“Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth?” Jeremiah 23:23-24 NLT
In 2011 a Canadian Household census was done asking people questions about their faith affiliation. Of the 32.8 million Canadians asked 67% indicated they were Christian, 9.3 % indicated other faith groups, while 23.7 % indicated they associated with no faith group whatsoever. Comparing these statistics to a census done in 1971, 40 years prior: 88% declared a relationship to Christianity, 8% to other faith groups and 4 % had no religious connection. Over forty years span, the non-affiliation grew significantly and continues to grow while the Christian attachment is on the decline.
The 1971 census suggested there was 19.3 million Christians. Of those 19 million how many attended churches on a regular basis? Church surveys imply attendance was not even close to half those 19 million and the numbers were down in 2019.
So how are those absent Christians becoming the disciples Christ desires? What about the quarter of the Canadian population who say they have no faith; how will they hear about God’s desire for them?
The religious statistics identified above are very similar across all western nations not just North America. Church attendance is down, people indicating they are Christian is down, and the number of people from western nations who say they have no faith afflictions is growing. So, what is happening? Are the gates of hell advancing on the Kingdom contrary to Jesus’ claim in Matthew 16:18? The answer is a resounding NO.
God’s mission is ongoing, and Christianity is the fastest-growing faith group in the world; it has just taken on a different face. At the turn of the 20th century, 88 % of Christians worldwide were from the western nations and the other 12% were from Africa, Asia, South America and other non-western groups. Today, 80% of Christian come from Asian countries (China, India etc.), Africa, and the Southern hemisphere countries, while 20% of the world’s Christian come from western nations. Despite western Christian belief that they have perfected church experience, the non-affiliation group has grown while the Christian faith groups have declined. Has this happened because many western Christians still think the lost will come to their church building and that they do not have to go where the people are?
The church is important. It is the place where we can grow in our faith, worship as a community and prepare ourselves to be Jesus’s disciple. However, the church building was never meant to be the destination. It is the training ground for followers who are invited to be on mission with God before they go and be the Church to the people who need God.
Jeremiah reminds us that God is omnipresent (all present) and that he is everywhere across this universe. This past week, FACEBOOK’s MCF page reminded us that God meets people wherever they are, in the workplace, in their homes, in a hospital, a prison, or wrapped in blanket sleeping under a bridge. Jesus showed this same mindset during His earthly ministry; He went outside the religious structure to where God’s mission of reconciliation and restoration could be accomplished amongst those who need Him. He invites all His followers to join God’s mission so we can show God off to those who can’t sense God’s presence.
God does not need us to accomplish His mission but invites us to be part of it. He wants to use our gifts, talents, resources, compassion and understanding of His word to show people what God is doing in their lives and what more He wants to accomplish. He invites us to be His witness and show God’s presence, to do things that point people to Him. Pray how God can use us to show our work collogues, our neighbours, our family, and even complete strangers the omnipresent God.
Go to church and grow, but when you leave the pew and walk out the front doors of your church, remember you are entering the mission field God has prepared for you.