began to offer articles, workshops through the year, panel discussions, leader’s meetings, and most recently we developed two new conferences – GROW and CREATE. (Both were offered live for the first time in the last year.)
In conjunction with more touch points through the year, our messaging changed to emphasize the Missio Dei (mission of God), and the importance of every disciple participating in Jesus’ mission. Even though the term is a bit redundant, we called for and nurtured the growth of missional disciples.
Looking back, it seems that starting in 2016, the Lord began to speak prophetically to us to consider our own discipleship in light of his mission. In 2016 we asked whether mission was more about ‘being’ or ‘doing.’
In 2017 we explored ‘Justice and the Gospel.’ Rather than assume everyone was on the same page when we use the term ‘gospel,’ we dove in and asked ‘What is the Gospel’ in 2018.
In 2019 we pushed beyond conversion and looked at the deeper issues of discipleship with ‘Mission: Discipling.’
In 2020 God stirred up our hearts to consecrate ourselves for his service with the theme of ‘Altar Vision.’ Our first year in Covid was challenging as we pivoted to an online format for the newly birthed SERVE, GROW, and CREATE conferences, but our unspoken theme seemed to be about prayer.
Then in 2022 God challenged us, again in an online format, to look at ‘Hearing and Obeying.’ Now in 2023 with a return to an in-person conference, we rounded out this thematic journey of discipleship by exploring the topic of ‘Unity.’
Through these years God has been growing us as a ministry. We have actively interceded for the body of Christ to encounter the Holy Spirit and be changed into a people who follow Jesus wherever he leads. We desperately want the church to move beyond the consumption of a good conference.
All of these changes in the last eight years have been facilitated by a small staff working sacrificially. Our latest team – who will be unemployed at the end of February – consists of Jayne Taylor (Office Manager), Celina Lam (Communication & Marketing), Joanna Roberts (Tech Support & Web Development), Varya Zueva (Agency Manager) and Slava Shegai (Operations & Volunteer Development).
Our board, led by Tony Sanz, is composed of representatives from our partner churches, and brings in a community voice. The have worked tirelessly, particularly as we struggled to understand and address the challenges arising from Covid.
Even though our volunteers had limited roles in the 2021 and 2022 conferences, many faithful friends rallied together again for the 2023 conference. The volunteer teams dusted off their manuals, resurrected procedures and in the end were able to welcome thousands of attendees. Hundreds of hours of prayer and service laid the groundwork for a beautiful weekend.
I also need to mention that the CREATE conference was envisioned and planned by a volunteer team who hope that more is to come for the creative community of Metro Vancouver. Many of our volunteer team members have been serving the region through these conferences for decades. The level of commitment has been humbling.
Our end has been foreseen for a while. Through a process of discernment in February 2022 the board of Mission Central decided that the ministry would be closing at the end of February 2023. For a full explanation of the factors involved you can read our Rationale for Closing.
We are still having a couple of conversations to explore the possibility of handing the ministry over to new leaders with a new vision. We still feel hope that another grassroots ministry will emerge someday to rally the Christian community around Jesus’ mission.
Please keep us in your prayers as we close the office and make decisions about the future. We also still need your support financially.
The SERVE and CREATE conferences at the end of January were wonderful because of God’s presence and incredibly meaningful fellowship, but attendance was not strong.
As a result, there is approximately $80,000 of unpaid bills that need to be cleared before closing. Your support in this area would help us finish well.
On behalf of the board and staff I would like to thank everyone who has been involved in this amazing ministry over the years. May Jesus be glorified through all the earth.