The Last Christian on Earth

If you were the last Christian on the earth and the final directive you received was, “Plant a church!”, would Christianity die with you?

Well, let’s assume you‘re a motivated individual. The first thing you might do is take a public speaking course to up your preaching game. Then, if you’re anything like me, you’d find someone who could sing and possibly play an instrument, so that your worship time wouldn’t bomb. As someone who is adept at taking advantage of hindsight, you realize that children are the future. (You probably heard that in a song, but it still seems true…) Accordingly, you make a priority of finding someone to lead the children’s program. Unfortunately, you’re not married so you can’t get your wife to do it.

Getting people to make donations to the church might be a problem because the government revoked charitable status for churches a few years earlier, but, hey, you never know until you ask. In the short term, you don’t think you need a building because your group is small—just “me-myself and I”, as someone once said. Even with the low attendance, you think it was worth the cost to invest in the LED light bar, because in your clubbing experience, lighting has a huge impact on mood. With a nod to the importance of hospitality, you bake some fresh cookies and rinse with Listerine and open your door promptly at 10am on Sunday morning. There is no doubt in your mind that the model is sound, and that within twelve months you’ll have a smashing success—or will you?

At the recent Evangelical Missiological Society meeting, one of the phrases that jumped out at me was, “We’re planting services, not churches.” This is the cautionary statement that prompted the story above and is worth taking note of. One of the core characteristics of Christ’s mission is that it results in disciples being made. In Canada, in 1996, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada study God and Society in North America indicated that “12 per cent of Canadians were evangelical affiliates.” In 2015, that percentage dropped to 9 per cent and continued to decline, reaching 6 per cent today. This numerical decline is seen across all Christian traditions in Canada, but is most shocking among Evangelicals because, after all, aren’t we supposed to be the evangelistic ones?

The declining number of affiliates is not the only indicator that we may have a problem. According to Lifeway Research, the maturity of disciples is where we need to focus our attention because maturity levels in the church are low. Lifeway suggests that, for too long, we’ve been measuring the wrong thing. We’ve taken our cue from organizational culture and measured things like attendance and giving for a sense of the health of our churches. Alternatively, Lifeway suggests that we measure the maturity of disciples. Their research identified eight attributes that “consistently show up in the lives of maturing disciples: Bible engagement, obeying God and denying self, serving God and others, sharing Christ, exercising faith, seeking God, building relationships, and being unashamed (transparency).” There are also two behaviours that impact all areas of a disciple’s maturity: regular confession of sins and Bible reading.

I’ve been aware of this research for a while. When I raise the issue with Christians, I get an acknowledgement of the importance of the attributes of a mature disciple for the health of the church. But, in the same breath, I usually hear that people are too busy to make a change to their lives. I admit that life is busy, but we can usually make time for the things we value.

The numbers seem to indicate that most of us value interaction on our devices more than maturity in Christ. As Rick Hiemstra says, in his Faith Today article Not Christian Anymore, “The content on our devices might actually be good. But there’s an opportunity cost and it is important to consider that cost might be church, prayer, Bible reading, and small group. What if recovering our agency from the nudges—and consciously choosing the way our souls will be formed—could be a significant part of changing the trendlines?”

To conclude my diatribe, I want to share an analogy on the state of mission in the church. It struck me that the state of mission in the church has a parallel in Alberta’s economy. Two main points: First, in Alberta, there has been a steady reduction in the number of barrels of oil that are produced annually. This puts a strain on the whole economy. Systems related to oil production get more streamlined but eventually you can’t get the system to work any better. What you need is more oil or higher prices.

Second, there is a growing awareness that for long-term stability, there must be a shift from an oil-based economy to a new energy industry, such as renewables. Making this shift takes time and money, both of which are in short supply.

The same seems to be true for the disciple-making part of the mission of the church. Fewer mature disciples—the “energy” of the church—means that the part that produces more mature disciples is under greater and greater strain. The only solution is to change our focus of ministry, or “industry”, to another. Continuing to invest time and money into a dying industry, hoping that something is going to change, is foolish. We need a plan to shift to a renewable form of energy. Somehow, we must stop planting services and start making disciples.

So, you love Jesus and you don’t want the church to die – what are you going to do about it?

Mission Central is a catalyst that inspires churches to be missional communities and individuals to become mature disciples of Jesus. Visit us at: www.missioncentral.ca

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About the author

Profile photo for John Hall

In 1997 John Hall, his wife Wei, and brother in-law started Eco Outdoor Sports in Metro Vancouver. In 2003 the business was sold, and his family entered a seven-year ‘desert experience’. During that time the Lord impressed on John and his family the importance of hearing and obeying Jesus every day, something that he tries to integrate into everything he does. In 2010 God changed the family’s direction and led him to finish his degree at Regent College in preparation for life as a full-time missionary overseas. That ministry opportunity didn’t develop as planned, as a whole new perspective and participation-in Christ’s mission was born at Missions Fest Vancouver. It’s now a daily occurrence for John’s business background and theological training to get a workout.

John served as the Executive Director at Mission Central (formerly Missions Fest Vancouver) from 2014 to April 2023.

John and Wei live in Richmond, BC. They have two wonderful adult girls. John completed his MA at Regent College in 2010.

Church
Church
The Tapestry Church (Richmond, BC)

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