– By Alex Newman
You can usually tell you’re on to something when research raises more questions than it answers. While working on the church plant story, one thing kept nagging at me. So what? And who cares?
Sounds shocking, but let’s consider the times we live in. The church is under fire not only for its claims of knowing Truth, but its intention to spread that Truth. Evangelizing the developing world was one thing, but turning its missionary zeal on the developed, enlightened, self-determining and relativistic world is sure to raise hackles. Especially since North Americans have made it clear that Christianity’s demise is not only natural, but desirable. In short, they don’t care to hear about it.
When asked church planters said the come because they are called, as followers of Christ, to be obedient to the great commission (Matthew 28:19-20.) But what gives us the right to plant ourselves in the middle of people who seem to be humming along very well without the faith?
And there’s the rub – it seems they’re not doing so well.
A cursory troll of the internet reveals that isolation and loneliness are epidemic, especially in cities, which is where 80% of Canadians live. Last November, Elizabeth Renzetti wrote in the Globe & Mail that “in the West, we live faster, higher in the air, farther from our workplaces, and more singly than at any time in the past. Social scientists will be struggling to understand the consequences of these transformations for decades to come, but one thing is clear: Loneliness is our baggage, a huge and largely unacknowledged cultural failing.”
Renzetti went on to say that “more Canadians than ever live alone, and almost one-quarter describe themselves as lonely. In the United States, two studies showed that 40 per cent of people say they’re lonely, a figure that has doubled in 30 years … It is the great irony of our age that we have never been better connected, or more adrift.”
Blame what you like — tiny condos, family split-ups, high transience rates, greater mobility – but our culture is experiencing higher rates of depression, greater levels of dissatisfaction, disconnect from family and community, and that they are searching for both meaning and connection.
Similarly, studies show that people who attend church experience lower levels of depression and anxiety, and experience greater satisfaction in meaning and connection.
Church planter Darryl Dash tells a story that answers the question “who cares?” In the course of his in Liberty Village, he struck up a conversation with a young woman who he figured he’d never hear from again. Six months later, however, she contacted him on Facebook – her mother was dying of cancer and she needed someone to talk to whom she could trust and who was close to God.
This is what 21st century “evangelizing” looks like – dropping a seed, waiting on the sidelines, and being there when loneliness, fear or despair hits. Church planting is not about filling the church nets with people in order to bring them into the pews – church plants don’t even have pews and probably never will.
Historically, the church has soared when it operated counter-culturally. In today’s world, it could mean being an effective antidote for loneliness and isolation by providing meaning and joyful connection.
The question for the wider church is how to respond to a radically shifting landscape. Church planters tell me that this culture isn’t so much deliberately turned away from Christ as it is completely unaware of Him. Most have never heard the gospel. Like Paul at the statue of the unknown god, evangelizing the cities is about pointing to the source of “life and breath and everything else.”