I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Québec recently. It’s increased my desire to see God work in that province.
Québec is home to less than 1% of Christians committed to an evangelical church. According to Mission Québec, the Québecois are the largest unreached people group in all of the Americas. There is only 1 church for every 106,000 people. In Montreal alone, to reach a ratio of 1 church for every 30,000 people, there would still need to be 50 new church plants.
I interviewed some friends to learn more about ministry in Québec.
- Josh Brake is pastor of Hudson Baptist Church in St-Lazare.
- Dwight Bernier is pastor of Church 21 in Montreal, and network director of Acts 29 Canada.
- Marc Pilon is the founder of Transform Québec.
- Steve Cloutier is director of Mission Québec and the Mouvement Jeunesse Academy and also serves as Quebec Area lead for Acts 29 Canada.
What drew you to Québec?
Josh: As my wife and I considered options, we learned of a church that needed a pastor in a part of the world where the gospel presence was small. In all honesty, I was both intrigued and terrified by the idea of moving to pastor an English church in Quebec, so I would say that it was God that moved in our hearts and drew my family to the province.
Dwight: I heard a few guys give a talk about the needs in Québec, and while they were speaking, the Lord seemed to place an unusual burden in my heart for this province. I had never visited before, couldn’t speak French, and didn’t know what poutine was. It was a very clear calling from the Lord to move here.
Marc: I was born and raised in Québec and have always had on my heart for my people to discover Christ and the beauty of the gospel message.
Steve: I was saved when I was 19 or 20 years old. I grew up in a Christian family, but I went my own way. So Jesus brought me back to him when I was 20 years old. And God gave me a burden to share my faith and help people discover what I had discovered in Jesus and the Good News. And I was passionate about sharing it, and I wanted to learn and I wanted to be equipped.
How would you describe the state of the church in Québec right now?
Josh: With limited space to respond and as someone who is newer to the work in the province, I want to be cautious with how I present my perspective: weak but burgeoning. There is a common misunderstanding of those outside the province that it’s the French church in Quebec that needs help and that any English churches are likely fine because, well, they are English. This is simply not true. Since there are not that many churches, over time they have attracted an eclectic mix of believers who have had to figure out how to do church together, and that has led to an under-defined theology, and out of that has flowed an ecclesiology that has lacked biblical authority. That said, with the rise of men who preach expositionally, with the emergence of Movement Seminary (an English expression of SEMBEQ), and with a generation of believers whom God is raising up, the divisions and opposition many feared and thought would accompany having a defined theology and biblical ecclesiology has not resulted.
Dwight: Wanting to advance, but realizing that there are great needs in the church already. There are some churches doing really well and others are probably going to die. I think that many of the churches realize that they are not growing in maturity or size and don’t know what to do about it, so they keep doing the same thing.
Marc: The church in Québec is currently in a time where it is learning what it means to be a truly Québecois church that speaks to the people in a way that relates to their reality.
Steve: Most our churches were planted in the 60s and 70s, so they’re all pretty young. At the same time, some of them had only two or three pastors in their lifetime. So there’s not a lot of movement in leadership. Pastors tend to stay longer in their roles. And I would say our churches are getting older. I would say probably 50% of our pastoral staff are like 60 and over. For the next five or ten years, many churches have pastors who want to retire and they don’t have anyone to pass the baton to, and so they stay longer than they should and it can hurt the church.
There’s less hostility to the church from the younger generations because they don’t know why they should hate the church. But they’re apathetic.
What are some of the unique challenges of ministry in Québec?
Josh: Let me offer three.
First, like it or not, English Québec is not like English Canada – and this is even more true of French Québec. There are cultural differences entrenched in the way people view life and religion, and these differences must be understood if the gospel is going to be explained and applied in context.
Second, as an Anglophone who has moved to the province, language. Québec-French dominates and hovers over all aspects of life. While I have been able to get by with very limited French, learning the language is essential to the longevity of life and ministry here (I’m now kicking myself for bailing on French after Mme. Burr’s Grade 9 general class!).
Third, resources – both human and material. Churches are small and so the internal leadership pools are also small. Raising up native Québecers and drawing qualified men from outside the province requires a cathedral-building mindset that has yet to be established. Also, the funds to support the work here aren’t currently present, so there exists a reliance on outside supporters (which has both positive and negative implications).
Dwight: Montreal and the rest of Québec are radically different. It almost feels like two complete universes at times. French and Québec’s experience with the church in the past, particularly Roman Catholicism, still makes some ministry difficult, especially in helping people understand the gospel. English and French churches have not worked together much. Resources are really limited here. When people leave the province to be trained in seminary or with theological education, they rarely come back.
Marc: The Québec people have long discarded the church and religion as being a good thing and so they see very little value in the Christian faith.
Steve: The French component of things adds a layer of difficulty. We lack resources for discipleship training. Sometimes I get frustrated because you see all these programs and that are offered in English, so you can’t use it unless you translate and contextualize it. Not many people producing content in French in Quebec. We don’t have a lot of Quebec resources.
Probably another thing is smaller churches. We don’t have the same resources as comparably sized churches in other parts of Canada. So the smaller churches are struggling financially because of different values of giving that come from a distrust of how churches use money. When people meet Jesus and tell their family that they want to join the church, families often say it’s okay to join the church, but then make them promise to never give the church money.
We also lack leaders. As leaders getting older, the pool that you can recruit from is smaller. People need to speak French, so it’s harder to recruit from outside Quebec because they would need to learn a new language.
Because we’re under 2% reached, it’s hard to sustain our own movement, producing resources, planning churches, training new leaders. When you’re below that bar, that means that you need help from outside. It’s an unreached people group within Canada.
What’s encouraging you about what God is doing in your province?
Josh: The Spirit of God is moving among His people, the word of God is being preached, sin is being confessed, and people who have never heard the gospel before (and many who have) are repenting and being saved. The other thing that is encouraging is the impossibility of the work here. I know that might sound strange, but the work here is so enormous that the gift of being broken and helpless as a man exposes the true greatness of God’s work without any pretence that as mere men we are bringing about the heart change that we are seeing.
Dwight: The Lord is rescuing people, and people are open to the gospel. There’s a desire for church collaboration and cooperation, and diminishing territorialism. People seem to really want Jesus and His gospel, not their favourite flavour of church
Marc: As Christians understand that their role is to love their neighbour and live out the kingdom and gospel values in the city, in their workplace, in their neighbourhoods and families, people become much more curious in our faith, and we regularly see people meet Jesus and grow as disciples.
Steve: I see a big increase in collaboration in things like church planting. Evangelical denominations are working together to have a voice in Quebec. It’s encouraging for me to see churches looking to work together, to come together for collaboration.
I also see a younger generation. There are more and more teenagers in our churches and young adults who wants to follow Jesus.
How can people pray for Québec?
Josh: Formed by Luke 10:02, at 10:02AM every day I pause to pray that the Lord of the harvest would provide gospel workers. Please pray for gospel workers (note: we don’t need saviours – for that we have Jesus). Pray for men and women to be raised up who will think of the next ten years of their lives as ones dedicated to serving Christ and his church as lambs being sent among wolves. Pray that people would hear and believe the gospel. Pray also that we would be a people faithful to God’s word in a cultural climate that is opposed to all things “church” and that we would be wise and satisfied with whatever resources God provides us with through His people.
Dwight: Pray for revival in the church and awakening in the society. Pray that the English and French would work together for the advancement of the gospel. Pray for more workers to be raised up and come.
Marc: Pray that the sacred-secular divide would be broken down, and that Christians would live more fully integrated lives so that the beauty of the gospel would be more visible to many.
Steve: Pray for the new generation, so the teenagers and young adults know how to follow Christ when nobody’s a Christian around you, and you’re surrounded by secular philosophies. And pray for new leaders that would emerge either from outside, who come with a missionary heart and a willingness to learn French and a willingness to serve. Pray for the Lord to send workers into the harvest. And pray for our churches to take hold of the mission here and grow towards multiplication and health.