During his career as a stockbroker in Toronto, Canada, Jim Tune began to feel an emptiness in his life. He pursued answers through the “self-help” route, then one evening, in desperation, he picked up a Bible at his bedside, turned to the Beatitudes, and his life has never been the same since. He and his wife, Claudia, sold their financial consulting firm, and Jim enrolled in a small Bible college in Toronto. Two years later Jim was the preaching minister at Keele Street Church of Christ. After six years at Keele Street, he left to start Churchill Meadows Christian Church (in a suburb of Toronto) and Impact Canada, a church-planting organization dedicated to starting churches in Canada’s urban centers.
Would you describe Canada as a Christian nation?
Definitely not. It was. That would have been an accurate description 50 years ago but certainly not today.
So would you describe Canada as a mission field?
When you travel to a Third World country the needs are obvious because of the economic context. In Canada, on the surface, the needs are less visible. However Canada has fewer churches and is in poorer spiritual health than many of the countries to which we would routinely send mission dollars and missionaries. Since we have the same economic prosperity and freedoms as America, it doesn’t always register as a mission field, but we’re a Third World country spiritually.
Do you feel Americans misunderstand Canada?
I think there are some levels of misunderstanding. Canadians know much more about the United States—current affairs, government, politics—than Americans know about Canada. That’s to be expected, but it creates some sensitivity among some Canadians.
Is the spiritual state of Canada a picture of the future in the United States?
I believe it is. I believe we’re a barometer for what’s coming your way. I would say that we’re at least 20 years further down the postmodern, post-Christian road than is much of the U.S. In that sense we more resemble, spiritually, Western Europe—France and England—than we do the U.S.
So how does a guy from the suburbs of Toronto impact Canada?
We agree with what Peter Wagner said, that church planting is “the single most effective evangelistic methodology under Heaven.”1 Some of our church-planting initiatives may look a little different than how it’s done in the U.S., but we’re finding some good success in Canada’s urban areas.
How are things different than in the U.S.?
In general, Canadians are more comfortable with Canada’s diversity. The United Nations recognized Toronto as the most ethnically diverse city in the world. In major Canadian cities you see all of the nations living in the same communities together, rather than in segregation. Canadians find it natural to mix ethnically. So all of our new churches thus far have been intentionally multicultural. We take that into account from the very beginning.
In our prelaunch phase we celebrate the mutlicultural heritage of our community. That’s an important part of what we do. We’re not trying to do it from a quota standpoint, but we are very intentional that multiple cultures are visible in our advertising, leadership, on the stage, and in praise teams. All of that is to reinforce to the community our concern for the nations. That concern is visible in the ethnic diversity of congregations such as Churchill Meadows Christian Church, Freshwater Christian Church, and Westcoast Christian Church where as many as 30 different ethnic groups are represented each Sunday.
Would you describe Canada as a secular society?
I would say that urban Canada is decidedly secular. There are two Canadas. Most Canadians live in urban centers, and those are highly secularized environments. Rural Canada, on the other hand, still has some areas where a higher percentage of people attend church.
Does evangelical Christianity have any kind of foothold?
In Ontario there are 12 million people, which is roughly the population of the state of Ohio, and there are eight independent Christian churches. Those churches have a combined total of about 600 in attendance. Where we planted Churchill Meadows six years ago, Muslims and Hindus clearly outnumbered evangelical Christians of any tribe or stripe.
Does the secular nature of the society present more obstacles or opportunities?
That’s a good question. I think it provides opportunities for spiritual conversations. The hard part is that most people think the church doesn’t have the answers. The good news is there is an appetite, so when we earn the right to speak, there tends to be an openness to what we have to say. I was told not to plant in west Toronto because the people were nonresponsive, but we were able to plant a church that has baptized more than 50 people a year and has seen Muslims, Hindus, and people from all nations come to Christ.
Is the context of working among other world religions the most difficult challenge you face?
I think the plurality of faiths, the multifaith context we’re in, makes it more challenging for us. When we do evangelism in our community, the chances are that the person we speak to already subscribes to a major world religion other than Christianity. When we knocked on the doors of homes doing survey work in our community, the parents and grandparents of the kid who answered the door have never been to church—it’s not even on their radar. We have to engage them through acts of service in our community—earning their trust.
What is the state of the Christian church in Canada?
There are about 55 active Christian churches from coast to coast in Canada, with about 5,000 members total. Churches averaging more than 200 in attendance are rare.
It sounds as if church planting is a new phenomenon in Canadian churches.
When we planted Churchill Meadows it was the first independent church plant in the province of Ontario in over 40 years. There was no significant church-planting activity in Toronto since the early 1960s. Over the same period there have been multiple church closures.
Are the churches supportive of your work?
We have greater strength here in Ontario because it is where we began. There is a growing constituency of Canadian churches that are excited about what we are doing, especially since we have been able to partner with churches in British Columbia and Alberta.
Where is your primary support (financial, logistical, prayer) coming from?
From the financial standpoint 80 percent of our financial backing comes from U.S. churches and church-planting organizations. That’s simply a reflection of the fact that our constituency here in Canada is just too small from the human and financial resource standpoint to fund a church-planting movement.
What are you doing to build support from within?
Clear back when we started Churchill Meadows we determined to be a church-planting church. We put it in the initial “DNA” of our congregation. Not only would we look to plant daughter churches every three years, but from our very first offering we have tithed 10 percent of our offering back to Impact Canada to fund Canadian church plants. Every church that we plant must commit to being a reproducing church and must commit to tithing 10 percent to Impact Canada to help fund a church-planting movement.
How has that been working for you?
Churchill Meadows directly daughtered another Toronto plant, called Freshwater Christian Church, and to do that we tithed people—a tenth of our membership—as well as significant financial resources.
Have there been other plants?
At this point, Impact Canada has five plants in five years and we have three projects scheduled for 2008. All three ’08 projects are scheduled for the Greater Toronto area. They include a multicultural plant, a Polish plant, and a Filipino plant. The West Coast Christian Church that launched in January 2007 in Surrey, British Columbia, was started by my associate minister at Churchill Meadows, Kurt Kuykendall. Churchill Meadows was very much involved in that plant.
Besides sending Kurt, how were you involved? British Columbia is on the other end of the continent.
We still do phone campaigns here when we plant churches—in a noninvasive way—rarely stirring up any anger when we call. When Kurt left to start the church in British Columbia, we set up a call center here in Toronto with 10 to 20 volunteers every night for three weeks, five nights a week. We made invitation calls into Kurt’s target area. So Churchill Meadows is very much a partner, although we don’t partner in every Canadian plant. We don’t consider ourselves the parent church of every Impact Canada plant.
The field is so broad. How do you decide where to start a new church?
We’ve said “no” to some opportunities that don’t fit our criteria of planting churches in the most highly populated, highly unchurched urban areas. We’re quite deliberate in focusing all of our efforts in planting in Canada’s major unchurched cities. Our approach is to set up a major impact church—we set up a beachhead—by starting a high-impact, reproducing church. Then we assist that church to reproduce in its community.
We don’t have church multiplication yet; we have church reproduction. We’ll commit significant resources to a target area until church multiplication happens. It’s our hope that the churches we have planted will then carry the ball for church planting in that region.
Urban church planting can be very costly.
Because we are determined to impact urban centers there is a cost—the cost of living and the cost of land makes it very difficult for any of our churches to acquire property and build. It may be that many of our churches will always minister out of rented facilities, but if we really want to create a church-planting movement, we have to make the leap to some bricks and mortar. Land prices are prohibitively expensive for many churches to buy property and build. Recently, in partnership with Church Development Fund, Churchill Meadows was able to buy nine acres fronting Canada’s busiest highway. Our dream is to see this facility also provide the headquarters and training facilities for Impact Canada.
Since your churches are raising up brand-new Christians from a secular background, leadership training must be a big issue for you.
One of our biggest challenges is training. We’ve always said we want to train up leaders from the harvest for the harvest. Typically, when we plant a church we don’t experience a great infusion of mature Christians who are already equipped to lead and serve. How do you develop leadership training in a place where you have sharp, committed men and women who have never had a day of Sunday school, let alone Bible college?
I thought I was asking the questions! That’s a good one. How do you do it?
We have created a Strategic Training and Equipping Center. It’s not a Bible college—it’s not intended to be one. But we provide a combination of quarterly seminars on Christian leadership. We’ve had seminars conducted by Bob Russell, Roy Lawson, and others. We have a core group of courses that can be taken one night per week for seven weeks—eight courses over a two-year period—that include things like introduction to the Bible, principles of Christian teaching, Christian apologetics, and leadership development. We’re trying to give them basic Bible knowledge and theological formation along with practical ministry skills.
Where will you find church planters? Canada? The United States? Elsewhere?
There are two ways. One is through the Strategic Training and Equipping Center. We hope it will be the primary engine for providing future elders, teachers, and church planters. The other way up until now has been old-fashioned recruitment. We try to be present at church-planting events to recruit church-planting teams and leaders.
Is there a cultural divide that makes it difficult for Americans to plant churches in Canada?
When we started I thought that Americans would not be good choices for starting churches in Canada, but I’ve changed my mind on that. What I’ve found is that when you’re in an environment where everybody is from somewhere other than Canada it really doesn’t matter where they’re from. An American leader who is socially and culturally sensitive can certainly be involved in church planting in Canada.
How do you juggle your church ministry with your church-planting work?
It’s hard; it’s a real challenge. As it stands now, I lead both Impact Canada and Churchill Meadows Christian Church. Churchill Meadows is a multistaff congregation, so that has helped me. I can schedule occasional pulpit relief and have confidence while I’m traveling that things at the church are going to be well-maintained. It’s grown to where I have two full-time jobs. Last year Impact Canada hired a half-time communications director. As Impact Canada’s resources grow we hope to hire a managing director to oversee day-to-day operations.
Any final comments?
Our American partners have been a real encouragement to us. East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, from the outset, has been a significant partner in all of our plants. In 2004 they invited me on their staff to advance church planting in Canada and the Northeastern U.S. Along with East 91st four other American partners have been vital to the establishment and growth of Impact Canada: the Christian Evangelistic Fellowship in Cincinnati, New Churches of Christ Evangelism in Michigan, the Christian Evangelistic Association in Washington, and Stadia.
1C. Peter Wagner, Church Planting for a Greater Harvest (Ventura: Regal Books, 1990), 11.