“You’re doing what?” she asked me with puzzlement.
“I’m going to be a church planter in Nova Scotia,” I replied.
“Why in the world would we need another church?” Gina asked. “Don’t we have enough of them that are mostly empty already?”
This young adult Presbyterian had a great question—one that still bears answering 20 years later. So why must the Presbyterian Church in Canada invest extravagantly in church planting?
There’s a new expression of church springing up practically everywhere these days and it’s making a significant mark on the ecclesial landscape. Something remarkable is afoot—God is doing a new thing. A 2010 report by the Church of Scotland suggests that the emergence of such new communities “has every appearance of being one of the most significant missional movements in the recent history of Christianity.”
Why new churches? Because these brand new worshipping communities largely serve those who are outside the existing church. They are a response to extreme changes in our society and to our new missional context where most people have increasingly little to no Christian background. New worshipping communities are springing up in coffee shops, in pubs, in community spaces, even in private homes—the forms are endless—as they attempt to engage those who find the existing church culturally alien and unable to speak to them. These are experiments in a new way of being church at a time when regular church has lost its draw for most in our culture.
In a period of such extreme social change, these new church plants are supple, flexible, open and adaptable in a way that established churches with long-standing traditions find… well… hard and difficult. Investing in new church plants is like investing in experimental greenhouses for a future whose
shape we still don’t know: God is re-forming church.
In 2012 the Presbyterian Church (USA) stepped out and invested in a movement to develop 1,001 brand new worshipping communities over a 10-year-period, with the goal of reaching the unchurched and de-churched for Christ. Already they’ve had about 400 new starts. Now this is courageous work for a church planter—to start a church from scratch. Where would you begin? Who do you turn to for support? It’s potentially very isolating work that you can’t possibly succeed in alone. So the PC(USA) developed a network of church planting coaches—people specially trained to meet monthly by Skype with the church planter pastor to offer companionship, encouragement, and a listening ear. Coaches ask great
questions that help church planters discover their gifts, deepen their spiritual leadership and discern the way forward when they get stuck. They coach for the success of the mission, not merely as life-coaches to the individual.
Did you know that for some years now the PCC, in partnership with the PC(USA), has been training church planting coaches for our Canadian context? A team of five fully trained coaches from across the country are ready to go, all with personal experience in church planting or congregational re-development. Sherif Garas coaches a new Arabic congregation in Winnipeg; Matt Brough coached a house church in Halifax; Dianne Ollerenshaw uses coaching in her work as a synod staff person in Alberta and the Northwest; Heather Malnick coaches a neighbouring congregation toward redevelopment in Barrie presbytery; and I am coaching the new start at Heritage Green in Hamilton. Some wonderful things are taking shape.
Have you ever left a conversation with new clarity, insight, and courage? That’s the kind of feeling you get with a great coach. Coaching offers balcony-time—an opportunity to step out for an hour and see things from a different perspective. It helps you find focus, eliminate distractions and even swim upstream when necessary in order to keep moving the ministry forward. Once a year coaches travel to the new ministry in person to do a site visit and also speak with presbytery representatives. Coaches don’t have all the answers—but we do offer friendship and a space where hard questions can be struggled through together—with prayer, and an openness to Spirit’s leading and God’s will. PC(USA) research has shown that coaching significantly increases the success rate of these new starts. Therefore in their system all advanced grants require a coach.
One church planter writes about his coaching experience: “You think you know what you are doing, but actually you don’t. You might have all kinds of theological training, ministry experience and all the best ideas. You might have read all the books. But you will hit the wall. You will have anxiety that you haven’t faced before. You will feel alone. You will want to give up. You won’t know whether to do this or do that and there will be no one to tell you. A coach doesn’t tell you exactly what to do, but they listen and help you figure it out. They’ve been there too.”
So what do you say? Is God calling your presbytery to be a greenhouse site for one of these experimental new worshipping communities? Might God even be calling you to step up, to start praying and start a conversation? Or maybe God has already been nudging you toward being a church planter? Then we would love to hear from you! For as we see again and again, truly nothing will be impossible for the living God.