In a recent article in Faith Today, some alarming and confirming statistics were shared about the current state of Christianity in Canada. Alarming due to the staggering percentage losses in weekly church attendance, and confirming because of what many leaders have been stating about the current condition of the church in Canada. According to the Evangelical Christian Fellowship of Canada (EFC), only 6% of Canadians attend Evangelical churches weekly. That number is down from 9% (2015) and 12% (1996). Also according to the survey, it is not the younger generations that are absent. The EFC estimates that the biggest loss in attendance is from the Silent Generation (1925-1945), and the Boomers (1946-1964). They report that approximately 57.5% of Boomers and the Silent ones (Silencers?) attended church when they were 12 years old. Today, only 15% attend weekly. That is a 42.5% decline in weekly attendance among that demographic. Narrowing the field to the Boomers only, whose weekly attendance was 53% (at age 12), to now only 11% today, shows a similar percentage loss (42%). What does all this mean? Perhaps most staggering is the fact that 50% of Canadians today report no religious affiliation whatsoever. The question begs to be asked: how has the Evangelical tradition failed so many?
I often hear today that the ‘younger’ people need to step up and take over. Oftentimes that comes from the lips of senior saints who still attend weekly worship services. In a church context that often translates to mean that the younger generation better come and do church exactly the same way that we have been doing church. Well, the numbers seem to suggest that Generations X,Y,Z never really got plugged into the church to begin with. EFC shows that at age 12, weekly attendance for Gen-X (1965-1981) was 33%, Gen-Y (1982-1996) was 26%, and Gen-Z was 22%. Today those numbers are 10% (Gen-X), 11% (Gen-Y), and 9% (Gen-Z). Those numbers suggest only 10% decline along those demographic, compared to the 42% decline in the older generations. So the question could be asked: where have all the boomers gone?
EFC suggests that the church hasn’t paid enough attention to areas that receive attention. Our world is a digital, device driven culture. I would agree that the church in general needs to be using a platform to truly addresses the crowds. The church definitely needs to rethink how to engage the crowds. One time some radical even used a fishing boat as a teaching platform instead of the tradition synagogue. Go figure! However, for me this problem goes beyond technology to the heart of something bigger: the message of the church has not been Jesus.
I come from a tradition where church attendance was … well, not an option. I often say that I had a severe drug problem growing up. I was drug to church every Sunday. My parents modelled faithful attendance, as their parents did, and as their parents did. Yes, I come from a very long line of weekly church attenders. I also am employed by people who weekly attend church now. For close to the past twenty years, my livelihood has been generated by those who weekly attend church. The recent survey would suggest that future full-time employment at the church may not be all the feasible! However, that is not the essence of what I want to say.
I mention my heritage and occupation to suggest that my observation is gained from first-hand experience (literally), and that my heart is not negative, cynical or judgmental towards the Church or any particular tradition within her. I am very thankful for my upbringing and for the positive example my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents modelled. Perhaps this is why I am writing this article. I feel a motivation and compelling to call people to experiencing something bigger and greater than weekly services. I desire for people to encounter the supernatural dimension of God’s Kingdom.
For most of my growing up years in the church, the gospel message seemed to centre on ‘being a good little Christian’. The old saying was ‘don’t, drink, smoke or chew, or go with girls that do’. I could also add onto that by saying that there was driven into me a fear of being in certain places, like the billiards halls, movie theatres, and any local pub. A ‘good’ Christian would not be in those places, and you better not get caught in those places when Jesus returns because you will miss that rapture and go to hell. That seemed to be the message from the pulpits, books, end-times guests and dramas. Anyone remember heaven’s gates and hell’s flames? The message of Christianity seemed to be more about conduct than Kingdom. Perhaps it is because most, if not all of our Evangelical traditions come from the Protestant tree where many of our church fathers were monks. The Monastic movement gave birth to much of our mainline thinking and doing (orthodoxy and orthopraxy). In other words, much of what we have come to embrace about who God is and what living for Him looks like in the world, has come from those who embraced a model of isolation from ‘the world’. To put this very plainly, perhaps the gospel in the West has been a gospel of moral conformity and behavioural conduct living under an angry God who seeks to punish those who don’t get in line. Simply stated, perhaps the Western church at large has not been preaching what Jesus preached.
I am convinced that Jesus only ever preached and embodied one gospel: the gospel of the Kingdom. In fact, Luke stunningly records Jesus’ following words:
“I must proclaim the good news about the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because I was sent for this purpose.” (4:43)
I believe that Luke seems to capture the very essence of why Jesus came. Think about that statement. The cooperative union between the Logos, Eternal Father and Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary gave birth to the Christ-child (Jesus of Nazareth) in order for the good news of Gods’s Kingdom be manifested here on earth. When was the last time you heard that from a pulpit?
The preaching of ‘good news’ for Jesus was directly linked to a vocal proclamation and visual demonstration of God’s tangible Kingdom. As you read the Gospels, it seems that everywhere Jesus went, the Kingdom of God was taught and people’s lives were changed. People were welcomed, healed, set free, transformed and loved. There are over 162 references to the ‘kingdom’ in the New Testament alone, and the majority of them come from the gospel writers. You would almost think that Jesus was intentionally modelling a distinct message and practice (orthodoxy and orthopraxy). Perhaps His words and deeds do matter. Perhaps Jesus was doing more than simply coming to earth in order for us to go to heaven when we die. Perhaps Jesus was doing more than simply taking my place and getting me off the hook from an angry God. Perhaps Jesus was positively fulfilling God’s mission to redeem humanity and the fallen world we live in. Perhaps Jesus was ushering in a new revolution for humanity.
When reading the Gospels (John, Luke, Matthew and Mark) you can almost envision being in the same room, hillside or table with Jesus. These are first-hand accounts. When reading His words, you could almost believe that Jesus was indeed teaching and modelling God’s heart for humanity and creation. When looking at what He did, you can almost see the breaking in of God’s Kingdom on earth as in heaven. When experiencing His love and hearing His call to ‘follow me’, you can almost see yourself saying ‘yes’.
Perhaps this is why the numbers are what the numbers are today. Perhaps we (the Evangelical church) have not modelled or taught the message of God’s Kingdom. Perhaps we have simply become a gospel of the Reformation. Perhaps another protest is needed. Perhaps more reform should come.
It’s been said that when a church asks what the Kingdom of God is and then further asks how the Kingdom should drive what we do, and even determine what we pray, that church is asking the right questions. I find myself asking those questions. I find myself attempting to implement them where I work. Regardless, perhaps we all can ask ourselves this question: how am I fulfilling the mission of Jesus here on earth?
Perhaps that question will motivate and engage people across all demographics to align with Jesus’ way of Life and message of Truth. Perhaps then the church will be saying and doing what Jesus said and did. Perhaps then, we will see people choose to follow and fulfill His mission in the world. Perhaps then we will be the Church instead of attending church.
To read the Faith Today article click the link below: