When I was in my early 20s, I was a Vancouver Theatre Sports junkie. Every weekend, my friends and I stood in line at the Back Alley Theatre to watch a performance of the internationally renowned comedy improvisation troupe. (You may recognize the names of some alumni, including Ryan Stiles and Colin Mochrie from “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”)
In impov comedy, there’s one cardinal rule: No blocking! When an actor makes an “offer” – a suggestion that defines some element of the scene, such as location or activity – the other actors accept the offer and play along. Their response? “Yes, and…!” As the action moves forward, imaginations run wild. It’s a culture of creativity and endless possibilities.
“Look, Bob! There’s a rocket ship sitting in our backyard. Let’s climb aboard.”
“Great idea, Sam! I’m ready to blast off to Mars this afternoon. Let’s bring grandma along as our official space photographer.”
“Sure thing, Bob. And here’s a supply of Timbits for us to eat during the trip.”
Church planting: a culture of “yes”
Yes, and…. This motto is close to the heart of most church planters. They like to ignore the script for “doing church” a certain way, and frequently imagine new expressions of the body of Christ. They’re entrepreneurial, pioneering, and ready to turn on a dime. When the Holy Spirit speaks in a fresh way, what’s their response?
Start church planting in your 50s?
Buy a house in Vancouver’s West End and invite multiple families to live with you?
Intentionally gather a team of people from Canada, Manila, South Africa, the Middle East, and the Philippines. Yes, and….
Make disciples by offering an art therapy program?
Move to a First Nation reserve and build a relationship with the band chief? Yes, and…
This approach makes some people nervous. But it’s a wonderful – and biblical – attitude for Christians to adopt. Just think of all the people who said yes to God, even when their call may have seemed ridiculous or even impossible – Sarah, Isaiah, Samuel, Mary, Jesus’ disciples!
“Saying yes sounds implicit, but it’s profound,” says Patricia Ryan Madson in a 2008 New York Times article. “Barriers go up in front of fresh ideas within moments of their creation, leading to an atmosphere of ‘we can’t do that.’ The improv idea of saying yes from the start allows folks to entertain things that would ordinarily get axed out. Often, the systems we put in place to keep us secure are keeping us from our more creative selves.”
Trends in church planting
So, what kind of innovative ideas do church planters bring to the table?
1. There’s a growing diversity in the way we plant. “Twenty to thirty years ago,” says missiologist Ed Stetzer, “there was a set pattern sort-of way to plant a church: direct mail, gather a crowd, etc. Now we see everything from house churches, to missional/incarnational communities, to large churches.”
Many of our MB church plants meet in movie theatres, cafés, private homes, or even on the beach. Some church planters wouldn’t dream of meeting without food; instead, they’re creating environments that nourish people both physically and spiritually. These incarnational communities usually meet in organic, informal settings – a far cry from traditional Sunday morning services with a packaged worship “set,” sermon, and offering. They’re focused on inviting people into mission rather than only planning programs or events for them.
2. It’s all about networking. Denominations have realized that, in order to be most effective, they need to partner with other churches and agencies to spread the good news of God’s kingdom. In fact, the C2C Network (CCMBC’s national church planting arm) collaborates with more than ten other denominations to train and send planters across Canada.
And local churches are doing the same. For example, Ontario’s Jesus Network is an interdenominational, cross-cultural ministry that reaches out to several different communities in the Greater Toronto Area.
Church planters who serve under the umbrella of The Jesus Network – living and operating in one of the most religiously diverse, densely populated areas in all of North America – know there’s strength in numbers. There’s also great wisdom, since the team can share resources, insights, and gifts. Rather than Lone Ranger ministry, it’s about teamwork in the spirit of Ephesians 4:11.
3. We want to establish healthier leaders. Today’s church planting training offers better systems to ensure the health and success of new leaders. For example, C2C Network has nine systems to ensure “our new churches take root and flourish.”
There’s a trend toward more rigorous assessment, which means not everyone gets a green light to plant a church. There’s also more support in the form of apprenticeships, ongoing instruction, and individual coaching. People training for other professions, such as student teachers or resident doctors, can attest to the virtues of these types of steady support systems.
4. Many church planters are bivocational. We’re probably on the front end of this trend, but expect to see more and more church planters hold down another part-time job. From a practical perspective, it’s difficult for small churches to financially support a full-time pastor. Bivocational ministry is one way to ensure these small congregations survive.
And there are other benefits, such as opportunities to build relationships and engage with the community. In a July Mennonite World Review article, church planting expert Mauricio Chenlo says, “One of the limitations [of being full-time] is the pastor spends a lot of time in his office, or spends 20 hours of his time writing the sermon. I really don’t think that helps to develop the missional instinct and skills of the pastor. When pastors have the chance to be car dealers or sell houses, or do something with their feet on the ground where most people are… it gives a sense of what types of struggles people are really going through.”
So, is it time to get excited about the new face of church planting in Canada? Yes, and…!