By Kent E. Fillinger
Toronto, Canada, is the most ethnically diverse city in the world. On the west side of Toronto, where Churchill Meadows Christian Church meets, 55 percent of the population
speaks a language other than English in their homes. All totaled, more than 140 languages and dialects are spoken in the city. People of Muslim and Hindu backgrounds outnumber the people with any form of Christian background. Additionally, only 4 percent of the population is churched, which means the majority of people have no frame of reference for Christianity. Culturally, Canada resembles Western Europe more than the United States. Canada is 10 to 20 years farther down the roads of postmodernism and post-Christendom than the U.S.
Before Jim Tune planted Churchill Meadows in Mississauga, a suburb of Toronto, in 2001, the last Christian church planted in Toronto was in 1957. There are only seven Christian churches in Ontario, a province with a population of 13 million, slightly larger than that of Ohio. After a decade of ministry, Churchill Meadows has an average worship attendance of 810, making it the largest Christian church in Canada. It was also the second-fastest-growing large church surveyed last year, with a growth rate of 32 percent. Churchill Meadows has partnered to plant seven churches in Canada since its launch.
The church purchased its property in 2006, but because Toronto is not a church-friendly culture, it took five years to wade through the permit, zoning, and building processes. For the first several years of the church’s existence, no one would rent office space to Tune, so his house doubled as the church office for the entire staff, and his garage and basement functioned as storage space for the church’s equipment, which needed to be set up and taken down for worship each Sunday.
The church moved into its first facility in March 2011, and now occupies a 42,000-square-foot facility with a 700-seat, theater-style worship center. Churchill Meadows received Church Development Fund’s first international loan, which helped make the building project possible. The church has added almost 300 people since moving to its new facility, and has broken 1,000 in attendance a few times.
Simple Church, Growing Church
Churchill Meadows adopted the Simple Church model several years ago, and that model is now being tested as Tune and his team resist the urge to start using the new facility for any and every kind of ministry activity. Tune heard that people have only four hours of available time each week outside of work and home, and he wants to ensure people are not simply busy at church, but that his congregation is being strategic in advancing the church’s mission with the time they have available.
Because Tune and his church reach people with no church background, the church initially functioned without any elders. Tune conducted a survey very early on that indicated 75 percent of the church’s attendees were unbelievers or unchurched prior to coming to Churchill Meadows. Tune started with a raw group and invested time to develop a group of spiritual leaders. Today the church has four elders who help carry some of the pastoral load.
Tune has adjusted his leadership style as the church has grown over the last decade. Given the church’s size, Tune “touches fewer things” and has narrowed his focus. He realizes he is less available to the congregation than he was in the beginning, and it has been a challenge for him as a relational person to change his ministry paradigm. Tune invests most of his energy and his best time in leading staff members to ensure they can effectively direct their ministries.
The church is unique in that it has a multiethnic staff, with Tune the only native Canadian. In hiring church staff Tune has looked at gifting first with a bent toward diversity. Churchill Meadows is somewhat understaffed, but given its sizeable debt and current giving patterns, the church needs to wait for new growth to fund additional staff.
Half of Toronto’s population was born outside of Canada and, therefore, the immigrant population is sizeable. Churchill Meadows seeks to be like family to these new arrivals. A Hispanic church member started a ministry called “The Amigos Program” two years ago with the intent of helping Latin immigrants, but the ministry quickly expanded to minister to all newcomers, regardless of their origin. The Amigos Program has become a core component of Churchill Meadows’s ministry focus.
The church provides English as a Second Language classes, conversational English classes, job skills training sessions, and résumé writing workshops. Churchill Meadows also has people who drive immigrants to interviews and help them get driver’s licenses—one woman even pet sits for people as needed. The Salvation Army recently asked the church to assist at some refugee shelters to minister to these immigrants as well.
All of these efforts to serve the immigrants have been recognized by the community; it has helped the community to better understand the church’s motivation—that the church is in the community to make a positive difference. The result? More people are coming to church. Churchill Meadows has had Muslims and Hindus come to Christ. Tune baptized one Muslim man who eventually baptized the rest of his family.
Tune wants to see Churchill Meadows continue to grow so it can be an engine for church planting and missions throughout Canada.
Kent E. Fillinger is president of 3:STRANDS Consulting, Indianapolis, Indiana, and associate director of projects and partnerships with CMF International.