Calgary's growth fuels church planting need

Less than three months after arriving in Calgary, NAMB church planter Brett Myers was asked by local leaders to put together the Mahogany community's Canada Day celebrations on July 1, 2014. The effort went so well that he was asked to organize the celebration again this year.  
Photo courtesy Brett Myers
CALGARY, Alberta, Canada (BP) -- Go on a mission trip to Calgary, and you may be there for life. That's what happened to Brett Myers.

"I was just broken by the need in the city," said Myers, who had been a pastor in Westminster, S.C., for two and a half years when he arrived on a mission trip to Calgary in the summer of 2012.

To Myers' surprise, the need for new churches in Calgary was more tangible than he had thought.

As he made plans for Corinth Baptist Church's next mission trip from South Carolina to the growing Canadian city the following year, Myers told Bo Neal, who leads the local Calgary church with whom Myers had been partnering, about his family's growing call to church planting.

Neal then told Myers that the manager of a nearby homeowners association recently had asked him to start a church in her new community.

"So now, for three weeks, we've been praying God would send us a church planter," Neal told Myers.

After much prayer and a visit to Calgary a few months later, Myers and his family arrived in the spring of 2014 and began making plans to start Southwinds Church Mahogany in the city's Mahogany community.

But with only one Canadian National Baptist Convention church for every 53,627 people in Calgary, more than just one new church is needed. And the churches that are in the city are small. The 27 CNBC churches in Calgary encompass a total of 1,850 people, reported Bob Shelton, city missionary for Send North America: Calgary, one of 30 key cities in the Send North America church planting strategy of the North American Mission Board.

For Myers, now a NAMB church planting apprentice in Calgary, "It's tough to wrap your mind around the differences in ministry in a city where so many people have such little exposure to the Gospel.

"In South Carolina -- not to say there's not a need for more churches there or anything like that -- but when you talk to someone they have some kind of basis for understanding of the Gospel. Here, a lot of times, there's not," Myers said.

Calgary and Edmonton, also a NAMB Send North America city, are the two largest cities in the Canadian province of Alberta. Calgary has more than 1.2 million people. According to the Calgary Herald in 2012, the city recorded the highest population growth in Canada over the previous 10 years, much of which came from an expanding oil and gas industry.

Housing is popping up throughout Calgary. Myers noted that Mahogany, the new community where he is planting, currently has about 3,000 residents but will surpass 40,000 in the years ahead. Because they typically are built to be self-contained, with all the shopping, educational and cultural needs met within the community itself, many of these communities will include opportunities for new churches.

Shelton said the biggest limiting factor in pushing back lostness in Calgary isn't the responsiveness of the residents but the lack of church planters. The city needs church planters who will come and stay.

"Particularly when people come here from the States, it is hard slugging here," Shelton said. "The ground is hard here spiritually, but it's also very cold here. There are several months of the year when it is brutally cold. You have to be a hearty soul to 'weather' the weather. You also have to persevere here because it takes times to build those relationships. It takes time to build trust. You've got to stay here long enough to share the Gospel and see some of the fruit of your labor."

Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C. has become the lead partner for Send North America: Calgary to help bring more laborers to the city's harvest fields. As a lead partner, Calvary Baptist is making plans to send a church planter to the city, supporting church planters who are already there, mobilizing its congregation to serve existing planters with mission teams and networking among other churches to get more resources and people to Calgary. Last year the church sent two interns to help Calgary's church plants. This year they hope to send as many as five.

The North Carolina church is actively recruiting a church planter who might come to Winston-Salem for three to six months to gather a core team to plant in Calgary.

Mark Gilbert, a lay leader at the church who leads the efforts with Calgary, noted that Calvary Baptist has nearly twice as many people in its worship services as in all the CNBC churches in Calgary each weekend.

"The people are super-friendly, super-engaging, but their frame of reference of Christianity is lost," Gilbert said. "Some of the planters will tell you that kids come to their community events where they talk about the Bible, and they'll have kids who have never heard of Jesus and never seen a Bible."

Myers said for his church plant and other planters in the city to have a spiritual impact on the level of lostness among them, they need the support of others. In addition to the need of resources and prayers from Southern Baptists, he pointed to a significant need for volunteer teams in the summer to conduct camps and other outreach efforts.

Those efforts, Myers said, will go toward planting multiple churches in the Calgary area.

"God has told us in the Great Commission, He has told us in Acts 1:8, to go and make disciples,'" Myers said. "Our vision is to plant new churches in new communities all around this city."

Learn more about Send North America: Calgary at www.namb.net/Calgary.

Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board.
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