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Canadian Baptists posting record year for new churches

COCHRANE, Alberta, Canada (BP)–The Canadian Convention of Southern Baptists has started a record number of new churches this year and continues to advance toward its goal of 1,000 churches across Canada by 2020.

Paul Johnson, CCSB national church planting consultant, said 33 new Southern Baptist churches have been established from Prince Edward Island to British Columbia, eclipsing the previous single-year high of 23. At the same time, a recent report also indicated the CCSB ranked the highest among intermediate-size denominations for beginning new congregations in Canada from 1998 to 2000.

“This is very encouraging,” Johnson said in a telephone interview. “What we’re seeing is what needs to happen — a grassroots effort at the local level to start new churches.”

According to a study from Church Planting Canada, an arm of the British Columbia-based evangelical church planting and research organization of Outreach Canada, the number of CCSB churches grew at an annual rate of 10.4 percent from 1998 to 2000. From 1992 to 1997, the CCSB grew from 100 to 124 congregations, an average yearly increase of 4.4 percent.

“An important part of this is that half of our new churches started this year are ethnic churches,” said Johnson, who is based at CCSB headquarters in Cochrane, Alberta. “Some have said that the CCSB is the most ethnically diverse convention among Southern Baptists in the world.”

One of the convention’s main goals in the coming year is to encourage local church members to start small-group Bible studies or “Experiencing God” groups that can then develop into new churches. Johnson admitted, however, one hurdle will be overcoming what he called the “intimidation factor” many have about undertaking such endeavors.

“A lot of people think of church as a building, 150 people and a lot of programs,” Johnson said. “But our unofficial theme is going to be the sower parable, sow a Bible study or ‘Experiencing God’ group and let the Lord of the harvest do what’s next.”

In addition, the province of Alberta is being used as a test area for establishing a number of regions where church planting consultants, pastors and other church members help oversee new churches. The predominantly French-speaking province of Quebec, meanwhile, is being targeted as the location of the CCSB’s first center for training leaders to develop new congregations. A similar training center could be started soon in Oakville, Ontario, a Toronto suburb and home of The Sanctuary, a new Southern Baptist church begun two years ago that has already started four other churches.

“It’s most effective to train people in the location in which they will be working,” Johnson said. “It’s not a replacement for seminary, but it’s a complement to it. People with a calling and a heart for their community should get their training in their community where they will be working.”

Other priorities for the coming year will be to continue work in starting new churches on university campuses and encouraging new urban churches in apartment buildings.

“Reaching university students is where we can start transforming Canada,” Gerry Taillon, CCSB national ministry leader, said.

Johnson said the CCSB has been impressed with l’Eglise Impact Church, a downtown Montreal church aimed at the city’s university students. Impact has separate meetings in French and English.

In Alberta, a church aimed at college students recently began at the University of Alberta in Edmonton and another is possibly in the works at the University of Calgary. In British Columbia, college churches have been discussed for the University of Victoria and the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. For the slightly younger set, a church aimed exclusively at youth is in the planning stages for Richmond, British Columbia, a suburb of Vancouver.

Funding for the CCSB’s efforts to start new churches comes mostly from the Cooperative Program. Johnson said CP giving for the Canadian convention in October reached a near-record level, while he added four of the top 10 Canadian Southern Baptist churches donating to the CP are five years old or younger.

“Our greatest need isn’t money, though, it’s for leaders,” he said.

Still, plenty of potential for starting new churches remains in the world’s second-largest country in terms of geographic area.

No Southern Baptist churches exist in the Atlantic provinces of Newfoundland, Labrador and New Brunswick or the territories of the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut, although Johnson said it is possible an already-established unaffiliated Baptist church in Northwest Territories could be joining the CCSB. More than 2,400 First Nations reserves, what are referred to in the United States as Indian reservations, have no evangelical witness, while there is also little evangelical activity among the Inuit, or Eskimo, peoples.

“We haven’t seen a lot of momentum for working with the First Nations,” Johnson said, although he added the Southern Baptist church in Maniwaki, Quebec, recently began a Bible study on the nearby Maniwaki reserve. “Canada’s history with the First Nations isn’t as violent as the Americans’ history with the Indians, but the results have been the same, a demoralized, fragmented people.”

Taillon said establishing ministries in such places would require divine guidance.

“The call of God is the most necessary ingredient,” he said. “Once God grabs someone’s heart to go to areas like these, they need to be willing to sacrifice. In those areas, it’s pioneer work.”
Campbell is a freelance writer based in Prairie Village, Kan.

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  • Harold Campbell