In Vancouver, the Concrete is Starting to Crack

Many of us know the history of our own congregations, but how about the landscape of our city? Do we understand the culture that surrounds us, and do we dream of the God’s redemption in that place? I hope that this article, reposted by permission from Flourishing Congregations Institute, will inspire you to look again at your neighbourhood with Kingdom lenses and ask the Holy Spirit to show you where He is at work in that place.~ Cailey

By Frank Stirk

I’ve lived in the Vancouver area now for twenty-eight years, and in lots of ways it’s a different city from when I first moved here. Our immigrant population will soon overtake those born in Canada. Drivers and cyclists watch each other warily on crowded roads. New condos are going up everywhere. And yet housing is so insanely expensive that some are giving up and moving out. (At this writing, we also have the highest gas prices in North America.)

This city was founded in the late-1800s by fortune-seekers eager to exploit the region’s vast natural resources—lumber, fish and gold—and then move on. Most weren’t too interested in settling down, raising a family or building a community.

That’s still much the same today. “We’re a frontier town with a frontier mentality,” says Jonathan Bird, executive director of the faith-based CityGate Leadership Forum. “There’s a make-it-or-break-it, work-till-you-drop attitude. Or it’s ‘I’m here for a little while and I’m not going to sink deep roots, because I know I’m pulling them up in a few years or a few months.’”[1]

Vancouver was and is highly secular and materialistic. Churches have always had a hard time putting down firm foundations in such hard soil. As one visitor to Vancouver in 1911 wrote in her diary, “People don’t seem to worry much about churches out here.” [2]

Or as L. D. Taylor, the city’s mayor for eleven years between 1910 and 1934, explained why he turned a blind eye to prostitution and other such “victimless” crimes, “We ain’t no Sunday School town.” [3]

Screen Shot 2019-09-17 at 12.14.48 PM.png

And it still ain’t—I mean, isn’t. In 1888, there were six churches in all of Vancouver, which at that time was not much bigger than what’s now called the Downtown peninsula. Flash forward to 1988. As the map above shows [4], despite a massive ongoing influx of people into the area to occupy the thousands of apartments and condos that were going up, there were still only nine churches in essentially the same geographic area. (I don’t include the First Church of Christian Science.)

In other words, the net increase in the number of churches in the course of a century was a mere three.

But this is where it gets interesting. Through the 1990s and the 2000s, the number of churches in the peninsula grew slowly. But then starting in 2010—possibly as a result of the Winter Olympic Games that year that put Vancouver on the global stage—the numbers rose dramatically; by mid-2015, there were twenty-eight churches and church plants of many denominational stripes on the peninsula.

Never in Vancouver’s history has the city seen so much new Christian activity. Since then, a few of those churches have folded and a few have relocated outside the peninsula while a couple of other churches have relocated to the peninsula. But most of them are doing surprisingly well.

Alastair Sterne, the pastor of St. Peter’s Fireside, a conservative Anglican church in downtown Vancouver, recalls that even before the church began holding services in 2012, “someone on our launch team shared a prophetic word with me that has stuck. He saw God plant a seed in downtown Vancouver, and it grew roots beneath the streets, and it slowly expanded under the city. But eventually, what started as a small seed blossomed and grew and broke through the ground, the concrete, and filled every crack; what blossomed was seen all throughout the city.” [5]

I wonder—and I hope and pray—that other cities are experiencing this kind of divine activity.

Frank Stirk is the author of the new book Streams in the Negev: Stories of How God is Starting to Redeem Vancouver (Urban Loft Publishers).

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  1. Jonathan Bird, interviewed on 21 May 2014 and 19 October 2016.
  2. Grace Morris Craig (1981). But This Is Our War. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press, 15
  3. Amy Logan (9 November 2017). “Exploring the hidden stories of Vancouver,” Metro Vancouver.
  4. City of Vancouver Archives, Downtown Church Directory, Vancouver, B.C. PAM 1988-72. Source unknown. It’s from a brochure that may have been printed jointly by downtown-area hotels and made available to their guests.
  5. Alastair Sterne (19 February 2018). “Remembering Jesus in Fog-Land.” St. Peter’s Fireside Blog,

 

Church Planting Update

By Shannon Youell, Church Planting Coordinator and Cailey Morgan, Assistant to the Director of Church Planting

This article appeared first in CBWC’s newsletter Making Connections. Subscribe to Making Connections here.

We received some interesting research recently from Lifeway Research and Ed Stetzer. The research is the first Church Planting Survey to explore the Canadian context, and draws for us an overview of current church planting trends and practices. The study found that three broad patterns—praying, equipping, and sharing Jesus—are foundational to greater church planting success in Canada.

Praying

The study found that church plants who regularly prayer-walk are more likely to have a majority-unchurched congregation, and church plants with regular prayer meetings are more likely to reach financial sustainability. While financial stability may not be the most spiritual sounding measure of church plant growth, it is certainly a factor and reminds us of Jesus’ promise: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7).

Will you join us in praying for our new church plants, and commit to intentional, enduring, heart-changing prayer for God’s children in your congregation to catch the passion of God’s heart?  Will you join us across Western Canada as we pray with fervency for those to whom the Kingdom of God has not yet been revealed?  This is what Jesus taught us to pray for!

Equipping

Stetzer’s research indicates that both denominational support and peer-to-peer equipping have an impact on the chance of a church plants success.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty,  while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.  If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it (1 Corinthians 12:21-26).

Part of what we do as a family of churches is to provide denominational resources for existing and future church plants, as well as facilitating partnerships between congregations. Some of our member plants need more support in the fragile first years of life, and certainly our existing churches can learn and be stretched by the new ideas and vigour our church planters bring to the table.

You will be hearing more over the coming months, of various ways your church can a) be equipped to multiply in the coming years and b) help to equip and encourage our new church plants. Please consider how you can play a part in the equipping of the Body of Christ in Western Canada.

Sharing Jesus

The study found that church plants conducting outreach Bible studies, and those making regular evangelistic visits, have a higher percentage of unchurched folks making commitments. This research should not be surprising, as Paul writes in Romans 10:14, “how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”

If new churches are to come into existence, and if our own churches are to grow in numbers of new believers, we must find ways to join God in this work, without the stigma that the word “evangelism” has for many of us. Over the coming months, the Church Planting team will be exploring the theme of sharing Jesus on our blog, churchplantingatcbwc.wordpress.com, as well as facilitating a roundtable discussion on this topic at the coming Banff Pastors and Spouses Conference in November.

We hope you will join the conversation online and in person!

The CBWC Church Planting team is exploring new ways to pray, equip, encourage, inspire and catalyze you to participate in the sending mission of God. If you want to find out more about Church Planting, email Shannon Youell at syouell@cbwc.ca.