How to plant a church is not a big mystery. Any good Mennonite gardener knew how to take a clump of bulbs from her front garden, split them up and transplant them into the bed at the side of the house. In the spring, the new garden proudly displayed the same brilliantly coloured daffodils and tulips for all to enjoy. In a few years, both beds were full again, bursting with the gorgeous colours of spring.
The same successful strategy worked just as easily, it seemed for churches. Without even stopping to think, I can rhyme off the names of half a dozen church plants in Mennonite Church Eastern Canada that have relied on this tried and true strategy. You simply take a few key members from the established church, add a few more interested ones from the local community, plant them together in the new location, tamp the soil down firmly, add a bit of upfront money and resources to water and fertilize the lot, and presto, with a bit of elbow grease you have a functioning new congregation.
In today’s world, life is not quite that simple and old strategies are not working like we expect. Simply replicating what we have is not necessarily what is needed within our new urban settings and their rapidly changing social contexts. As congregations and area church leaders, we need bold, innovative strategies that will sprout exotic new plant species that may look very different from their historical roots but have in their DNA the very same dedication to Christ and our Anabaptist faith and values.
MC Eastern Canada is encouraging congregations to experiment with new approaches and new avenues of church planting so that together we can try, fail, learn, succeed, and in the midst of it all foster new forms of church that are relevant to our next door neighbours and the communities in which we live.
One new way to sprout more Anabaptist congregations is working intentionally with our new Canadian congregations. On a recent trip to Myanmar, I experienced firsthand the passion and dedication of our new Canadian leaders in sharing our Anabaptist faith. My travelling companion, Pastor Jehu, founder of the Chin Christian Church in Kitchener, Ont., has already been hard at work establishing new Anabaptist congregations across North America.
Why the interest in Mennonite faith and theology? “We never heard this kind of teaching on peace, discipleship and caring for others,” exclaims Pastor Jehu. “It has changed my life. It has changed how I live my faith at home and how we live our faith as a congregation. I want this for the Chin people.”
So in addition to the 13 Chin congregations he has connected with Mennonites across North America, Pastor Jehu now wants to see the Anabaptist faith flourish among the Chin and Burmese people in Myanmar. Whatever the new strategies for planting and watering, pray with me that God will give the growth.
David Martin is executive minister of Mennonite Church Eastern Canada.