By Jason Lantz
People don’t necessarily view Canton, Ohio, as a thriving city. Well, not yet. Like many urban areas across the country, Canton has felt the negative effects of fatherlessness, a struggling economy, inconsistencies in education, and the decline of once-thriving churches. However, throughout history, God has always called his church to go and shine the brightest in the places that seem the darkest.
I am so thankful Jesus called my family to be a small part of what he’s already doing in Canton. We are a part of a four-year-old church plant called LoveCanton. We get to join other great churches in our area that believe it’s the everyday disciples of Jesus living out their faith in their workplace and neighborhood who will cause Canton to turn to Jesus and thrive once again.
We believe Canton is becoming like the city of Antioch in the Bible, where people want to come and “see the evidence of the grace of God.” We are learning a lot along the way about how we can be the church of Jesus Christ more effectively in our context.
Structures and Rhythms
We build structures and rhythms that emphasize discipleship relationships.
We currently lease a former Lutheran church building near downtown for our Sunday morning worship gathering (which we call “Celebration”). Celebrations are very important for teaching, casting vision, and rejoicing that we are all a part of something bigger than any one of us. But just singing and hearing preaching in a room of hundreds is not effective in helping people fully live as disciples of Jesus. As a result, we’ve decided to meet for our Celebration gathering only every other Sunday.
The other weeks we give our people space to meet all over the city in little churches of 20 to 50 people, which we call “villages.” These midsized gatherings give everybody a chance to play a part and invite friends. They are large enough to tangibly serve a neighborhood or network in the city, but small enough for intentional friendships where we can be accountable and encouraged to live out what we say we believe about Jesus.
Our “villages” are places where we can process the Bible, baptize people, train leaders, take Communion, and collect an offering. We have found that meeting in these smaller churches where everyone can participate makes the words about the church transforming cities in the New Testament come alive.
Our “village” leaders are volunteers who have families, jobs, and busy lives, and are simply following Jesus in the places they already live and work. They are amazing people who are the heart and soul of our church.
To view some examples of LoveCanton “villages,” go to www.lovecanton.com/villages.
Identity and Partnership
We value our unique identity and collaborate with others who do what we don’t.
One of our values is partnership. We have “serving partners” who are faith-based organizations that love children, develop people, and plant churches.
Partnership works well only when both parties clearly know their identity, give and receive from each other to accomplish more than they could by themselves, and don’t focus on who gets the credit. LoveCanton has a unique identity in our context to connect and disciple volunteer leaders. Because of this, most of our money, time, and efforts go toward that.
That also means there are a lot of things we have chosen not to do, because there are other “serving partners” in the city who do those things much better than we do. So, we don’t run after-school programs, feed the poor, or find people jobs and housing. Instead, we disciple volunteer leaders and connect them to partner with organizations around the city that do those things really well.
To learn more about some of the serving partners we are blessed to work with, go to www.lovecanton.com/serving-partners.
We focus strategically on investing in the next generation.
We are learning that to change a city we need to beg God to give us his heart for children. Investing our time and money in children, teenagers, and young adults is the key to ending the cycle of poverty and building a new generation that transforms the city.
We are working hard in our villages to find the best balance between the extremes of babysitting and no structure, so that young families can authentically be on mission with their kids. We give more money to serving partners that serve children rather than adults. We also disciple kids to be missionaries for Jesus. We must do more than say “stay out of trouble” if we hope to keep a young middle school student from ever joining a gang, doing drugs, and ending up in prison.
We’ve learned to tell kids and students, “Your life is your mission.” We teach today’s youth that they are missionaries for Jesus Christ right now in their schools, with their families, and on their sports teams.
To see a great organization in Canton helping students on mission right now, go to www.tomtodideas.org.
I am humbled to be a part of a body of Christ in Canton that is courageously following our Lord. It is my hope we can be an encouragement to many other brothers and sisters who are doing the same in the cities where they live.
Jason Lantz serves as pastor of LoveCanton in Canton, Ohio.