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A Strategy that Works
Apohaqui Community Church helps people who are far from God come near to God and become passionate Christ-followers. NOTE: After this article was published, the church renamed itself “Atlantic Community Church.”

Apohaqui Community Church (ACC) was dying in 1996. It had been the local Baptist church since 1873 in a rural community about 60 kilometres east of Saint John, N.B. Apohaqui – the town’s name means “where two rivers meet” – has a population of 250. It’s also the hometown of a former premier of New Brunswick, Frank McKenna.

Members volunteered at projects across the community in June 2008. One group brought new life to a flower bed overrun with weeds at Sussex Middle School.

But in 1996, a remaining core of six church members invited pastor Kevin Vincent to pack up his family and return to the neighbourhood where he grew up and to a small 13-metre by 20-metre church with no running water.

When Vincent agreed, the congregation had an opportunity for a fresh start, and it made the most of it by inviting in other people from the surrounding community. Their ranks swelled to a couple dozen by the time they started meeting in an elementary school. Today they draw 550 worshippers each weekend, meeting in two locations.

The Grover Mission

ACC explains its mission using the simple concepts of “near and far” – concepts that, Vincent points out, even young children already know from listening to Grover the Muppet on children’s television.

“ACC exists to help people who are far from God come near to God and become passionate Christ-followers.”

This simple strategy, patterned after the first-century church, encompasses five priorities: core habits of the faith, radical generosity, authentic friendships, vital communities and extreme living.

Members are encouraged to ask, “Am I living with extreme imagination of how I can impact my circle of influence for the Kingdom of God?”

The sticky factor

An obvious example of impact is through community service – and service actually grows the church as well. “When you serve, you stick,” declares Vincent.

“You feel connected, and you make a lasting impact with your life. Getting people serving has a far greater ‘sticky factor.’ People come to serve more easily than to join a small group.” The majority of weekly Life Groups “get out of their living rooms,” Vincent reports, as they respond to the question “What would the Kingdom of God look like if it were truly manifest in our community?”

Would the kingdom look something like this? Imagine a caller from the Red Cross phoning to ask “Are you the church that does extreme makeovers for local community groups?”

In Apohaqui the Red Cross needed a new welcome area and office makeover, with doors and windows replaced. A contractor in the congregation examined the need and estimated a volunteer work crew might do the work over three or four days. Hearing this, the Red Cross agreed to pay for supplies if the church could provide the labour.

But when the contractor shared the need with the local hardware store, all the supplies were donated! This community serving arm of ACC has been institutionalized as Life Builders Inc., a non-profit organization that exists to watch, listen and step up to help people in the community whenever and wherever possible – whether a neighbour, a stranger or a local community group.

The Church in the Community In 1996 ACC hired a summer student to conduct a community survey. A clipboard scared people away so the student learned to chat informally, inserting questions like “Do you go to church? Why not? What do you need from a church? If a church were able to meet those needs, would you come?” People’s top priorities were a family-friendly church with programs for children. Out of that beginning emerged a warm, friendly environment that values children. The growing edge of the church is young families.

ACC started a project of watching for needs in the neighbourhood in May 2008, including asking local schools and the town council about their needs. As projects were devised, congregants signed up for specific ones. By the culminating Sunday in June, enthusiasm had grown high. Everyone gathered at the church with their equipment, from trucks to shovels to worship in the community. Then 250 volunteers dispersed for about six hours of service, getting their hands dirty and building relationships with neighbours.

Some served by delivering sandwiches and coffee to 60 site crews. Others painted school benches, installed a clothesline, raked “pea rocks” off a play area and tore down an old barn. While three parishioners stained a deck for a senior resident, a next-door neighbour came to admire their work – and so the team returned the following weekend to stain that neighbour’s deck!

Celebration Sunday the following week was incredible. People shared stories – not about work accomplished but about relationships developed. People began to imagine: “What if ACC could have such an impact that, whenever people within 30 minutes had a need, they would think of asking the church first – as the Red Cross director had?

Global collaboration

Mission, whether near or far, “is all one,” states Vincent. “God impassions different people in unique ways.” ACC’s “afar” ministry evolved gradually. It took a year to identify core global values and another year to check various mission agencies to find a match. Food for the Hungry Canada aligns with ACC’s values for long-term relationships and sustainability.

Dave McIntyre fixing up a picnic table at a special care home.

Four members took ten days to explore high-risk communities in Guatemala, selecting one remote village for partnership. The church now participates in child sponsorships, sends teams for hands-on projects while building relationships and consistently prays for the people in this village.

ACC now aims “to see every young person grow through an experience in the Third World (preferably working on a project with their parents) by the time they graduate.”

Challenges past and present

The “original six” who refused to give up the dying congregation are the real heroes of this story! They imagined God was up to something and got on board. They worked hard to listen to their community. And they imagined a house of faith that would embrace their community. Now ACC is known as “the church for kids” – 200 of them! (Another 200 adults also gather regularly in small groups.) ACC dedicated a children’s centre in 2004.

In 2008 the congregation also learned what it means to “do church” in multiple locations with a single focus: it spilled over onto a second site at Hampton, about 25 minutes away. Together, the two sites draw about 550 congregants from a 30-minute radius.

ACC’s goal is “to be a church in community (around faith and fellowship) as well as in the community (multi-site).”

Rather than become a “come-to” church, ACC assigned a site pastor, Tony Reicker, in September 2008 to invite neighbours around Hampton to join a core group of 45 commissioned from ACC. Four months later, 100 neighbours were participating at Hampton. The question ACC is now asking, “Lord, are there other communities we can be influencing by commissioning another contingent from the ACC home base?”

Charlene De Haan is a freelance writer in Toronto. She also coordinates the EFC’s Educational Services. Apohaqui Community Church (a.k.a. Atlantic Community Church) is an affiliate of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.

Originally published in Faith Today, May/June 2009.




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