Photo from flickr by Randen Pederson (CC BY 2.0)

“Replanting” helps churches in crisis flourish

Partnerships allow churches facing closure continue to thrive

Church closure trends have reached alarming levels, with some denominations having to close churches by the week according to recent reports. In a report prepared for the Anglican Diocese of British Columbia in 2010, The status quo is not an option, Anglican bishops were told nationally between 1961 and 2001 the church lost 53 per cent of its membership.

In a 2010 article by the London Free Press, Predeceased by their churches, John Miner finds church closings are also hitting Christians across Southwestern Ontario. "The United Church, Canada's largest Protestant denomination is now closing about one church a week. In the past decade, it has shut more than 400 churches,” he says.

Yet, several churches continue to thrive thanks to partnerships with larger congregations.

“This has been going on for quite a while in the United States, but it’s somewhat new in Canada,” says Ezra Okoti, Mission Campus pastor at Northview Community Church in Abbotsford, B.C. “Sometimes the congregation is getting older or they can no longer support a pastor, but they love the church and they want to continue to meet in their community. So they approach a bigger church and ask them to turn their church into a [satellite] campus.”

Northview just finished “replanting” its first church campus in February. Last summer, the church was approached with the idea by a congregation in Mission, B.C. It was struggling with leadership challenges and an unfinished building project members could no longer afford.

“The church is situated in a new housing development, so there are opportunities to reach all these new families, but we didn’t want to appear like a big church trying to take over little churches,” Okoti explains. “So our elders spoke to the people about what it would look like and told them we would need a very clear invitation to come. Their congregation deliberated prayerfully and voted more than 94 per cent in favour.”

As they prayed about how to most effectively replant the church campus, Northview sought advice from Calgary’s Centre Street Church, which has replanted three campuses across their city.

“Our first campus [replant] was seven years ago,” says Kent Priebe, Centre Street Church’s executive pastor. “Our purpose in doing this is to help us accomplish our mission to introduce people to Jesus and help them become fully devoted followers. A driving qualifier is if we have people from Centre Street living in that area of the city, who are committed to meeting and reaching out to the community in that location.”

Priebe says the biggest challenge as the churches amalgamate is for all the campuses to be unified and maintain their identity as one church family. In order to guard that unity, the campuses all share the same board, budget and vision. Most Sundays, they also hear the same message broadcast through a video connection.

“Unity is a big deal to us. We celebrate each others’ victories and pray for each other. We feel like we can do more together than we can apart. Knowing we are part of the same mission is encouraging and it enhances us because we feel like a large, extended family.”

Each of the replanted campuses have grown significantly, both because of Centre Street members making a campus church their home, but also because of the greater impact in the community.

“As the campuses are revitalized, they feel stronger and more capable of impacting the people around them. Our greatest joy is that by moving from one location to many, people have more opportunities to worship together in their neighbourhoods, they are more accessible in their neighbourhoods, and through the worship services, more small groups are started, bringing the gospel to homes across our city.

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About the author

Senior Correspondent

Craig Macartney lives in Ottawa, Ontario, where he follows global politics and dreams of life in the mission field.