It’s never easy to plant a church, but it’s even harder during a pandemic.
I asked three church planters — Aaron Roeck of Heritage Grace Church (Kitchener), Lendl Salangsang of Life Church (Pickering), and Jordan Wilcox of Emmanuel North Barrie — about their experience of leading a new church to start this Fall.
How did COVID-19 affect your ministry as a church planter this year?
Aaron: No church plant is immune to challenges. I spent a lot of my time reading, strategizing and preparing in the pre launch phase of planting to work against what seemed to be many common issues/difficulties that church plants ran into. COVID-19 brought many curveballs that we never planned on getting. What appeared to be constantly changing information brought a lot of challenges to gathering. We never planned on live streaming or figuring out what it would have to look like to still stay connected even if it had to be virtually. As a planter it has affected me with a lot of conversations/decisions to be made that take a surprising amount of time out of my schedule. It feels a lot less productive than pastoring people or preparing sermons, and somehow even more tiring.
Lendl: I was also not able to visit other churches or other families to gain support because of the lockdown and imposed limited social circles. But because of COVID-19, myself and the core team were able to plan longer because our launch date was pushed from Spring 2020 to Fall 2020. After our launch, during our debrief session, we believe as a core team that we benefited from the longer planning and that we craved physically meeting as a church.
Jordan: COVID-19 made even the more simple parts of church planting complicated. From finding a space to meet, to the inability to gather as a core team, it felt like every small step was more complex and required more effort. I think the most significant way COVID-19 affected our ministry was the way that it made us second guess our most natural instinct as Christians — that is, loving our neighbours with our time and our presence. It forced us to rethink our most natural intuitions and come up with creative ways to still love and serve the people in our community.
If you felt discouraged, how did you overcome that discouragement and move ahead?
Aaron: It was/is hard to be in situations where answers weren’t easily available. No one is a guru on how to plant a church in a pandemic. On almost any other church planting scenario I had thought of I could find plenty of material and wisdom on what steps to take. The helpless feeling of not knowing what to do or where to find answers can be discouraging. I do think though it exposed some real weaknesses and sin in my life to lean on myself or other people to find the answers. God does a pretty good job of reminding me often that the success of this church doesn’t rely on me, and the discouragement I face when I think it does, either sends me into a works/righteousness scramble or to my knees in prayer. Praise God that he has been teaching me to rely on him and on the latter when I have faced discouragement.
Lendl: Our sending church has been fully supporting us as a core team, and so this was a big encouragement to us. We have had people from the congregation reach out to us and tell us that they have been specifically praying for this ministry. We’ve consistently met as a core team to motivate each other and pray with one another. I have also met with other church planters, new and seasoned, to talk and encourage each other.
Jordan: There were definitely seasons of discouragement, and disappointment, as we lamented not having the freedoms we envisioned when we started on this journey. One of the ways that we sought to overcome discouragement and move ahead was by reminding ourselves how important the local church is in God’s plan to make all things new through his Son Jesus. If the church would not move forward to proclaim the good news of Jesus in this season, who would? We insisted right from the beginning with our core team that during this crisis and after this crisis, the world will need more Jesus-proclaiming churches, not less. The other thing we did regularly is remind ourselves of the ways that the church has flourished in the past, regardless of the hurdles and challenges that were thrown their way. The church in Acts, and the stories we hear from the church in places like China, India and Iran encouraged us to stick with it.
How have you seen God answer prayer this year?
Aaron: God has provided us an incredible space to meet which is a huge answer to prayer! We were also praying from the beginning that some of our values would really be solidified in our launch team. Throughout COVID-19, some things, like being relational and being contributors, have been challenged. We now long to be together and contribute to the needs of the church in ways that we may not have if these values were not stressed in the early stages of planting.
Lendl: We were able to launch despite the fact that we do not have a location. Through answered prayers, a local church has blessed us by letting us use their space for our afternoon services.
As a church planting couple who was also expecting their second child a month away from our launch date, we were totally consumed by God’s grace and managed to still launch with a newborn and a toddler.
Jordan: God has been answering our prayer in beautiful ways over these last months. Maybe most notable is the way that he’s sustained us during this season. He’s held us close to Himself, and upheld us by His grace in so many beautiful ways. As we look back, it’s clear that many have been praying and that God has answered those.
How can we pray for you?
Aaron: That we would simply be faithful in planting this church pandemic or not. Pray that God would be glorified in the planting of Heritage Grace Church and that the gospel would be proclaimed clearly with all boldness even if the world is brought to its knees by a pandemic or some other unforeseen circumstances come that we don’t see coming.
Lendl: Our services are ongoing, so please pray for wisdom as we navigate through these times of change. Please also pray for the leadership team, to be able to reach more people to come to our services; for the sending church, for their constant encouragement and support; and for the community we are trying to reach in Pickering.
Jordan: Please pray that God would continue to sustain us and protect us as a church. Pray that God would give us boldness so that we might proclaim the “mystery of the gospel” as we ought to. Pray that in these trying times God would do a work in our communities that none of us could have foreseen months ago.