If C.S. Lewis was the most reluctant convert in England, I was the most reluctant church planter in Canada. I thought I was too old, too unqualified to plant a church. But, in 2012, to my surprise, we began the process of starting a new church close to downtown.
It felt like we’d caught a bit of a wave. I started meeting other church planters who’d also sensed an irresistible pull to ministry in Toronto. I met Americans who’d moved to the city, as well as local pastors who’d left established churches to start something new. Many of us joined a cohort and worked through material on how to plant doctrinally faithful churches focused on reaching people who don’t know Christ.
And then the wave crashed. Now, I’m seeing few new churches, and it concerns me. We need more new churches in Toronto.
A Few Disclaimers
I’m a big believer in both church planting and church revitalization. I’m grateful for the scores of faithful pastors working throughout the city doing important work in their communities. I don’t see a conflict between revitalization and planting. The two work well together.
I’m also not a fan of planting just because it’s trendy. Church planting is so hard that it requires people who’ve counted the cost and are motivated by the same impulse that drove Paul. “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:10).
I also believe that ministry everywhere is important. I don’t mean to suggest that urban ministry matters more than ministry in other places. We need faithful churches everywhere.
A final disclaimer: planting in Toronto is a slog. It has moments of glory, but it’s slow, expensive, sometimes discouraging, often challenging, and requires patience and endurance. All ministry is difficult, but if you’re expecting quick growth or lots of glory while starting a new urban church, you’re likely to be disappointed.
And yet, despite all these disclaimers and all the challenges, we can’t be satisfied with occasional church planting in Toronto. I worry that we’re not keeping pace with the need. I’m praying for more than a new wave; I’m praying for something more ordinary and less sporadic.
We need a steady flow of new churches in Toronto.
The Harvest is Plentiful
Toronto is a city of 158 neighbourhoods. Despite the exodus of residents during COVID, the population continues to grow. And yet many of these neighbourhoods lack a single gospel-preaching church in the community.
The numbers are staggering. When we started, we realized we were the only church of any kind in our neighbourhood. We drew a circle of one kilometre from our meeting space and realized that, in this small space, we were trying to reach 18,000 people. When we expanded the circle to two kilometres, the number grew to almost 80,000. Within three kilometres, the number of people reached 150,000. And that was before a number of new condos were built around us.
But it’s not just about the numbers. Walk around Toronto for a day and you will sense the need. The population is growing. The city is expanding. But churches are few, and so many in our city have never heard the message of Jesus that could transform their lives.
Ten years ago, God raised up labourers for this harvest. But that was ten years ago. There’ve been a few since, but I’m praying that God raises up more. Just as God redirected Paul to Macedonia (Acts 16:9-10), I’m praying that God will redirect some missionary planters to Toronto.