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Starting a Church from Scratch
Mainline churches began a decade ago to seek new members through church planting, but Evangelicals are leaders in the trend.

An altar from a nearby decommissioned church, the pulpit borrowed from a Baptist congregation in Owen Sound, a lectern and kneelers made by a parishioner, the minister's own piano and a box of prayer books salvaged from curbside in Brantford and destined for the landfill.

The congregation of St. Barnabas Anglican church in Waterford holds its Sunday service in a hall of the local Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Photo, courtesy Glenn Lowson.

With these gathered things, conservative Anglicans in Waterford, Ontario town are striking out on their own.

"We left everything behind when we left our former churches," says Jim Blumer, a parishioner and spokesperson for St. Barnabas Anglican Church, part of the conservative breakaway group Anglican Coalition in Canada.

Blumer's wife, Louise, made the cloth hangings that adorn the walls of the hall at the local Ukrainian Orthodox Church, where St. Barnabas rents space to worship.

The congregation and about two-dozen others are part of a growing movement in church circles known as church planting, or opening new churches to reach potential new members.

Mainline churches began the push a decade ago to counter dropping attendance, with the Anglican Church of Canada holding a two-day workshop on the topic last year and Toronto Archbishop Colin Johnson identifying new churches as a major priority.

The United Church of Canada, meanwhile, opened Pathways Church in Markham as a plant for those looking for something less tied to traditional interpretations of Scripture.

"With the growing population, a new church needed to be planted," Rev. Mary Joseph of Pathways says.

But it's the Evangelical conservative churches that have proven more adept at using church planting as a way to find new members.

"Church planting is the Number 1 way to reach people who are unchurched," says Rev. David Roseberry, a U.S. leader in the burgeoning church planting movement.

"The mission field is no longer 6,000 miles away," he says. "It's across the street."

For former stockbroker Jim Tune of Mississauga, the movement is one part missionary and one part entrepreneurial.

"New churches seem to be much more fruitful in reaching unchurched people than existing churches," Tune says. An ordained minister who planted his Churchill Meadows church six years ago, he now helps others do the same.

People need to be given a reason to go to church every week and a new church has a better chance of persuading newcomers that they will be offered something fresh.

"You've got a whole generation of people who have never been in the habit of setting the alarm on Sunday morning," he says. "You're competing with every other option they have – including sleeping in."

Before opening Churchill Meadows, Tune launched a major marketing blitz, distributing 40,000 postcards a week for four weeks to homes in Mississauga. A telemarketing campaign called 43,000 homes. He even took out ads on television, knowing he had to hit the ground running.

"There's an adage that if you don't start with 200 people, you'll never break 200," says Tune.

There were 450 people the first day and 200 the next week as well-wishers and curiosity-seekers dropped out. The congregation is now double that, including about 100 children.

By Easter next year, Churchill Meadows plans to be in its own building behind a nearby Wal-Mart, with room for more than 800 worshippers.

Church plants offer a fresh take on the faith, says Rev. Sean Love, a church planter in Richmond, B.C. They also are chance for newcomers to quickly assume leadership roles to help make the congregation into the kind of church they want

"People know it's a new congregation and they aren't walking into a place where people have 20 years of history and don't want to know anybody else," Love says.

Rev. Ed Hird, a spokesperson for the Anglican Coalition, expects to see more church plants targeting immigrants who have little or no affiliation to churches in Canada.

"Having services in their own language is very important," says Hird, minister at St. Simon's Church North Vancouver.

He says the growing suburban Chinese populations in Vancouver and Toronto represent a particularly tempting opportunity.

He recently held a workshop in Dallas on church planting organized by Roseberry, considered a guru of the movement. Roseberry bought a cornfield outside of Dallas 15 years ago that today houses the largest Anglican church in North America with 5,000 members.

But it's nothing the Episcopal Church (as Anglicanism is known in the U.S.) can boast about. Like the small church in Waterford, Roseberry's Christ Church in Plano is a member of the Anglican Mission in the Americas. That means it answers to the bishop of Rwanda.

Since breaking with the U.S. church in 2006 over gay clergy and liberal interpretations of Scripture, Roseberry and others have taken the church planting idea and used it to expand the breakaway Anglican movement across North America.

A big part of that will be the church planting workshop next week for 65 Mission clergy, being held just before the Anglican Mission's winter meeting, expected to attract more than 1,500.

A multi-denominational church planting conference opens a week later in Orlando and is expected to attract more than 1,500 people as well. More workshops are planned throughout the year.

Roseberry says they are similar to the missionary training the Church of England once employed to win converts to Anglicanism in the colonies. Today, he says, that effort is needed at home.

The big difference, he and other church planters agree, is that a minister is no longer simply sent into the wilderness to sink or swim on his own. Today, they often go with the backing of a "mother" church whose members send money, or a national organization such as the Anglican Mission.

"There's almost always outside funding involved," says Ed Stetzer, another leader of the church planning movement.

Stetzer began his first church in Buffalo 20 years ago with a budget of $100 a month and says home churches still can be started with little or no money. But it's more usual today to spend an average of $35,000 to open the doors.

Some large plants, he says, cost more than $750,000 if the congregation and staff are big enough, and between $2 million and $3 million if a building is constructed. "It really depends upon the model."

The Anglican Mission and its Canadian arm, the Anglican Coalition in Canada, feel the time is ripe for planting churches. They see a vast pool of people from which to draw recruits through new church plants, estimating that 130 million Americans and 20 million Canadians do not attend church regularly.

The Anglican Network in Canada, another conservative group, operating under South American Archbishop Gregory Venables, has also identified church planting as key to its growth.

"A newer congregation attracts new people better and faster than old congregations can," says Love, whose church last month joined the Anglican Network.

Susan Zakamarko, pastor at St. Barnabas in Waterford, who was also in Dallas, says she's not looking to take members from existing churches, but to attract new people who do not attend at all.

In fact, she says, she has mixed emotions when yet another Anglican, frustrated with the liberal drift of the church, shows up at the door.

"It's bittersweet when someone comes to us from an Anglican church. We know the pain that went into that decision."

Stuart Laidlaw is the faith and ethics reporter for the Toronto Star.

Originally published in the Toronto Star, January 19, 2008.

 

 
 
 
 

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