In May 2017 Peter Biggs embarked on a major survey of Christianity in each of the municipalities from West Vancouver to Chilliwack. These ‘Snapshots of Faith’ were published first in The Light Magazine and have been re-posted on Church for Vancouver.
Following is the first of a two-part assessment of his overall impressions.
I began this journey of discovery with Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows. Sixteen monthly studies later I finished with Langley. Abbotsford and Surrey took two months, Vancouver three. What did I find?
The primary impression is that of each municipality’s differences from all others – demographically, ethnically, culturally and most important, spiritually.
For example, Burnaby and Langley do not really have city centres, but are more a cluster of communities.
The lack of affordable housing has driven many people to move further up the Fraser Valley. More and more places are bedroom communities, with 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 – and that is reflected 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, many studies show that loneliness has increased.
Couple this with the striking rise of new condo towers (for example, in Burnaby’s Brentwood, Lougheed and 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 Church is in the heart of East Vancouver. Pastor Tim Dickau commented:
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 dilution of the message, but rather a contextualization to particular neighbourhoods of lonely people who crave community. So hospitality, serving the poor and other creative ways of getting involved allows people to come in, get a taste of Christian community, feel loved and hear the gospel.
The highly relational Alpha Course is widely used and remains a highly effective means of evangelism.
This year Missions Fest’s theme was ‘Discipleship.’ Pastors’ concern about whether they are actually producing ‘disciples who made disciples’ is widespread.
Fifteen Cloverdale pastors enrolled in a demanding 10 month ‘Surge’ program to learn about making disciples. February’s influential Multiply Conference at Westside Church in Vancouver also addressed this concern.
Peace Portal Alliance Church in South Surrey employed a program named ‘Rooted’ with nearly 1,000 people completing it.
By any standards, local Christian schools are enjoying tremendous success. An example is New Westminster’s John Knox which is now building a brand new high school 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 second generation Chinese church planters. It seems the city is currently experiencing a new spiritual energy.
Pastor Sean Love of St. John’s Richmond Anglican Church stated, “The Ministerial has a whole new generation of pastors with a real commitment to the city and the gospel.”
“Many churches are vibrant, with Asian churches doing a great job of evangelism! said Roger Grose – superintendent of Richmond Christian School. “I see many new immigrants who are newly converted.”
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!
Peter Biggs has more than 20 years experience as a local church pastor, and has 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.
Part two of his summary will address ministerials, the rise of mega-churches, multi-ethnic neighbourhoods / churches and social need ministries.