I was nine years old the first time I visited Disneyland. I vividly remember riding in a boat winding through the countries of the world with animatronic children singing, “It's a world of laughter, a world of tears. It's a world of hopes and a world of fears. There's so much that we share that it's time we're aware, it's a small world after all.” I don’t think I or anyone else in the 1970’s or 1980’s could have ever imagined just how small our world would become, how small our world is now. This could not be truer than in our major cities.
The World in My Hand
For the human race, there may be no more powerful invention than the creation of the smartphone. The 2007 release of the first iPhone has revolutionized every facet of our daily lives and experiences. In February, I was in Chennai and Delhi, India, visiting communities with World Vision. Youth there took out their smartphones to post our visit on their social media.
According to a 2018 global digital report from We Are Social, approximately one third of the world’s youth and adult population have smartphones and another third have phones. Half of the world is now online with most of them on social media. In Canada, four out of five youth and adults use a smartphone. This includes my 93-year-old father-in-law with his iPhone 6.
Our world is now functioning as a single global community. We are increasingly sharing the same technologies, stories, and shared experience. We don’t live in silos anymore. We can’t. It is impossible. This is particularly true in our cities. Digital platforms link our lives together in constant contact and communication. Google, Amazon, iTunes, Instagram, Facebook, Uber, Waze, Slack…the list goes on and on.
This creates real challenges for the church. First, Christians compare what they experience and learn at church with the rest of their world. They compare sermons to TedTalks. They compare the musical worship to their playlist on Spotify. They compare their church’s ability to impact their world with Amazon. They may not say it. They may not even consciously think it. It just happens.
Across the world in major urban centres, youth and young minded people are disengaging from the church. The way the church operates simply doesn’t make sense the way it used to. Does Jesus’ message of reconciliation for all people make sense? Absolutely. Possibly, more now than ever. But does what we talk about, what words we use, the way we organize community, and the way we envision our mission in the world make sense? Sadly, less and less. Everyone can now see everything. Now we can compare.
The World Next Door
I listened to a pastor explain how their church now had over 40 mother tongues in their congregation. I did not doubt him for a moment. As I sat among their church family that Sunday morning, I experienced a beautiful mosaic of cultures from around the world.
The Flourishing Congregations Institute has pointed out that one of main issues impacting the church of Canada is immigration. City Movement is cleaning and organizing all of the data on the Church from CRA. We ran a report on the number of Christian ministries in the Greater Toronto Area with income over $100,000 that are ethnic or cultural focused.
This chart helps us see the rich global diversity of our cities. We are becoming a microcosm of the world.
A recent Globe and Mail article states, “Our latest survey suggests an emerging shift in how Canadians see their country’s contribution to the world. It is not primarily about making war or peace, but rather about who we are becoming as a people and how we get along with each other. Increasingly, Canadians see our country’s approach to migration and diversity as our main contribution to the world.”
I believe that the Church of Canada is a forerunner in this.
Cities and Movements
So what are we, who follow Jesus and care deeply for the health and growth of his movement, to do? The Flourishing Congregations Institute’s most recent blog post pointed out a number of trends in how Christian leaders see the Canadian church.
I want to highlight one I believe is vitally important to leverage: cooperation. Jesus prayed, “May all of them be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Cooperation is God’s heart. Also, it is what we are experiencing in our globally populated, digitally connected cities.
If we step out of our silos and set aside our tendency to compete, rather than cooperate, what could the future hold for us? I am not sure any of us know what Jesus might do. I have a feeling it would be awesome. But I am reminded of that boat ride in Disneyland and that song that just played over and over and over again, “There's so much that we share that it's time we're aware, it's a small world after all.”.