This post by Alastair Sterne was originally posted on The Gospel Coalition Blog.
I was once asked, “The city, the ocean, or the mountains? Pick one.”
I tried to conceal a conceited smirk as I said, “I don’t have to. I live in Vancouver.”
The city of Vancouver, British Columbia, has all these things and then some. Downtown Vancouver boasts close to the same population density as Manhattan, with a stunning skyline. It is surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and mountains to the north and east. Unsurprisingly Vancouver has consistently been rated as one of the top ten cities to live in the entire world. It is a city of profound beauty and prestige, brimming with both influence and affluence. It’s no wonder most Vancouverites carry a subtle conceit about their home. Yet Vancouver’s brilliance and beauty can often mask what’s going on in its heart.
A study by the Vancouver Foundation discovered “key gaps” in the city’s shared life. It concluded that metro Vancouver can be a hard place to make friends. One-third say it’s straight-up difficult, and one in four say they are alone more often than they would like to be. The study also identified that Vancouver’s neighborhood connections are cordial but weak. Most people can only identify the names of two neighbors, and the connection typically stops there. Vancouver is a city of smiles and pleasantries, but not much more. It gets worse still. Many people in metro Vancouver are retreating from community life. More than one-third of Vancouverites have no close friends outside their own ethnicity. This is a deeply problematic issue in a vastly pluralistic and multicultural city.
Vancouver is globally perceived as the city that has everything, but for many, life within the city is lonely, isolating, and connectionless. These “key gaps” are more like gaping holes that are in desperate need of attention.
Crying for Renewal
The city is crying out for renewal, yet it is also becoming more and more irreligious. Statistics Canada projects that by 2031, almost 33 percent of people living in Vancouver will not align themselves with any religion. And those who currently checkmark “no religion” in Vancouver already exceed any other metropolitan area in Canada. Religion, and Christianity in particular, has been relegated to the corridors of personal opinion. Religion is seen as deludedly useful for self-help but useless for anything else. People are welcome to believe whatever they wish, but they should not be so mistaken as to think their beliefs have any usefulness in the public sphere, or accuracy about how things really operate in the universe. This is deeply problematic because the issues that plague Vancouver find their ultimate resolution in the very place they’ve determined to be deluded and useless.
The shared life of the early church is described as a multigenerational, multiethnic community that met consistently with a socially conscious outlook, providing not only for one another’s needs but also for the need of the cities they inhabited. Isn’t this the sum of Vancouver’s “key gaps”? The New Testament calls this expression of sharing life together koinonia. We translate it often as fellowship or participation. The church’s shared life took this expression because it flowed from their fellowship/participation (koinonia) in Christ.
Vancouver is a beautiful city. But if it wants to be a flourishing city, it needs to be loved to life by the koinonia found in Christ and expressed through his church. I desperately want to see the spiritual, social, and cultural renewal of our city, but it can only happen through communities transformed by the gospel. That’s why we’ve planted a church in the heart of the city: that God might use us, if even in some small way, to bring his renewal to this great but broken city. What we’re finding, so far, is that some of the skeptical, increasingly irreligious Vancouverites are coming to faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ because they’ve encountered the koinonia of the church. They’re discovering that the beauty of koinonia exceeds the beauty of Vancouver, because the beautiful thing about koinonia is that it’s only a small reflection of the beauty of Christ.
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