Pastors beware. Go on a mission trip to Calgary, and you may be there for life. That’s what happened to Brett Myers, who had been pastoring Corinth Baptist Church in Westminster, S.C., for two and a half years, when he arrived on a mission trip in the summer of 2012.
“I was just broken by the need in the city,” Myers said.
To Myers’ surprise, the need for new churches in the city was more tangible than he had thought.
As he made plans for his church’s next mission trip to the city the following year, he told Pastor 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 had come to him recently to ask him to start a new 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 the city a few months later, Myers and his family arrived in the spring of 2014 and began making plans to start Southwinds Church Mahogany.
One of the many ways to help plant a church involves engaging with the community, which includes hosting events to reach the church’s neighbors.
But with only one Canadian National Baptist Convention (CNBC) church for every 53,627 people in the city, Calgary needs more than just one new church. And the churches that are in the city are small.
According to Bob Shelton, the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) Send North America: Calgary city missionary, the 27 CNBC churches in Calgary have a total of 1,850 people in them.
“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,” said Myers, who is currently a NAMB church planting apprentice in Calgary.
“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.”
Calgary and Edmonton, both NAMB Send North America cities, 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 had the highest population growth in Canada over the previous 10 years. Much of that growth has come from an expanding oil and gas industry.
Housing is popping up throughout the city.
Myers notes that the community where he is planting, named Mahogany, currently has about 3,000 residents but will include more than 40,000 residents by the time it’s done.
Because they are typically 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 to be started.
Shelton believes the biggest limiting factor in pushing back lostness in Calgary isn’t the responsiveness of the residents but the lack of church planters in the city. The city needs church planters who will come to the city 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.”
To help bring more laborers to the Calgary harvest fields, Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C., has agreed to become the lead partner for Send North America: Calgary.
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 church plants in the city. This year they hope to send as many as five.
The 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,” said Gilbert. “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 says 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 of volunteer teams in the summer to conduct camps and other outreach efforts.
Those efforts, Myers says, 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 namb.net/Calgary.