In light of the call of God sensed by the leadership of Central to plant new campuses in Promontory and Lake Errock, and the overwhelming affirmation from Central's congregation on Sunday night (April 23, 2017), I thought it would be helpful to share why we believe in planting new congregations, and in our specific context, new campuses of Central.
Church Planting in Acts
First, lets start with the Bible. Specifically, the Book of Acts. From the Great Commission, to the declaration that disciples would take Jesus to every place, to the planting of churches, it is from this practice by the early church that we take our cue.
It's the process of Go (Matthew 28:19), Be my witnesses (Acts 1:8); Make Disciples (Matthew 28:19-20), and Plant churches (Acts 1-28).
In Acts 13:1-3 we see leaders in the church in Antioch worshipping and fasting and then God calls out from among them their two all-stars: Paul and Barnabas to go and plant churches. What do they do next? They commissioned them and sent them on their way.
Paul and Barnabas went to city after city, proclaiming the gospel and planting churches among those who responded in repentance and faith. We see in Acts 14:25-27 that Paul and Barnabas returned to their church in Antioch, where the congregation was gathered and a report was given about all that God had done. Do you see what's going on? A missionary report is being given to this sending, missional church.
How did they know where to go when? They seemed adamant to go to town after town. It was only when God forbid them from a place (whatever that looked like) that they would skip it. Acts 16:6-10 show us:
And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
This is helpful for us to understand. Jesus builds His Church through church-planting-churches, churches that understand that anywhere there are people there should be a gospel-preaching, Bible-believing, community-engaging church. It's less of a question of why and where and more of a question of why and where not?
Church Planting at Central
This isn’t a new craze or a passing fad. This is both the process in the early church we see in Scripture and in the early days of Central:
Early in 1944, fifteen families settled on farms east of Chilliwack and formed our church. In a few weeks the rented hall could not accommodate all who would come. Every week more benches had to be built. It was apparent we needed our own building, a building large enough to accommodate our worship gatherings. One man gave an acre of his farmland, others gave their labour and all gave what they could. Our first building was completed and we organized as a Mennonite Brethren Church on January 6, 1945.
Before the end of 1947, a mission was established in Laidlaw, a Bible School was organized and a new church was started in town with 60 families. By 1953 a new building was built with increased seating capacity for worship gatherings.
Central was founded on those who leveraged what they had to build the church, plant churches and missions in neighbouring communities, and even start a Bible school.
In recent years we have gotten back to our roots. Our Agassiz Campus launched in 2014 and we continue to look for the missional opportunities that exist in neighbouring communities and in our own neighbourhoods. We believe that the Gospel is the kind of life-transforming news that must be shared and that as it is shared, received, and believed, lives are changed and the church is built.
There are more reasons, I'll give you four:
1. Strong and healthy leadership
2. Equipping the saints
3. Stewarding resources
4. Reaching the unchurched
1. Strong and Healthy Leadership
We typically hear of multi-campus churches that are enormous and located in heavily populated city centres such as New York, Chicago, Seattle, Portland, Toronto and the (GTA), Vancouver, Surrey, etc. We praise God for these flourishing congregations. God is moving mightily in these contexts at this time through churches with multiple campuses.
I would like to argue that there is even more reason for multi-campus churches in rural areas (such as Agassiz and Lake Errock) than in cities. Partially because it is hard for churches with a remnant of people in a rural context to have strong and healthy leadership. Rather than the raising up of biblically qualified elders, many churches in these contexts are forced to have committees made up of whoever is willing.
By doing multi-campus ministry in these areas we are able to have a centralized elder team made up of biblically qualified elders. The goal is to raise up elders over time in these smaller communities who would sit on one centralized elder team. Should the day come when we commission a campus of ours to become it's own autonomous church, one of the non-negotiable essentials would be that it have a plurality of qualified elders (multiple qualified elders sitting on our centralized elders from that campus).
2. Equipping the Saints
This language comes from Ephesians 4:11-13 where it tells us that leaders in the church are given not to do the work of ministry but to equip everyone in the church to do the work of ministry.
In some ways, a multi-campus philosophy and function is the opposite of the single-campus church that builds a bigger building to fit more people at a time. When there is one congregation there can only be one preacher, one worship leader, etc. In our multi-campus setting, there will be four preachers every morning, four worship leaders every morning, etc. This forces us to do what we are supposed to: equip the saints for the work of ministry. When a ministry model forces us to achieve what we're instructed to do in Scripture anyway, it's likely a very good model.
3. Stewarding Resources
Every church in our context has a pile of non-negotiable fixed costs. The "front door" is no longer the front door, the church website is. I'm not a mathematician but I'm pretty sure one website is cheaper than four websites, one photocopier at the hub campus is cheaper than four photocopiers, and one handful of online subscriptions to resources is a lot cheaper than four handfuls.
What that allows us to do is invest in the hard costs once, all necessary, none of them exciting, and put what is saved into resourcing each campus for it's maximum campus and community impact.
4. Reaching the Unchurched
This is the heart of the matter, isn't it?
Dozens of denominational studies have confirmed that the average new church gains most of its new members (60-80%) from the ranks of people who are not attending any worshipping body, while churches over 10-15 years of age gain 80-90% of new members by transfer from other congregations.
There are 3000 people in the Lake Errock area (and growing!) and no other churches between Agassiz and Mission. There are 8000 people (and growing!) in Promontory and no church presence there. Wherever there are people, a gospel-preaching, Bible-believing, Jesus-loving, community-engaging church will bring renewal to it's community.
Historically, in Scripture and in the history of Central, churches that plant churches reach new people with the gospel. It's the methodology under heaven that Christ has chosen to build His Church.
Central, I am thrilled to embark on this next chapter in our history with each and every one of you.
I encourage you to pray about and engage these questions: What will you give? How will you participate?
Together on mission,
Matt Shantz, Lead Pastor