First-year church plant giving back
"We started out as just a small group," Leno said of the church in Windsor, Ontario. "We met at my house on Saturday nights for Bible study, and within just a few months, we completely outgrew the living room."
It was only four and a half months after their first meeting when Leno announced to the group they would be taking the next steps toward becoming a church.
Leno was clear they didn't want to find a network or denomination and then just conform to them. They wanted to form their own DNA and then find a larger group of churches who matched up with them.
"I started looking at Southern Baptists because of guys like David Platt and Al Mohler," Leno explained. "I do not come from a Southern Baptist background, and neither does anyone in my congregation. We searched out a number of other groups, but Southern Baptists are most aligned with our values."
Though the Southern Baptist Convention is incorporated only in the United States, it has given the North American Mission Board the ministry assignment to plant churches and reach people in the U.S. and Canada. Many Canadian churches have developed close ties with NAMB and Southern Baptists since the 1950s. Today, NAMB works closely with the Canadian National Baptist Convention, an autonomous network of churches in Canada that shares a like-minded passion for evangelism and church planting with the SBC. The Gathering partners with CNBC to plant churches in Canada.
The Gathering continued on Sunday evenings in a small boardroom at a local golf and country club. However, they outgrew that room quickly, so they started renting another room in the facility -- keeping the old room for childcare. Again, a few short months later, they outgrew their newest room so they began renting the largest room in the facility -- keeping both old rooms for the growing number of children attending.
"Our time together is very simple," Leno stated. "We made three taglines to be a descriptor of our weekly gathering: simple worship, passionate prayer and strong teaching. That is what we are known for."
The Gathering continued to grow, and they soon outgrew the golf and country club. It was time for a new location.
As he became more familiar with Southern Baptists, Leno was introduced to and became friends with Wayne Parker, pastor of Merriman Baptist Church and Send City Missionary in nearby Detroit, Mich., with the North American Mission Board. Parker assisted Leno in the process of becoming a NAMB church planter.
"We knew we had to find a new location," Leno said. "After looking at over 60 different options, we found an empty warehouse. Pastor Wayne came with me to look at it and pray over it."
After speaking with the owner, and almost walking away due to cost, the owner had a change of heart and asked them how much they could afford. When they told him, he cut the asking amount in half to meet their price point.
"We continue to see the hand of God every time we turn around," said Leno, noting the church received a generous grant from NAMB. "We didn't know it at the time, but it came from the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. We really didn't know what this was or who Annie Armstrong was either, but were thankful because, through it, the Gospel is being better spread throughout our city."
Within less than a year of meeting on Sundays, The Gathering was able to afford a new location in Windsor that fit them. With the grant from NAMB, generous donations from partnering Southern Baptist churches in the U.S. and their weekly offerings, they were able to secure the space and remain debt free.
The congregation met for their first Sunday in their newly renovated warehouse on January 11, 2015. Their first Sunday meeting was in May 2014.
"There were grateful tears at church that first Sunday [at the new location]," Leno said. "When I told our congregation that we now had a chance to give back to the organization that helped get us started, they were excited to get behind it."
Despite the short time since their launch, The Gathering was able to raise more $9,300 for their first ever Annie Armstrong Easter Offering contribution.
Although Leno has more than 30 years in ministry experience, this is his first time planting a church -- a church much needed in the community where statistics show only 7 percent are evangelical Christians. The Gathering is the first church in over five years to be planted in Windsor, a mirror city to Detroit, Mich.
"We are Motor City Canada," Leno said of Windsor. "The city is largely blue collar and proud of it. People migrated here in the '50s and '60s to work in the factories, so it is tremendously ethnically diverse. Our congregation is filled with South Asians, Chinese, Filipinos, Romanians, Caucasians, Eastern Europeans and people from the Caribbean. We are a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural church family."
Since moving into their new location, The Gathering has grown from an average attendance of 140 to 210 people. Last September they baptized six people, and they baptized six more in May. At their one-year anniversary for Sunday morning services on May 3, they reached a new attendance record of 351.
"We are just experiencing the radical grace of God," Leno said. "We couldn't be happier than to be right in the center of God's will. We know we have a lot of work to do in our city."
Southern Baptists gave more than $58 million to the Annie Armstrong offering in 2014. Everything given to this offering goes to the mission field in North America and helps start and support church plants like The Gathering in Ontario.