Canada’s unchurched capital draws innovation in ministry

Vancouver, long Canada’s most unchurched city, is showing that megachurches and other religious innovations can flourish there, even if their American origins are downplayed. The Christian Century (Jan. 6) notes that Vancouver “is known in religious circles for being a very secular city in a secular province in an unchurched part of the continent. According to researchers at the Angus Reid Institute, only 17 percent of British Columbians attend church as often as once a month—lower than Canada’s overall rate of 23 percent.” Writer Jason Byassee adds that the low rate of religious participation is associated with the city’s (and British Columbia’s) culture of leisure, the decline of the United Church of Canada, and the lack of any church establishment. But the flood of Asian immigrants into Vancouver—with 30,000 Chinese immigrants entering Canada every year since 2000— is convincing churches to reshape their ministries. The Tenth Church, affiliated with the Christian and Missionary Alliance, attracts some 2,000 worshippers at its five sites to its services marked by low-key preaching and elements of Catholic piety and mysticism, with several of the satellites holding weekly communion. Although his denomination is strongly against gays in leadership, Pastor Ken Shigematsu says that gay and lesbian members have an important place in the community.


Byassee writes that “There are megachurches larger than Tenth in Vancouver. The Mennonite Brethren, having dropped their ethnic distinctives and emphasis on pacifism, have congregations numbering in the thousands downtown…and in the suburbs. The Baptists have the largest congregation in the area, Village Church in Surrey. Coastal Church downtown has rock concert-quality music. All the congregations have quite conservative theology. They’re all led by Canadians.” Even though the church planters associated with these churches have some American ideas and money behind them, if a congregation seems too American, Canadians won’t attend. “The secret, it seems, is a can-do American attitude without visible American trappings,” Byassee adds. The innovation doesn’t necessarily lead to megachurch-type growth. Grandview Calvary Baptist Church draws 300 worshippers but is a leader in creating intentional communities and affordable housing. Byassee concludes that “Christian institutions in Vancouver succeed by being engaged with the culture, not by condemning it. They teach the faith clearly and winsomely. Their walls are permeable. And they stay at their ministry for decades….”

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