A city is vibrant, messy, multi-faceted, noisy, full of opportunity and full of needs. How does a small church live within the complexities of a city, maximize the opportunities for ministry and meet those needs?
A city is vibrant, messy, multi-faceted, noisy, full of opportunity and full of needs. How does a small church live within the complexities of a city, maximize the opportunities for ministry, and meet those needs? How does a pastor address the needs of the congregation while also meeting the needs of the surrounding community with limited resources?
True City is a consortium/think tank of like-minded people, pastors, and churches in Hamilton, Ontario, whose focus is: Churches together for the good of the city. They are not an organization. They don’t have a structure but instead meet together in small groups, workshops and conferences. Eleven churches from different denominations have covenanted together to be committed to each other and to identify shared areas of mission. They found that collectively, when they pooled their resources, they could really start to impact the city. The churches support each other in running food banks, a clothing depot, serving free meals, running day camps, coordinating sports leagues and much more.
Greg Reader (MDiv ’05) and Dallas Friesen (DMin ’13) are both involved in True City. Greg is working with International Teams and Dallas is co-pastoring Mount Hamilton Baptist Church with his wife. No one person is in charge of True City.
“Small churches cannot be everything to everybody,” says Greg. In the conversations amongst pastors of the covenant churches, there seemed to be a disconnect for some between the traditional roles their congregations were asking of them and what God was calling them to lead the church to do in the community. In 2010, True City facilitators visited each covenant church to meet with church leaders and boards. Having an external perspective, the facilitators were able to bring out the unique stories of each church. From the stories came questions: What is your sense of your church’s calling? How can other churches help you fulfill it? How can you help other churches fulfill their calling?
“Every one of these meetings was surprisingly energetic and the ideas that came out were brilliant,” says Dallas. Out of these story-telling times came the idea for a conference to answer this question: What does a healthy church and mission look like and how do we help each other grow to be healthy in mission? Most of the eighty people who attended the conference in February 2011 were board members from the core True City churches.
“For some pastors, doing weddings and funerals, and visiting parishioners in the hospital is missional, but for others these activities aren’t missional,” says Greg. “We can’t come up with a standard template for Hamilton.” But there’s the freedom to explore what missional does mean. True City facilitates a peer learning group where participants can talk about what they are wrestling with and know the safety of spiritual friendship. Through his time with his peers, Dallas knows what’s going on in the churches in Hamilton. “I feel easier about just doing what I’m supposed to do. It eases the load. And when someone is looking for a new church, and ours doesn’t seem to be the right fit, I can now say try this one here.”
“There is a lot of miscommunication in our society,” Greg says. “We need to engage in conversations and listen well.” He found out that twenty-seven households within a five-block radius of his house attend True City churches. These people have been meeting for coffee, conversation and prayer. Many Christians assume there is an anti-Christian sentiment in Canada that Greg just doesn’t think exists.
True City participants don’t claim to have all of the answers about what to do. What they are doing is working and learning together to more effectively live the truth in Hamilton.