Great Expectations in Church Planting

By Doug Koop

When it comes to launching new churches in Canada, we are living in the best of times, which may also be the worst of times. The upside is that just about anything goes. The downside is, well … it’s that just about anything goes.

And church is increasingly optional.

When I was asked to write an article about new church plants in Winnipeg, I was drawn to a couple fresh expressions of Christian witness that struck me as community-focused in their ethos and wholistic in their methods. My bias skewed towards groups I believed to be demonstrating a creative concern for the people they seek to serve in God’s name.

The two I wrote about emphasize mercy and grace; they advocate for the poor and marginalized; they prefer cooperation to competition. They are more interested in turning church places into community places than the other way around. And they want people to encounter, engage and experience the good news that is revealed preeminently in Jesus Christ.

I could have looked in to any number of fledgling fellowships—places where people of certain ethnicities or particular doctrinal orientations are setting up chairs for church gatherings and distributing flyers in their neighbourhoods. To the watchful eye, signs of church start-ups abound. It’s true that most of these new congregations don’t last very long, but the impulse to establish and expand the band of the faithful is alive and well.

Meanwhile, many new and established congregations are pulling out the stops in an effort to attract people to their services and address their spiritual needs. Many churches routinely deliver a parade of culturally-relevant dramas and exquisite musical presentations, along with good childcare Sunday schools and finely-honed sermons.

At the same time, however, it’s becoming harder and harder for any congregation to maintain stability. Ordinary people don’t get involved and stick around like they did a generation and more ago. The attractional model of church growth is slowly giving way to something else—something that may not look a lot like church as we’ve come to know it.

It’s increasingly clear that Canada is not just in a post-Christendom stage, and it’s not just in a post-denominational stage. It looks like we’re running hard towards a post-congregational stage.

So … should we be discouraged? And, if not, what will be most effective pattern of discipleship in the era ahead?

According to Westminster Church associate minister Greg Glatz: “If we follow the strategy of Jesus, we will come in unexpected forms, drawing little attention to ourselves, telling people not to draw attention to us, feeding the hungry, healing the sick and pointing them beyond law and rules, doctrine and relations through our kinship with God and with each other.

“In that way we might have a chance of doing the greater things Jesus said we’d do.”

And that, I believe, is truly a great expectation.

DOUG KOOP, a reporter and editor of ChristianWeek newspaper for 25 years, now works as a Spiritual Health Specialist with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, addressing the spiritual and emotional needs of people in crisis and transition. Greg Glatz, a minister quoted in this post, has just released The Great Co-Mission: How Communities Can Transform Churches, Mission, and Discipleship (Pressbooks, 2014).