By Jim Tune
Eastern Canada (Ontario and the Maritime provinces) was the seedbed for what finally became known as the Restoration Movement in Canada. Long before the thoughts of Barton Stone were circulated north of the 49th parallel, and several decades before Alexander Campbell visited the Canadian churches, a simple movement—similar, but not identical to that in the United States—took root in Canada. It was an appeal to model the church according to the simple doctrine and polity of the New Testament, to pursue unity, and to discard denominational labels and creeds.
Scottish “restorationists” arrived upon the shores of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island bringing with them the beliefs and practices that eventually led to the development of the Christian churches and churches of Christ in Canada. Congregations were started that remembered the Lord’s Supper weekly and preached New Testament Christianity.
These ideas spread westward. Churches were planted across Ontario and adopted mottoes such as “No creed but Christ, no book but the Bible.” As was true among their American counterparts, these new congregations sought to be known as “Christians only, but not the only Christians.” Campbell’s influence began to be felt through publications during the 1830s and 1840s, and was cemented during an extensive visit to Ontario in 1855.
New church work and growth was immediate during this period. During a 10-year span that started in the mid-1820s, no fewer than 24 new churches began in Ontario. Meanwhile, work continued in earnest in Atlantic Canada. More than 40 new churches were started in the Maritimes with combined membership exceeding 3,500! By 1900 there were approximately 85 churches in Ontario!
Division and Decline
Like our American counterparts, momentum nearly came to a halt due to splits and controversies related to use of musical instruments, liberalism, open membership, and regional disparities. The second half of the 20th century witnessed a decline in the number and influence of independent churches in Canada. In Ontario, while exact numbers are difficult to come by, all three streams of Restoration Movement churches have experienced plateau, and in some cases, steep decline.
The tribe I primarily associate with is commonly referred to as the independent Christian churches or “independents.” In Ontario, prior to the new church planting efforts in this new millennium, only a single new church had been planted since 1960. During that same four-decade period, at least six independent Christian churches closed their doors permanently, and the remaining congregations, with a few exceptions, declined significantly.
In the Maritimes, the pattern of decline was less severe. Several churches closed, but about 32 independent congregations remain, with combined membership of about 2,200.
Several noble church planting initiatives were undertaken in Eastern Canada in the second half of the 20th century. Maritime Christian College continued to train potential leaders and encourage church planting in the Atlantic region. Partners in Atlantic Canada Evangelism (PACE) was formed as an evangelistic association. Their efforts met with limited success, despite an earnest desire to see new church work get underway. Still, some new work was begun that has reached new souls for Christ.
Signs of Hope for a Robust New Millennium!
Now for some good news! Over the past 15 years there has been a marked church planting resurgence in Eastern Canada. While PACE continued its activities in Atlantic Canada, a new church planting organization called Impact Ontario got underway in the Toronto area. (Impact Canada is now a division of a national church planting organization registered as Impact Ministry Group.)
Impact’s initial board consisted of a number of Canadian and American leaders who had grown concerned about the decline of the Christian church in Ontario. I was one of the original board members. My wife, Claudia, and I were called to plant a new church in Toronto’s growing western suburbs. We tried to learn everything we could about church planting methods and began the daunting task of fund-raising in a province with no evangelistic association and a small community of churches.
The goal was not simply to plant a church, but to establish a reproducing, church-planting-church—a church that would commit, God-willing, to daughter a new congregation at least every three years. This became the first new independent Christian church planted in Ontario in nearly 40 years!
A team was formed and a small army of prayer warriors was mobilized. The launch team of 18 people worked diligently to market the church. Our launch team hosted community BBQs, did days of service in the community, blitzed homes with postcards and door hangers—you name it, we tried it. The church prayed to “break 200” with our opening day crowd.
There was great rejoicing when more than 450 people attended our first Sunday service. Over several months, Churchill Meadows Christian Church slid back to a low of about 175. Today the church is the largest independent Christian church in Canada, averaging about 800 on Sundays, and regularly exceeding 1,000 in attendance on bigger days. In 2010 the church completed and occupied a new 43,000-square-foot facility that provides plenty of room for continued growth!
The best news is that more than 600 people have been baptized into Christ at Churchill Meadows since the church began 11 years ago. Praise God!
Our report on Eastern Canada wouldn’t be complete without mentioning a key milestone reached back in 2005. Impact Canada was formed and is the only nationwide church planting organization among the independent Christian churches in Canada.
True to its ambition to daughter a congregation every three years, Churchill Meadows commissioned key staff members Kurt and Tammy Kuykendall to plant a new church in the ethnically diverse city of Surrey, outside Vancouver, British Columbia. Traditionally Restoration Movement church planting networks have struggled to get a foothold in the Vancouver area, but the Kuykendalls successfully launched a growing new church there—our best beachhead yet!
This was a daughter plant of Churchill Meadows Christian Church, in partnership with Impact Canada and a network of western Canadian churches, including Bow Valley Christian Church in Calgary. Today, Westcoast Christian Church has its own elder team and is financially self-supporting. It is saving to purchase a permanent facility and is looking forward to planting a daughter church.
Back in the Toronto region, four new churches have been planted since 2006, including Maple Leaf Christian Church (a Brazilian congregation) and Polish Christian Church. Impact Canada has developed a training and equipping center designed to educate and disciple new leaders and church planters. The church in Canada is much weaker than in the U.S., so we struggle not only to find new church planters, but to equip potential elders, deacons, and teachers who did not grow up in church. We want them to have a clear command of Bible doctrine, develop serving hearts, and understand their Restoration heritage so we can cultivate a true movement of new and aligned church plants.
Momentum is growing in Ontario, with 2012 the first time we planted two new churches in the same year. The Message Christian Church launched several months ago in Orangeville, Ontario (45 minutes north of Toronto), and is averaging 65 with nine baptisms. Our churches, it seems, have moved from simple addition to multiplication!
Cooperating for Greater Results
One of the most exciting developments for Eastern Canadian church planting involves the decision by PACE to join with Impact Canada for more effective church planting in the Maritimes. PACE’s assets have been added to Impact’s church planting funds to aid in the future planting of healthy churches in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. A strong Maritime leader, Fred Osborne (former president of Maritime Christian College), has been added to the Impact board.
Culturally speaking, Ontario and Atlantic Canada are very different places. This represents a wonderful opportunity to learn from each other and combine forces for greater impact! Planning is underway for new church planting projects in Moncton and in the Dartmouth-Halifax area. Today there is greater enthusiasm for Canadian church planting than I have witnessed in decades. Let us pray for a great harvest to come!
Jim Tune serves as senior minister with Churchill Meadow Christian Church in Toronto and as director of Impact Canada.