Fresh Expressions Canada web manager and church planter Ryan Sim is working on a new approach to church for busy commuters in Ontario, starting with a mobile app and community called Redeem the Commute.
Since November 2011 I have been working with the Diocese of Toronto to lead the development of a new church in Ajax, a growing suburb near Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
We committed to planning, launching and sustaining a community of new disciples appropriately shaped for mission in its context. To understand that context, we spent six months in prayer, research and planning to learn as much as possible about life in Ajax and where the gospel could best take hold. Our temptation would be to implement forms of church we know and love, but that are incompatible with a changing context, or that might attract only those from other churches already following Jesus. This is a brief summary of our missional listening and research methods, and the plan that is forming in response.
We began by commissioning a study of the entire community, with typical age, education, income and other data, but also learned about common values, buying habits and responses to specific statements. This study helped us to locate a suitable home.
I familiarised myself with the community by walking, driving, shopping and enjoying community spaces, and reading about the history, official plans and news of the community. I interviewed local civic and church leaders, as well as regular residents in more casual conversations.
After observing and listening as much as possible, I began to interpret and look for common threads. It quickly became clear that Ajax has an extremely high percentage of young, multi-ethnic families whose adults commute long hours to work. They spend little time at home, have high demand jobs, and experience stress as a result. They long to reprioritize their lives, but feel stuck.
In times of prayer, I would ask God to reveal needs that were not being served by existing churches in the area. We know the gospel sparks the kind of life transformation and reprioritizing that this group longs to experience, but because of their limited free time at home, it became apparent that any church events, no matter what the time or theme, were unlikely venues for such overcommitted people to learn about Jesus for the first time.
How could we reach commuters with the good news of Jesus Christ, even while on the move? An idea emerged in a moment of inspiration, so we conducted an online survey to test its potential, and decided to go ahead.
Later this year we are launching Redeem the Commute, a mobile app and web site for commuters in our area. Smartphones are everywhere among commuting young professionals, and the commute is often seen as lost time; in need of 'redemption'. To help people redeem that lost time and make positive changes, we'll deliver good quality content that serves the needs of busy, commuting people, beginning with marriage and parenting courses. We'll introduce the Redeemer himself with a Christian Basics course, and then fresh, daily discipleship content for those growing as followers of Jesus.
Our aim is not to start a virtual church, but to bring people together in a dispersed form of cell church. Participants who start a course alone will be encouraged to start or join a discussion group, meeting weekly in places like trains, buses, workplaces and homes. We will 'seed' groups by using area churchgoers, but new groups will be organic and self-organizing, centred around gospel content, and with coaching, oversight and regular visits from staff.
By the end of 2013, we hope to see enough groups running and growing in faith that we can gather them all together for a great celebration in worship – our first of many times worshipping together as one community named Redeemer Church.
This is the very early shape of a church plant intentionally focused on the discipleship of a particular people in a particular place and time. It arose after a time of careful research, interpretation, planning, but especially prayer, asking God to reveal needs, and where a new church could help. I trust that through this process of missional listening, interpretation and creative response, God will reveal to missional leaders new people groups and new forms of church for any context, and transform our neighbourhoods, communities and world.
(This story was originally published in the ECGI newsletter)