This week I chatted with Barbara Peterson who pastors the Spanish congregation Iglesia del Buen Samaritano at New Horizons Community Church in Sarnia, Ontario.
Barbara and her husband Lloyd just returned from two months of mission service in Mexico and the Dominican Republic. I knew before speaking with her there would be lots to write about but what I didn’t know was that this trip is part of a larger story.
In Mexico, Barbara and Lloyd visited a Free Methodist church in Chihuahua and then travelled further south to visit in the homes Mexician migrant workers who are part of Iglesia del Buen Samaritano from February to December. This was a wonderful opportunity to meet their families, enjoy a meal and share the gospel. They also provided one family with study bibles - a wonderful gift given that this particular father is the first Christian in his community of six hundred.
In the Dominican Republic Barbara and Lloyd connected with a number of teams from FMC churches including Sault Ste. Marie, Harrowsmith and New Horizons Community Church. They spent most of their time in the community of Navas working side by side with a local FM church. The teams participated in worship, teaching balloon shaping workshops, writing Sunday school curriculum and delivering benevolent packages and medication to families in need.
The larger story revealed itself when I asked Barbara how and when the Dominican connection came to be. Lloyd went on his first mission trip to the DR in 1988 and when he returned Barbara asked him what the trip was like. His response, “You’ll find out. You are going next year.”
Barbara did go the following year but as she told me, “I wasn’t sure I wanted to go because I wasn’t sure I wanted God to do things in my life and I wasn’t sure I was ready for that.”
Ready or not Barbara stepped up to the plate and since 1988 she and Lloyd have travelled to the DR thirty times and to Mexico ten times. As I let those numbers sink in I was astounded and humbled by their length of service, dedication and obedience to God. I was also thankful for the relationships and friendships they have established in both countries and inspired by their work as mentors.
And why do they do what they do? Barbara’s answer was pretty straightforward, “We love sharing the Lord with people. We love helping others be able to do that.”
A few months ago I asked Dan Sheffield, “Why aren’t we a church plant?” - referring to Uncrowded House our Hamilton-based house church. Most of you know Dan as the Director of Intercultural and Global Ministries but to me he is that bearded guy in our church who plays guitar, shows our kids scary videos when he leads kid’s time and treats us like guinea pigs for new discipleship studies.
I do remember Dan answering my question but I must have been super tired or had a short attention span that day because I can’t quite recall all the details in his answer. So I decided to call Jared Siebert, Director of Growth Ministries and ask him the same question. This time I recorded the conversation just to be on the safe side.
Turns out this becoming a church is not as daunting as one might think. Jared walked me through the basics and then I consulted the Free Methodist Church in Canada Manual available for all to see on FMCIC website and voila it is pretty straightforward.
The Manual has a whole section on “The Formation of New Churches” and it starts, “Kingdom growth not only requires the development of larger local churches, but also more and varied local churches. Church growth research tells us that new churches are often the most effective at reaching the lost for Christ.”
I like the “varied” in there. There is no cookie cutter, one size fits all church planting plan. Yes, there is a process, criteria and benchmarks but our movement is healthy and receptive to all different kinds of church plants. As Jared told me, “Church planting is a real option in our movement. People want to do it.”
So exactly what is a church plant? Jared explained it this way, “A church plant is a group of believers that want to become a church and they have a relationship with the Free Methodist Church in Canada. They generally have a sponsoring church.”
I also found this gem on the FMIC website in the section on Church Planting Philosophy, “The planting of churches is “atmosphered” by FMCIC but the sole initiative for church planting comes from the planters themselves. The question of where to plant comes primarily from the grass-roots of our movement. We have no giant map of Canada on which we move churches and pastors around like pieces in a giant game of RISK.”
The “atmosphered” idea continues a few paragraphs later, “We allow the patterns, directions, foci and responses to emerge from our Church Plants as we pursue our central vision of “A Healthy Church within the reach of every Canadian and beyond.” As a rule we allow things to take their natural course rather than frequent and constant interventions. We believe supporting the natural growth that occurs when we actively participate in God’s dreams.”
The Coles Notes version of church planting journey looks something like this:
Church planter is evaluated and approved. Church planter establishes a core group and finds FMC sponsor ready to sign on and provide support. Church planter assembles leadership team, develops ministry plan and applies for charitable status with Canadian Government. Church plant then connects with a network.
Church plant moves to Fellowship Status when it 1) has at least twelve members who have been adequately prepared through membership instruction, 2) becomes financially independent, 3) has sustainable leadership and 4) has a sense of identity and calling. At this point the sponsoring church is no longer supporting the church plant financially but is still in the picture lending support.
The final phase is from Fellowship Status to Society Status and as Jared shared, “Once a church has been a Fellowship for a while we would welcome them into Society Status. Generally, we are setting seven years as the benchmark for church plant to Society. Sometimes it takes a little longer sometimes it’s a little shorter.”
As I said it appears church planting is a straightforward process but I did not say it was easy or without challenges. Not all church planting ideas work. Some do not make it to Fellowship Status. Some church plants grow into something completely different from what was originally imagined. Some congregations carry on without the original church planter. It is clear that the resilience and versatility of the church planters and the community both factor into the success of a church plant.
I asked Jared what the FMC’s success rate was for church planters, “Most of the time they try and it does work. We have a 72-73% success rate. That is over a study of 15-18 years.” Some pretty good numbers.
And our movement is committed to the success of church plants, “We want you to pursue God’s dream for your life and neighbourhood. We believe that the best way to do that is to give you the resources as you need them. If some of our resources don’t work tell us and we’ll help you find other ones.” – FMCIC website.
So back to my original question, “Why aren’t we a church plant?” 1) We haven’t worked out the identity and calling piece and 2) we haven’t said yes to it. Seems these sofas in our house church are a little too comfy. Perhaps it is time for another visioning meeting. I am encouraged because as Jared said, “It is not much of a switch to flip.”
I thought it would be cool to follow the journey of a church plant that has flipped the switch. Darryl Dozlaw and his wife Vonda will be moving from Regina to Saskatoon to plant a church. I will follow their story over the long haul with updates on their journey every couple of months. Stay tuned.