Montreal mega-church multiplies ministries

LONGUEUIL, PQ—In a province with only 300 evangelical churches, with an average Sunday morning attendance of 68, Eglise Nouvelle Vie (New Life Church) is an outstanding exception.

Located in Longueuil, Quebec on the south shore of Montreal, Nouvelle Vie has grown from 60 to 2,200 people since its inception in 1993. Eighty per cent are new Christians. Pastor Claude Houde gives dynamic leadership to a pastoral team of 10 men and women who head up the ever-expanding roster of ministries.

As programs are developed and adapted to meet the needs of the burgeoning congregation, the building too is continually expanding. "This church has been a construction site ever since it started," quips special events coordinator Jocelyn Olivier with a nod toward the drywaller working on new classrooms.

"We have been through five major building projects in eight years."

Olivier attributes the exponential growth to the quest for excellence that characterizes every aspect of their ministry, the single-mindedness of the leadership team and the contagious passion of their leader.

When Houde began to pastor the church, he was driven by what he calls "a holy obsession with meeting people's needs." His first message was about serving the poor, based on Isaiah 58.

This responsibility toward people in need is "built into the church's DNA," says Olivier. The church began "Action Nouvelle Vie"—the umbrella for several social service-type ministries—in its first year.

Judy Fay heads up Action Nouvelle Vie, which operates in a warehouse separate from the church building. More than 3,000 people benefit from the food bank each month. There is also a clothing store, Christmas baskets, help for "Back to school," counselling services, help for abuse victims and addicts and more.

Helping hands

Olivier tells of a family with seven children who were being evicted from their flat by the city. There was moisture in the walls and mould everywhere. "The place was falling apart. We found them a clean apartment, gave them appliances, fed them and got them back on their feet. Today they are believers and members of our congregation."

The compassion that motivates Nouvelle Vie to give to the poor also drives the other areas of their ministry. "We have a passion to help the poor, to see people get saved and to help Christians grow," says Houde.

Houde observes most churches in Quebec are still operating in the same way the early Protestant churches did when pioneer missionaries came 50 years ago. It's not working any more, he says. In the last 20 years, most churches have stopped growing. "This is not a plateau, it's stagnation," says Houde.

He adds there are so many new people each week at Nouvelle Vie, that it forces him to stay contemporary and to "do church" in a way that attracts unchurched people. "The church in Quebec needs the humility and courage to dare to rethink its methods," he says.

Apart from short and relevant Sunday services, Nouvelle Vie offers weekly cell groups according to geographical proximity and others for special interests and needs. The Friday night youth program includes about 300 young people. Many church members and staff take courses at a nearby Pentecostal Bible Institute.

Nouvelle Vie also has a daily radio show and a four-colour magazine to help get the message out.

As the church grows numerically and the people grow in their faith, they have begun to look beyond their own neighbourhood. "Quebec did not have a big church with all the services," says Houde. "We wanted to do that first. Now we are starting new churches."

Nouvelle Vie has already begun four new churches with more than 200 people attending each. "It is our goal to release a strong group of about 200 people, twice a year, to begin new churches. We want to have a heart relationship with these ministries, but we do not want to run them," says Houde. "Every church needs to have its own identity and leadership."

Houde's vision for his own church, for Quebec and for the francophone world is fired by his experience of six years as a travelling evangelist. "I saw revival in Asia. I saw revival in South America. When I think of Quebec, I shudder and I weep."

Houde speaks of the need of his people with tears in his eyes. And then a determined energy returns to his voice: " I am very excited. Years of harvest are ahead of us. God's best is yet to come."

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