Church planting in Canada: A life and death venture
MULTIPLY – Church multiplication conference
People’s Church, Toronto
May 12–13, 2015
About 10 years ago, The Metropolitan Bible Church, Ottawa, was healthy and growing, so they decided to start a congregation on a nearby campus. “How hard can this be?” asked pastor Tim Auld and his leadership team.
The Met hired a great speaker who, together with his wife, tried to form a satellite church among students on a nearby campus. “We failed miserably,” says Auld. “We invested a lot and we ended up crushing the spirit of this young [church planting] couple.”
Too old to give birth?
The 82-year-old congregation felt like the matriarch Sarah – too old to give birth. Maybe they should be satisfied with a robust congregation of 2,200 and forget about planting.
“God kept challenging us to go after his promises,” says Auld, citing Genesis 18:14: “Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”
C2C helped the church assess and discern planters Jeff and Ruth Scott, and is also training and mentoring the couple. If all goes well, by spring 2016, The Met will give birth to a daughter church in the Westboro neighbourhood of Ottawa.
“Church after church is closing [in Canada],” says Auld. However, “if we continue to turn to God and reach out to him in faith, no congregation is too old to begin again.”
Life comes out of death
Yet, sometimes closing the doors is exactly what a congregation needs to do, as Brian Ekk discovered.
“We did not have a critical mass to do ministries and lacked a strong push forward. We knew something had to change,” says Ekk, former lead elder at South Hill Church in Vancouver. South Hill was an amalgamation of two MB churches (historically Germanic Vancouver MB and Pacific Grace MB‘s English congregation, comprised mostly of Canadian-born Chinese). Though 100 people still worshipped together weekly, the group had gradually declined over its six-year history.
Interim pastor Adam Wiggins suggested leaders talk to Brett and Alison Landry who were starting an MB church in the South Hill neighbourhood. “From the very first meeting with Brett, I could tell he had great passion and vision,” says Ekk.
At first, the South Hill leadership team thought they could partner with the Landrys and Christ City Church. But after much prayer and many discussions, they concluded God was directing them to close South Hill and give the building and the assets to Christ City.
“That meant we had to give up our leadership positions, our friends and our community,” says Ekk. “We gave up control to God.”
After one-on-one discussions, prayer times and some painful meetings where people expressed anger and grief, a strong majority of South Hill’s congregation voted to let the church die to benefit God’s kingdom.
Two-year-old City Church has grown to some 250 attending two weekend services. It attracts people who have never believed in Jesus, Christians from other churches and people who have drifted from the church.
“We would never have dreamed of all the new friends we have met,” says Ekk, who now leads a City Church community group in his home with his wife Jodi. “I have seen a huge revival in my walk with God.”
Brett was humbled by the gift of the building and South Hill’s assets. “Life comes out of death,” says Brett. “One day, the test will come for me. Will I have the humility that was modelled for us [by the South Hill congregation] to give away myself and my ministry?”
Brett is thankful for the mentoring and support C2C provides. Born and raised in Alberta in a non-Christian home, he came to Christ at 20 and attended Bible college shortly afterward. Even before they married 12 years ago, Brett and Alison sensed a call to one day plant a church in Vancouver. “C2C took seriously our call to plant and not just equipped us but resourced the call,” he says.
After being assessed and going through a discernment process with Alison, Brett was invited to meet monthly with a “cadre” of other church planters. “I was so excited because I had found a band of brothers.”
Landry and Auld shared their stories at Church Multiplication Conference, a C2C gathering of church planters and Christian leaders from across Canada, May 12–13, 2015, at People’s Church, Toronto. (See below for speaker roster.)
C2C national missiologist Bill Hogg encouraged those gathered not to shrink back from preaching that Jesus is Lord in Canada’s marketplace of religious pluralism, but to do so “energized by the breath of God.”
“Are you convinced that men and women and young people are lost without Jesus?” Hogg asked. For many, “lostness” is unpalatable and eternal punishment is under debate, yet “gospel proclamation is of utmost importance because it is of eternal consequence,” he said. “Does the disturbing truth of eternal punishment have any impact on our lives?”
The speakers told inspiring stories on a variety of topics like multicultural and street level ministries, rural strategies and urban missions, but there was not a lot of practical teaching that leaders could implement. Round-table discussions helped leaders to apply what they were hearing and to learn from others. Times of passionate prayer and worship gave opportunity to respond on a heart level.
C2C staff and planters pray daily at 10:02 am and pm that the Lord of the harvest would send more workers into the fields (Luke 10:2). But they are careful not to try to make it happen on their own. “We don’t tap anybody on the shoulder [to become church planters]. We wait for them to come to us. We believe the Lord calls them,” says C2C national director Gord Fleming. Each couple who contacts C2C is asked to go into a season of prayer to listen for God’s confirmation of their call.
A safe place to communicate
Church planting can take a toll on marriages. Recognizing it is critical to invest in these couples, C2C appointed Karolyn Burch to a half-time position of caring for the spouses of church planters. “We create a community of sisterhood and friendship among the planters’ wives,” she says. “They need a safe place to communicate with each other.”
These “amazing women” sometimes have jobs to support the family while the church gets going. They entertain people in their homes and fill in the gaps: teaching children, leading worship, or whatever is needed. “We want to help them be in it for the long haul,” says Burch.
To reach Canadians, the C2C team seeks to partner with Christ in all things, says Fleming; being, “dead to yourself, dead to your chequebook, dead to your schedule, and living like you don’t own anything.” C2C prioritizes prayer, reading the Bible and living by faith. “I trust God exorbitantly for things,” says Fleming. “What God calls us to, he will fund. What God calls people to, he will equip them for.”
—Sandra Reimer is a freelance writer who worships at Glencairn Church, Kitchener, Ont.
Speakers at Multiply
Mark Clark (Village Church, Surrey, B.C.)
Norm Funk (Westside Church, Vancouver)
Paul Johnson (South Delta Baptist Church, Delta, B.C.)
Ron Tobias (Spanish River Church, Boca Raton, Fla.)
Laurence East (Metro Community Church, Kelowna, B.C.)
Phillip Vallelly (Winkler MB Church, Winker, Man.)
Dan MacDonald (Grace Toronto Church, Toronto)
James Bonney (West Side Church North Shore, Vancouver)
Derek Parenteau (Rugged Tree, Parry Sound, Ont.)
Mike Gockley (Initiative 22, Montreal)
Jon Thompson (C4 Church, Ajax, ON)
Dennis Wilkinson (Meta Communities, Vancouver)
Harv Matchullis with Manuel Morales (Encompass Partnerships, Calgary)
Lance Odegard (Artisan Mt Pleasant, Vancouver)
Nelson Boschman (Artisan Church, Vancouver)
Bill Hogg (C2C national missiologist)
Scott Thomas (C2C associate director)
Pat Sczebel (worship leader)
Updated June 16, 2015: paragraph removed.