How can we do ministry effectively in a complex, ever-changing context? Ontario Conference directors tackled this question head-on by pivoting what was to be an in-person event—the Urban Mission Convention (UMC)—to online platforms. As we’ve discovered in 2020, even a global pandemic can’t stop ministry. Instead, God can—and has—blessed our efforts to use the tools available to continue reaching Ontario.
Planning for the UMC began last year; however, recent events, including COVID-19 and racial tensions in North America, made it even more critical for this time. Multiple crises created both a need and an opportunity to rethink how we fulfill the great commission. Thus, the planning committee proceeded with this vision—“to establish contextually relevant churches that are present in every environment in Ontario.”
The virtual UMC was divided into two tracks—(a) church planting and (b) church growth. These tracks were founded on the following missions: (a) equip individuals and groups with a passion for urban ministry to plant new urban-focused congregations in big cities and urban centres and (b) inspire and equip growing local congregations to become multiplying, missional, contextually relevant and sending congregations.
Ontario Conference partnered with the North American Division Evangelism Institute to offer a rigorous curriculum in church planting [speakers: Anthony WegenerSmith, Steve Leddy, Boyan Levterov, Halsey Peat] and church growth [speakers: Errol McLean, John T. Boston, Sung Kwon, Ed Schmidt, Jonathan Burnett].
A good cross-section of people, from youth leaders to seniors, attended, and there was something for everyone. Participants especially appreciated the practical experience shared. “I appreciate the time the committee took to find people who didn’t just write research papers or books but are boots on the ground speakers,” said Kevin Benta, Property Management director.
The program began on Friday, Sept. 11, through Sunday, Sept. 13, featuring plenary sessions by Mansfield Edwards, president, on Friday evening and Jakov Bibulovic, executive secretary, on Sabbath morning. Both based their messages on the story of the woman at the well. Edwards noted that once filled with the Living Water, like her, we can also transform our cities by our evangelistic expression. Bibulovic added that we must follow Jesus’ path for urban mission, going into difficult, even undesirable places (e.g., Samaria) to be equipped for further service (e.g., Calvary). Their selection of this passage was one evidence of many that the weekend was Spirit-led.
Over the three days, attendees gained these takeaways and more:
If we want to make real changes in our churches and communities, we have to change our DNA (e.g., lifestyle, values and mindset), first as individuals, then as churches.
If you are not discipling someone, you should not attempt either church planting or church transformation.
In summary, the church multiplication process is a) multiply disciples, b) multiply small groups, c) multiply ministry leaders and d) multiply churches.
Identify your community’s core values by connecting with government, community service and other leaders, identify your church’s core values and determine how you can make a difference within those parameters.
The key to successful church planting and church growth is developing meaningful relationships. Such relationships are founded upon the realization that we are equally sinners saved by grace.
Church planting must begin with a core group. When planting a church (as a pastor or other leader), interview potential disciple-makers and select individuals who are self-sacrificial and mission-oriented.
Cast a vision for your church, have a dream and prepare for that future. Keep reviewing your dream and vision. Most church failures occur because of an ambiguity of purpose.
Every member is a minister. Not only is total member involvement vital for the growth of a church, it is also vital for the continued spiritual growth of members.
As we are doing service in our communities, we must share the gospel of Christ and the hope we have in Him; else, we are doing social work, not gospel work.
Every church plant must have a host church. In Ontario Conference, we acknowledge only new plants belonging to a church and recognized by sister churches.
Quotable quotes from the weekend:
“Growth is defined by a church that continues to re-define and adjust to be relevant to the community!” Pastor Andrew Thomas, Philadelphia Church
“At one point there were 80 comments. People couldn’t contain themselves. They had to say something!” Jakov Bibulovic, executive secretary, commenting on a session by Sung Kwon, North American Division’s Adventist Community Services director.
“Everybody who was on was very much engaged. There were a lot of new and innovative ideas, but I kept seeing [in the chat], I love this, but how do we do it? How do we get our congregations and communities to see this new way of growing together?” Elizabeth Pule, Family Life director, who served as host for sessions in the church transformation track.
In a debrief, Mansfield Edwards rightly noted, “A seminar and workshop [is not the end; rather, it] lays the foundation for the beginning of an important conversation.”
Organizers have already set in motion plans to continue that conversation. Since June, directors’ conversations with leaders in different aspects of urban mission have been aired weekly on Ontario Conference social media. These discussions will continue. Also, attendees were connected to program such as the Adventist Church Planters Exchange (networking group for church planters), Mission Works (tools for church growth and community engagement) and other resources.
We give God thanks for the weekend’s success, with viewers from Ontario, Quebec, the U.S. and more; and we look forward to the continued growth of our ministry in Ontario in these challenging times.