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Canadian Churches Share Stories and Seek Strategies

February 7, 2024
Pastors Marcelo Viana (Amber Church) and Ben VerKerk (Covenant CRC) shared their story about church planting in Winnipeg, Man.
Pastors Marcelo Viana (Amber Church) and Ben VerKerk (Covenant CRC) shared their story about church planting in Winnipeg, Man.

In a virtual gathering held in January, Canadian CRC members from coast to coast convened to share stories of renewal and to think about strategies they could apply from other stories to their local contexts.

Hosted by the CRCNA Canada Ministry Board, the “Stories and Strategies” event brought together denominational staff, Canadian church leaders, and members to reflect on the journeys of various congregations across the country.

The event began with four preplanned, congregational stories that demonstrate what can happen when churches invest in church planting and renewal.

“This is not an exhaustive list,” explained Al Postma, transitional executive director-Canada, as he presented the first video story. “We have a couple other stories in the hopper that we wish we could have added, but we were committed to having no more than four here today.”

The four stories focused on the relaunch of a struggling church in London, Ont., as a vibrant community hub; the use of a dinner church in Thorold, Ont., as a hospitable presence to international students in the community; a multisite church-planting success in Edmonton, Alta.; and a partnership between a growing Portuguese church plant and an established, suburban CRC in Winnipeg, Man.

“We moved to Canada and pastored a Portuguese-speaking church in 2017,” shared Pastor Marcelo Viana from Amber Church in Winnipeg as part of the final video story. “We ministered there for five years until God called us to church planting. Our dream is to make disciples of Jesus in a multiethnic way.”

Following God’s lead, Viana started Amber Church and invited recent, Brazilian immigrants into his home for worship. As the church grew, he and his wife soon recognized they would need a larger facility. God led them to Covenant CRC in Winnipeg, and through a partnership of faith they were able to rent a chapel from a Christian school.

“We have learned so much in this time,” added Pastor Ben VerKerk of Covenant CRC, Winnipeg. “Early on, Pastor Marcelo told me that church planting is an act of faith. You just have to step out in a thousand little steps, all of them in faith. As ordinary a Christian expression as that is, it is not really the safe way of thinking that the CRC is used to in our established churches, but Marcelo is not afraid to step out in faith. . . . We are learning to step out in faith with him.”

Participants divided into small groups to discuss how the stories they had heard might connect to their own experiences in their home congregations and local communities. Many came back with interesting themes that emerged from their small-group discussions.

“We were talking about storytelling and the power that those stories had,” remarked one participant, who noted that storytelling not only inspires and encourages listeners but is also a good exercise for the storyteller. “The idea that came [to our group] was to go back to our church congregations and say, ‘Hey, what if we had been asked by the CRCNA to tell a six- to eight-minute story about our church? What story would we tell?’”

Near the end of the event, denominational staff had a chance to speak. They noted that as people who connect with congregations across the country, they are privileged and uniquely positioned to hear a variety of stories and to synthesize themes that could be useful to other churches.

They highlighted six lessons about church renewal and six lessons about church planting (see “Stories and Strategies” PDF).

As the gathering drew to a close, participants were encouraged to continue sharing their stories, supporting one another, and seeking God's guidance as they navigate the ongoing challenges and opportunities facing their congregations.

Reflecting on the event, Greta Luimes, chair of the CRCNA Canada Ministry Board, expressed gratitude for the opportunity to come together and celebrate the work of God in their midst.

“We're fully aware of all the challenges we face,” Luimes remarked. “But we thank God for each of the stories represented on this call. We’re grateful for what God is doing in our churches, and we're excited to see how these stories will continue to inspire and motivate us in the days ahead.”

Learn more and find resources from this Canadian, virtual event on this webpage. Similar, in-person, binational events are being planned for the whole denomination in the coming year.