By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
Larry Robertson, pastor of Hilldale Baptist Church in Clarksville and a former Tennessee Baptist Convention president, has been a good friend since he served on the staff of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board (then Executive Board) as director of evangelism more than 15 years ago.
He is an excellent pastor and is well respected across the state and the Southern Baptist Convention and he is a frequent columnist for the paper. See his must read column below.
He currently serves as a trustee of the North American Mission Board. Our paths crossed last week in, of all places, Montreal, Canada. Larry was in Montreal for a meeting of NAMB trustees while David Dawson, TBMB communications specialist, and I were there for a NAMB briefing for Baptist state paper editors and staff. The briefing included reports from NAMB leaders and concluded with a tour and celebration of Baptist work in Canada.
Larry sent out the following Tweet while we were on our tour: “Come to Montreal — time travel to America’s spiritual future.” He was not exaggerating.
Montreal is an old, historic city that is celebrating its 375th anniversary. Let’s put that into perspective. The city was formed nearly 125 years before the United States was established in 1776. It is the largest city in the province of Quebec where it is located and is the second largest city in Canada.
Walk through the historic district of Montreal and one thing that is obvious is the number of church buildings all over the city. The early settlers of Montreal brought a strong Roman Catholic influence to the region. Though the Catholic and religious influence have waned considerably, the number of church buildings is amazing.
The legendary Mark Twain supposedly said of Montreal, “This was the first time I’ve ever been in a city where you couldn’t throw a brick without breaking a church window.”
As we all know, the building is not the church.
The buildings remain, but many of them sit empty or have become tourist attractions. Some have been bought and house businesses that have nothing to do with church or religion.
Today, the standing joke (and it’s probably too true to be funny) is that the predominant religion in Montreal is hockey.
NAMB statistics indicate that Montreal is estimated to be only 0.5 percent evangelical. There may be a church on every corner, but that’s all. A Christian presence simply does not exist in most areas of the city. The city has only one church affiliated with the Canadian National Baptist Convention (CNBC) for every 112,994 residents.
NAMB President Kevin Ezell observed that “no place in North America has fewer evangelical believers than Montreal.”
With that being said, the darkness prevalent in Montreal and the nation of Canada for decades is now beginning to be illuminated with the light of Jesus Christ. Montreal is one of the North American Mission Board’s five Send Cities in Canada (along with Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary, and Edmonton). NAMB’s Send Network initiative targets some of the major metropolitan areas in the United States and Canada to mobilize Southern Baptists to share the gospel and plant churches.
In 2010 there were 278 CNBC churches. That number has grown to 392. In 2010, there were 99 baptisms in Quebec. Counting last year through late September of this year there have been 460 baptisms.
Every Canadian Baptist leader and church planter acknowledges there is still “a long way to go” but they are excited about seeing an interest in the Christian faith.
NAMB has invested a lot of time and resources into its Send Network and it appears to be paying off. During the trip we heard story after story of miracles God is doing within Canada in general and Montreal in particular. See story on page 6 of this issue.
Chad Vandiver, NAMB Canada mobilization strategist and Send Montreal missionary, is optimistic. “The streets of downtown Montreal are filled with opportunities for gospel conversation,” he told state paper personnel.
“People are waiting for someone to introduce them to Jesus in a way they can understand and respond to,” he added.
Montreal is living proof that large church buildings with state of the art design on every corner does not turn a city into a Christian city. They have the buildings. They don’t have people whose lives have been transformed by Jesus Christ.
America needs to pay attention to what has occurred in Canada. Our nation is dangerously close to abandoning God (some would argue that we already have), but there is a remnant that is still trying to reach our nation and world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In America, especially the South, we have our church buildings on every corner as well. Statistics show that Southern Baptists are losing between 900 and 1,000 churches a year as doors are shut for good. Buildings are becoming a symbol of what used to be instead of places where the Holy Spirit is working in the lives of people.
Actually, we may be closer to the situation in Canada now than we want to admit.
We need to catch the vision of those church planters and Canadian Baptists who are trying to turn their nation to God. We need to be willing to do what it takes to introduce our neighbors, friends, and people we have not even met yet to the hope that can be found only through Jesus Christ.
The Montreal experience reminded me of why I’m a Southern Baptist. A single church cannot make a dent on the lostness in Montreal or Tennessee but together, through the Cooperative Program, we can make a difference.
Pray for those working to pierce the darkness in Montreal and Canada and Tennessee. We are all in the same boat and it is sitting deep in the water.