Thinking Out Loud

July 6, 2020

Pages from a Church-Planter’s Diary

Review: Why Would Anyone Go to Church? A Young Community’s Quest to Reclaim Church for Good by Kevin Makins (Baker Books, 2020)

Kevin Makins has assembled the story of planting Eucharist Church in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada so vividly, that there were times I felt I could actually smell the buildings and hear the floors creaking in a succession of five inner city locations.  Eucharist Church is located in the urban core of a city that is now part of what is called the GTHA — the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area — and the book is packed with insights and practical lessons for anyone who wants to do ministry in the inner-city. Learn more from the publisher about the book at this link. Follow Kevin on Twitter at this link.

As I mentioned here just days ago, the period post-2000 brought a bounty of church growth books and no end of people making the attempt to create alternative church experiences that would make it past the critical five-year mark. It had been a long time since I’d looked at this particular book genre, but after some superficial email exchanges with Kevin about book publishing and distribution, something drew me to ask the publicist if any print copies were still available.

I’m so glad I did.

Why Would Anyone Go to Church? arrived on a Tuesday, but I didn’t pick it up until Friday. Before suppertime on Saturday I had consumed its 192 pages. The chapters are somewhat equal parts story and teaching and the story also resonated because my youngest son now lives in Hamilton, where he’s involved with two very different churches in the urban core so it was somewhat easier to picture the environs where the story takes place.

The story is told with generous amounts of humility. That the church has existed in five different locations in ten years offers one indication how it would be hard to proceed otherwise. But Kevin and his wife Meg also demonstrated great resolve and self-awareness as to what projects to accept and which ones to pass, as various opportunities arose. Their giftedness for such a church as this is evident, even if a ‘professional’ team of church planting experts didn’t agree.

Eucharist Church clearly lacks the homogeneity you see in the sprawling suburban churches conveniently located at the intersection of two freeways with a massive parking lot for Becky and her husband to park their van and take their well-dressed 2.4 children to a very age-specific Christian education program tailored just for them.

Rather it’s a mix.

Kevin writes,

Part of our family is toddling. They help us not to take ourselves too seriously.

Part of our family is married. They practice love together for the sake of the community.

Part of our family is single. They strengthen the bonds of friendship.

Part of our family is contemplative. They model how to listen.

Part of our family is faith-filled. They urge us to keep hope alive.

Part of our family is doubting. They remind us that skepticism has its place.

Part of our family has immigrated. They carry in their bodies and culture a different side of the Imago Dei.

Part of our family is queer. They remind us that God is found uniquely among those who don’t fit neatly into our societal boxes.

Part of our family is building its career. They teach us about the importance of work and hustle.

Part of our family is retired. They remind us that there is life after work.

That list just scratches the surface.

It includes people who technically speaking, don’t actually come, at least to weekend services. It includes people who only show up after their latest relationship has crumbled, stop at the church for a reset, and return when the next relationship has collapsed.

The cycle of any given year might include a children’s ministry for which no children show up. Or a Sunday service where everyone stretches out on the pews and shuts their eyes and snoring is absolutely permitted.  Or perhaps a Sunday where, instead of a longer sermon, everybody just shouts out the name of the denomination or type of church they came from, and the list becomes quite lengthy.

It includes potluck dinners which are almost sacramental in nature, a statement I make in this context realizing it could be the subject of a whole other book.

Finally, it includes laughter; it includes tears. Sometimes a lot of tears.

This is church in the margins, the type of church I truly believe Jesus would choose to attend over the mall-like complex in suburbia; and this is a book about a team of people who were willing to risk and willing to get their hands dirty to make it happen.


I used an excerpt from the book last week at Christianity 201. I won’t say this is a typical passage, as I had to choose something devotional for C201, but I wanted to create further awareness of the book. You can read that section at this link.

To recommend a book like this and just continue to go on with Christian life as usual isn’t possible. I have the good fortune of being married to someone who herself demonstrated a great heart for people on the fringes and now serves a church that could hardly be called upscale. Before we got married, I spent several winters doing street ministry in nearby Toronto. Maybe that’s why I get this book.

You don’t need to travel to Africa to go to the mission field. My guess is there’s one not far from where you live.


A copy of Why Would Anyone Go to Church? was generously rushed to me by Graf-Martin Communications – Providing Integrating Marketing in Canada.

Additional media:

June 24, 2020

In the 1970s and 80s, Church Planting, Wasn’t Always “Churches”

In 1987, I wrote an 8-page document entitled, “Proposal for a New Kind of Church in Metro Toronto;” went to a copy store and had 200 copies printed to younger Evangelical leaders. The particular church itself didn’t happen — perhaps it was ahead of its time or perhaps God knew that I just wasn’t ready to lead something that significant — but it’s with some regrets I consider that I could have been known today as the founder of _______ Church. I’d like to think that because the recipients of that document were especially hand-picked that its distribution had some impact.

By 2007, I was part of a cohort of people from different cities who met monthly to discuss what had become a boom in church planting. People who didn’t quite know how to spell ecclesiology were talking about it. Lay people. Not clergy. The term was well-traveled.

This was reflected on the blogs, and I started one myself on a now-defunct religion forum at USAToday, and it was also the subject of many, many books that were published, many of which I carried at a small chain of Christian bookstores I owned. Our small group met every six weeks in a city chosen because it was somewhere in the middle. We continued to have some contact when the group disbanded. The phrase “a different kind of church” was on everyone’s lips and alternative churches were becoming mainstream.

I’ve had a lot of opinions on this subject, but a key word search this morning showed that not all of them have landed here at Thinking Out Loud. I would have thought they had, because this subject is something close to me.

Someone once put it this way,

“Church planting is the extreme sport of ministry.”

In 2004, I started a church of my own. Transformation Church was located in downtown Cobourg, a small town about 70 minutes east of Toronto, Canada. Our first series was 17 weeks entitled, “Ground Zero: Where Everything Ends and Everything Begins.” Just four years out from the World Trade Towers falling in New York City, the series name had more resonance then than it does now. That church ran until March of 2006. (It’s a long story.)

I was reminded then that while it’s probably a good idea to be theologically trained to administer a church, you don’t need a degree to start a church. Of two significant ones in our town, one was founded by a woman they simply refer to as Grandma Caffin. Another came out of a meeting of five families at a picnic table in the park. Most of the people attending those churches — Baptist and Alliance respectively — probably have no idea as to their inauspicious beginnings.

But today, in June 2020, I want to return to the title of today’s piece, but to do so involves one more time travel.

Back in 2008, I wrote an article about a weekly Saturday night event in Toronto called Reach Out.

The setting:  The first Reach Out took place in a Lutheran (I think) church that was built overlooking a large river valley parkland. The front of the church was all glass, so when you looked towards the front, you looked out on a beautiful view. (A later incarnation of Reach Out took place in a downtown church. I only attended that once, and it was so packed I had to sit on the stairs.)

The motto:  “Everyone Gives, Everyone Receives.”  Reach Out was based in I Cor. 14:26 which says, “When you gather together everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.”  (NIVMOL – stands for NIV more or less) So people would jump up — sometimes suddenly — and say, “I have a Psalm;” and then read it; and other would jump up and say, “I have a teaching;” and would give a 60-second teaching; etc. They always said at the outset what it was they were going to say. That way nobody could jump up and say, “I have a cute story about my dog!”

The format:  People gathering talking, mostly in their teens, 20s and 30s; then they would sit down; and then — I don’t know how else to say this — a holy hush would fall over everyone.  What a moment! There would be silence for a minute or two, and then someone would start playing their guitar.   There was blended worship.  This is where I first learned “Oh, The Deep, Deep Love of Jesus” and I had never heard younger people sing classical hymns with such passion. Then there was an extended prayer time. I can’t remember if we broke up into groups of 3 or 4 — I’ve got this part confused with another group I belonged to — but there was plenty of opportunity for people to share requests. Then a teaching.  Then some worship.

I don’t know if we considered it church or not. The test would be to go back in time and ask the people attending if they also had a connection on Sunday mornings. It was just an event that happened and we didn’t try to over analyze. The problem with dissecting a cat is that once you’ve got it all figured out how it works, the cat is dead. Today, Twitter provides us with far too much dissection.

There were other similar things in Toronto. A Christian Church on A Hill, Catacombs, Shekinah. Sadly, I never made it those. I did frequent Christian coffee houses — there were so many in Toronto that several people undertook to publish directories — and a monthly camp reunion (for a camp I’d never attended) called Power and Praise.

Part of what got me thinking about this was watching a YouTube documentary this week about Love Inn, a ministry in Ithica, New York founded in the 1970s by Christian radio personality Scott Ross and part of the Jesus People revolution which was taking place at the time. Watching the 8mm film footage reminded me of the whole vibe.

I know what you’re thinking. When are you going to get to the title of today’s article?

The point I want to make is that on reflection, those early events were created in lieu of church planting. The people who today might be scouting for community centers and high schools to hold weekend service were back then content to put together Tuesday night or Friday night events. They were interdenominational which means the people who attended, often under 30, were part of other fellowships on the weekend, including some who were mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic.

These days, the energy that might go into promoting something like this at a local level is often put toward conferences. They have the advantage of reminding everyone that ‘it’s a big tent’ and that we’re part of a larger family, as well as being able to bring top name speakers and musicians, but they do get expensive and unwieldy.

What about where you live? Is there a weekly Christian event that’s not church your city is known for? Or do people simply attend the megachurch for one service and then go to their own smaller church for connection to family and longtime friends?

I think that gatherings like the ones I described are still needed and hopefully — after the pandemic — we might see new expressions of what it means to be part of the body of Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

May 26, 2011

Small Is Big: Exploring the Simple Church Concept

As churches of all size discover the ‘small group’ or ‘cell group’ concept, many choose to call what they do ‘home church’ or ‘house church,’ the latter term heretofore reserved for entirely different.  So Tony & Felicity Dale, longtime pioneers and advocates for the other kind of house church, have chosen to go with the term ‘simple church’ to describe their efforts and their vision. 

The full title of the Barna Books paperback is, Small is Big: Unleashing the big Impact of Intentionally Small Churches, and is itself a revision of a title from two years earlier, The Rabbit and the Elephant.  (A gratis copy was provided by Tyndale House.)   Unlike its oft-confused counterpart, a true simple church is a freestanding model lacking nothing in terms of resources that a larger church might have to offer, though with obvious downscaling of programs and amenities such as nurseries, youth ministries, worship bands, etc.

Having said all that, toward the end of the book, the authors relate ways in which simple churches and megachurches are in fact sharing resources, and how megachurch staff are studying the intimacy and community of the microchurch to see what might be learned. 

But in another section, where there is discussion of people exiting larger churches missing the diversity and excitement of the larger crowd, they refer to a period of ‘detox’ while withdrawing from the large church experience.  Personally, I think the language might have offered a better term, because whether or not the authors intended it, there is the implicit suggestion that there is something ‘toxic’ from which the former parishioner must be cleansed.

The authors’ experience and knowledge of this movement both in the UK and the USA is probably quite unrivaled. As I read it, I thought of people I know who are doing this very thing, and considered that this could be a ‘calling card’ of sorts to fully explain what they do to anyone curious.  This book defines both the blessings of this rapdily growing type of church experience, as well as the pitfalls and dangers of beginning incorrectly.

One of my concerns about the house simple church movement has always been that it tends to attract those from the charismatic end of the larger evangelical spectrum.  Several times here, the language used to describe their gatherings talks about ‘prophetic words’ and ‘moving in the gifts of the Spirit;’ terms that are familiar enough to many of us, but equally unfamiliar to, for sake of illustration, Baptists.  And I suppose that if the simple church movement is really going to sweep across a broader or more mainstream Evangelical landscape, I’d like to see people doing simple church in a way that, for sake of illustration, a Baptist would be comfortable attending. 

Or maybe I’m wrong on that altogether.  Perhaps the simple church movement is in fact a movement in a slightly more Charismatic direction; that in the absence of structures and programs and hierarchies, dependence on the Holy Spirit has to be elevated.  This is reinforced when you consider that if you were to attend a simple church with Tony and Felicity, one of the first two things you might notice is that no one individual is in charge and there is no prescribed ‘order of service.’  While the worship might consist of a few songs you know, there is also spontaneous worship and what we know as ‘sermon’ is often replaced by a much more interactive time of people sharing insights into God’s word, and linking testimonies to teaching.

There are some aspects of Small is Big that reiterated material I had already covered in books by Michael Frost and Frank Viola and Wayne Jacobsen, and reinforced many things I already believe.  But if the simple church concept is new to you, I would suggest (a) read the book, as it is a complete encyclopedia of everything you need to know about this subject; and (b) find out if there is a simple church meeting somewhere nearby and make arrangements to attend.

It might be the closest you get to experiencing what the early church in Acts experienced.

February 2, 2011

Wednesday Link List

We read blogs so you don’t have to!  Or something.

  • Brent Mosley is president of Bluefish TV, the company that makes — among other things — those little two-minute video clips that start your weekly worship service.  He blogs, too.  Check out Is The Church Telling The Complete Story?
  • Speaking of video, it’s been three years since it was filmed and two years since it was released on DVD, but now you can watch Joe Manafo’s detailed 42-minute documentary study of alternative churches in Canada in its entirety at the website for One Size Fits All.
  • A list with ten things is actually easier to produce than when you decide to narrow it down to five.  And these five are well-chosen.  Trevin Wax posts Five Trends to Watch for in Evangelical Christianity.
  • And speaking of Trevin, here’s a video of a church promotion that he (and Zach at Vitamin Z) think is one of the best church advertisements ever.  “Before we tell you who we are, we want to tell you who we were.”
  • Contemporary Christian book author Skye Jethani tells why he doesn’t read many books by contemporary Christian book authors, in a piece at Out of Ur provocatively titled, I Read Dead People.
  • Dan Horwedel whisks you on a link-list journey of his own in a fascinating examination of the Christian worship song, God of This City.  Both the major-key version and the minor-key version.
  • I don’t read — let alone link — to Ann Welch’s blog very often because it’s more of a women’s blog and a parenting blog, but she’s been in the link-list here since day one because she is a blogger who has my utmost respect. Here’s a shorter piece even the guys can take a minute to read at her blog Resolved 2 Worship, titled Dart Throwing.  (Turn your speakers up, too; she’s got a great blog playlist.)
  • Chuck Colson believes that while most Christian children’s books contain a Bible narrative followed by “the moral of the story,” we need to teach kids to recognize the worldview being promoted in everything they read.  And he’s introducing a product that will help them do just that.
  • Pete Wilson raises the oft-discussed issue of swearing, or things that some people consider swearing.   200 comments so far about words like darn, dang, heck, geez, and shoot.  (And then, Daniel Jepson raises the same topic, too.)
  • A woman in a senior’s home invites John Shore into her room, and then dies holding on to John’s hand.  Yikes!  Obviously, readers are wondering why the story is just surfacing now.
  • Albert Mohler thinks that Piers Morgan’s interview with Joel Osteen identifies one topic where we either stand for Biblical truth or we try to dance around its politically incorrect implications.  Mohler says that sooner or later we’ll have to deal with our own Osteen Moment.
  • A Tennessee pastor refused to baptize a couple’s baby because the couple wasn’t married. He wants to make a statement about teen pregnancy.
  • Time for a quick hymn sing.  Here’s a couple of versions of a classic hymn that is well-known in England but not at all in North America.  One version is more modern, the other is most formal, but both of them work.  Check out Tell Out My Soul.
  • This week we should pay Trevin a commission.  If you’ve read the bestselling book Radical by David Platt (Waterbrook), you know all about “Secret Church.”  Well, this year, the event is available as a simulcast for any church that wants in. (Posted even though the event is a Lifeway thing. Look guys; no hard feelings!)
  • Here’s a return of a Link List favorite; Mike Morgan’s weekly comic, For Heaven’s Sake.

January 11, 2009

Blog Updates

lynxMedia Section

In the lynx links section today I’ve added two new listings under “Media.”  The documentary on Lonnie Frisbee has been covered here before, but today we’re also adding a link to a Canadian documentary that deals with “fringe” churches.    Here’s how I described it in an e-mail this week:

one-size-fits-all2Some of you may have heard Joe Manafo speak at the Canadian Youth Workers Conference.   Joe is part of an alternative church plant in Sarnia called theStory and founder of Thinkerlabs. He has recently completed a 43-minute DVD documentary called One Size Fits All? – Exploring New and Evolving Forms of Church in Canada …   The documentary covers church plants in every province except Newfoundland.   You can learn more at  http://www.onesizefitsall.ca/ The price is $24.99 CDN and we’re carrying these to support Joe’s efforts both at film making and research, hoping that you’ll want to do the same.

If you’re one of my local readers, we picked this up for our bookstore; if you’re reading from anywhere else you can order it from the website.   Unfortunately, I didn’t ask Joe to include a “demo” at this stage, but you’ll find some sample clips on the website.

This Just In:

No word in the English language rhymes with month, orange, silver or purple.   (Interesting that three of those are colors, since there’s also no way to really describe color.)   Break into groups of three or four and discuss.

linksMore About Lynx Links:

I also added a couple of new blogs to the links today.   What I’m always looking for is something that is generally Christ-focused (or at least church-focused, or Bible-focused) on a day-to-day basis, with frequent new posts, that is not too dry or too deep for the average person, visually engaging, and not solely of interest to professional clergy, and not too Twittery (i.e. self-focused).   Got suggestions?

ESV Study Bible clarification:

Jon Rising, who blogs at Word and Spirit sent me this the other day and I thought I should share it:

Tim Challies does not agree that the ESV Study Bible is strongly Reformed in its theology. Here is what he blogged:

esv-study-bible“…The ESV Study Bible, on the other hand, offers a wider or less-defined perspective. Where the doctrine is clear and undisputed among Evangelicals, so too are the notes. But where doctrines are controversial and within the area of Christian freedom or disputable matters, the notes tend not to take a firm position, even when the author or editor is firmly in one camp or the other. Whether this is positive or negative may well depend on the individual reader.
To satisfy my curiosity, I opened my NIV Study Bible, Reformation Study Bible, MacArthur Study Bible and ESV Study Bible and compared their notes on several areas of controversial theology—end times, predestination and spiritual gifts. None of these Bibles offered notes that were unbiblical so I was left looking for the differences in perspective.

In general I found that theMacArthur Study Bible offered the most defined position. This makes good sense as it represents the position of a single individual. This was followed by the Reformation Study Bible which offers the position of many individuals but each of them drawn from a very consistent theological position. The ESV Study Bible came next, offering a charitable but open view on most of these issues. The NIV Study Bible seemed almost to shy away from some of the issues.

So while it is clear that the ESV Study Bible is not distinctly Reformed in its position, neither is it Arminian. It is not cessationist or continuationist and is neither amillennial nor premillennial. In fact, it seems as if it emulates the parent who tells one of his children to cut the last piece of cake in half and the other to choose the first piece. In many cases a person from one perspective wrote the notes while a person from the other perspective screened them. This ensures the notes maintain both charity and some degree of objectivity in those areas of dispute.”

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