Redeemer Church, Ajax

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.

Redeemer Church - cars

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.

Redeemer Church - road junctionAfter 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.

Redeemer Church - rails

(This story was originally published in the ECGI newsletter)


When, in 2001, Deanery Youth Missioner Derek Spencer began researching youth work among the parishes in his Horsham area deanery, he found that nothing was on.

He invited young people connected with his 20 local, largely village churches to fortnightly meetings. One was held in a village hall, the other in a grammar school, both at different ends of the deanery to make the groups widely accessible.

With an emphasis on the social aspect of the Sunday evenings, the initial twelve members grew over a year to 35 Christians and non-Christians, who were keen to attend every week regardless of distance. As a result, the two groups amalgamated.

The best youth work is done in social events when the guards come down and they are relaxed,

Derek believes.

We built in a spiritual programme, but it was relaxed, not hard-line, a platform for their questions.

Further activities included a week's camping and a weekend away in a forest cottage, events still regarded as highlights.

'The best youth work is done in social events when the guards come down and they are relaxed'

Derek had also been visiting local schools, giving lessons and assemblies. The drama hall of the largest struck him as a potential venue for a service.

I spoke to the young people who were excited about using their school for God,

he says.

A meeting was held in Derek's own home – of those he had approached from among the adults of the deanery, including some parents – to pray and plan. A pilot service in 2003 led to Eden, a monthly, Sunday evening multimedia service, often employing zones (which people could dip in and out of), and with the freedom to grab coffee or coke at any time. While generally around 100, for special events such as a visit from Matt Redman, numbers can rise dramatically as young people and interested adults come from across the diocese.

In 2004, Derek was ordained in a unique training programme, a development in his personal journey, and this has enabled Eden to hold services of Holy Communion, often using material from the Iona Community. Derek's ordination to priest was held during an Eden service at the school.

Despite Eden's diocesan-wide appeal, Derek is concerned for the youth he began with, many of whom count Eden as their church and who were uninvolved with church previously.

'I don't want it to become just another church; I want to keep original and keep pushing the boundaries'

I want to make church for them,

he says. In 2005, Eden became a fortnightly service, alternating between a service and a 'talkzone' which takes the form of a public debate between local experts, followed by discussion groups and feedback. An extra service was held on Easter Day

to show that Eden is a church.

Derek foresees the ongoing youth groups amalgamating within Eden to become weekly cells and Eden itself happening weekly. In the meantime, it already has its own bank account and support from donations.

I don't want it to become just another church,

Derek says.

I want to keep original and keep pushing the boundaries.

What began with twelve local teenagers meeting in two different spots has grown into a fortnightly Eucharistic gathering held in a school, attended by around 100 young people and adults with a vision to grow into deeper fellowship.

Food for Thought

Klynn AlibocusHow do you set up a fresh expression of church in an affluent 'commuter' village? Klynn and Susan Alibocus have been helping to lead Food for Thought in Winterslow near Salisbury for the past three years. They're still on a steep learning curve, as they explain.

Changing work commitments saw us move from suburban Kent to a large south Wiltshire village, and that was quite a shock at first. It really was a very different world but we chose Winterslow for many reasons, mainly its busy community life and the fact that it was home to four active churches of different denominations.

At the time, before the term 'fresh expression of church' was commonly known, Winterslow did benefit from having a number of outreach activities going on in the area. Despite that, we still felt there was a gap in bringing the message of Christ to the unchurched and dechurched community in a new and fresh way.

Some years previously we had been involved in setting up The Carpenter's Arms, Sandwich, working with a team experienced in instigating one of the earliest Anglican church plants in Deal and we had a heart to carry this work on.

As an affluent 'commuter' rural village, Winterslow's needs aren't as obvious as those of other places. Setting up a fresh expression of church to make the message of Christ relevant to such a community was therefore somewhat more challenging.

A few of us who went to the parish church of All Saints, Winterslow, started to look at the possibility of creating a more accessible, non-traditional and complementary fresh expression of church in the village.

We came up with some specific ideas after a workshop exercise in which we looked at How To Make The Worst Church Service Ever! In it, we listed all the things that we normally do as part of church that may put someone off if they haven't been to church before. Then we tried to understand those barriers and come up with ways to remove them.

Food for Thought - bannerWe decided that the new-look church service should involve Welcome, Word, Worship and Witness. Much prayer and planning went into the original proposal. Thankfully our vicar, Revd Nils Bersweden, and the PCC, gave us their blessing and we got the go-ahead to begin a monthly meeting in the village hall.

Food for Thought emphasises good food, short services, plenty for children to do and an informal atmosphere. Many people have found that it's right for them, and we continue to welcome in newcomers who want to find out more about us and more about God.

Many commuters miss out on daily village life. Food for Thought connects people, particularly families, to hear the message of Christ, have fun, eat together and bring back that sense of community.

Food for Thought - dancingUsing our rural environment to our advantage we regularly go on picnics, nature walks, and so on; often networking with other village organisations such as the Scouts, Brownies, conservation groups and local charities to see how we can support each other. On one occasion we were granted private access to Salisbury Cathedral for a treasure hunt followed by fish and chips in the cloisters. About 60 people came to that.

The Ven Alan Jeans, Archdeacon of Sarum, really helped us to look at where we were going with Food for Thought and why. We looked at questions like: 'Are you really a fresh expression or have you just moved "church" into the village hall?' We also considered: 'How will Food for Thought nurture people into the wider Church?'

We think it very important to keep it truly fresh so we're encouraging leadership potential with different people taking on responsibility for organising services. For the first six months we were pretty much running the whole thing but we didn't want to be seen as the husband and wife double act who do it all. That doesn't help us, or encourage discipleship and the building of community.

We also regularly change the layout of the hall; it sounds quite a small thing to do but it's very effective in staving off complacency about the way a place 'should' look. Varying the activities or location or timings or leaders is all useful in keeping the momentum going.

Food for Thought - 3rd birthday cakeA survey told us, yes, people like it and we must continue, but we feel there's still so much to do. To say it's been easy and a record of successes would be far from the truth. On the contrary, there have been highs and lows and that learning curve can be very steep. However, we marked our 3rd birthday on 24th January with a Scottish ceilidh – plenty of food, dancing and live music from a piper. There's plenty to celebrate. The Revd Cynthia Buttimer, a team curate at All Saints is tremendously supportive and she joins in as one of the many wonderful Food for Thought volunteers who make it all happen.

Looking back, it's clear to see that when you're willing to take that leap of faith, God will be with you every step of the way. At times it's exciting, frustrating or just plain old hard work, but there's nowhere else we'd rather be.