The Missio Dei in Calgary, Alberta, Canada
The city of Calgary, with nearly 1.3 million people bursting the seams of the city limits into the limited remains of the “New West” and the “Final Frontier,” is a place of booming economics, industry, natural and civic beauty, and opportunities for just about everything you could imagine. For the last fifteen years, the population has been steadily growing at around 90 persons per day. This drastic growth, led by the powerful banking and oil industry, has provided ample amounts of prospects for other businesses, namely construction, food, education, and sports to flourish alongside of them.
With such wonderful prospects surrounding the city of Calgary, it is no wonder that so many people are flocking to it. There are numerous world renowned sports teams, several top-of-the-line university and technical schools, a diverse array of cultures, the world’s largest fair/rodeo (Stampede), the beautiful scenery, and notions of every season. Calgary has its own shopping marts, complete with doctors’ offices, schools, and sporting facilities in every newly developed neighborhood. It is the ideal location for aspiring young singles, newly forming families, established ones, or even the individual looking for a place to relax and retire. Simply put, Calgary is the perfect city and has everything—except hearts that are broken for the Lord.
Some of the most recent reports show that far less than 10 percent of all Calgarians are saved, professing the name of Jesus Christ and being actively involved with a local congregation. With the setting of Calgary, it is honestly easy to understand. As most communities provide individuals with all needed provisions, there just seems to be no place for the Christian church. Truth be told, there are more churches within just about any one single city’s church organization than in all of Canada combined. Being the case, Calgarians are forced to make long treks just to find a church, provided they even desire to go to one.
And it is not like a group can simply build a new church. One acre of land (just the land alone) is priced at just over $1 million within city limits. That, unfortunately, is something that many Christian groups just cannot afford. Being the case, a new initiative has begun—home groups and community church plants. We have discovered that we must bring the church to the people and portray to them the power and blessing of having Christ in their lives, not to mention the need for His salvation, redemption from sin, and restoration to the God who created them. Thus the struggle begins though, as most show no signs for need. They have the job; they have the money; they have all of the “things” they could want; they have the family; they have the friends; and they have the vacations. What more could they possibly want?
One group that has settled to face this act of service is Southtrails Network, a movement of church plants along the southern most expanses of Calgary. Their aim: to provide a church opportunity in each and every community throughout Calgary. Let it be known that this is first and foremost God’s work; something that He began, something that He is maintaining, and something that only He can fulfill. Let it be fully established that aside from the presence of the powerful Mormon Church, and a few spiritualist groups, no formal sense of religion is present. On the contrary, most Calgarians hold fast to a very post-modern and pluralist mindset, more than not desiring religion but truly being turned off by the notion of it. The slim few minorities that are seeking it are unfortunately quickly drawn into the Mormon Church, the only establishment that has the means to build a $2.5 million facility.
So, Southtrails Network begins their own initiative, going directly to the people and beginning their service of impact the city one family at a time. The basis of their service is community engagement, formulating relationships and building trust with any and all individuals. Be it as small a thing as always getting gas from the local station and getting to know the cashier, to working part-time at the community center, to hosting block parties and various camps, the aim in building these relationships is to relate to them the import of a relationship with Jesus Christ. It is a slow work, but it is a progressive one that is having colossal effects.
At the turn of the century when Southtrails first began its work in south Calgary, the availability was very limited. Individuals offering time of service where restricted to the back corners of community centers, only allowed to provide the blessing of yard work and painting. Though their efforts where much appreciated by the locals, the implications of having a church group on site created an out-of-sight out-of-mind mentality. The popular thought of the day was that “If we keep them in the back corners, hidden from anyone who may pass by, we can limit and control their effect.” Little did they know that God has already breaking the hearts of many.
As the years progressed, and as individuals were faithful in service and prayer, their impact began to grow. The groups that were once cutting limbs and weed-eating around the fence line slowly moved up to the foreground, volunteering as organizers and planners of large community events and even being allowed to host their own events. Before they knew it, Southtrails network was the leading force in the community. Everyone knew their simple red tee-shirts with the church logo on the front, and everyone trusted them.
This trust continued to grow as further events were held. Before too long, parents were bringing their children in flocks to the camps being hosted by Southtrails, completely comfortable with the leadership and governance of the church. Though not everyone knew of Southtrails, those that did quickly became advocates and supporters of their efforts, pushing new comers to register as early as possible for their events. It became apparent that even though no literal building was in place, the Christian church was being established and growing. It was not confined to the walls of a building on Sunday morning but had grown to reach the soccer fields, the tee-ball diamonds, and the local ice rinks.
Allow me to share one specific example of how this trust has grown. In 2005 a young family of four moved to south Calgary from England. With two little girls ages 3 and 5, the parents were quickly searching out ways to get involved in the community, and Southtrails provided just that opportunity. This family, definitely not one that would be considered Christian, did not come to church, did not attend a Bible study, never made a single mention of God, yet began attending every community event hosted by Southtrails. They, actually, grew to be the biggest supporters across the town. The impact did not stop their though.
During each of the camps, Southtrails’ leaders would present short “devotions” to the children and parents, typically focused around topics such as honestly, truth, love, forgiveness, etc. It was evident that these lessons were sticking as the parents would often return days later speaking of how, when a fight would break out in the house, it was the children who would step forward to provide guidance, a sense of wisdom and insight, and remind the parents of the lessons learned during camp. People may not have been showing up regularly on Sunday mornings, yet they were receiving the message of the Gospel, complete with examples from Scripture and prayers to go along.
The relationship with this British family grew to a paramount level. Still focused upon obtaining more money and possessions, never showing up at church, and definitely not bringing up direct conversations about God, they were nonetheless advocating and supporting every work of the church. Beyond this, the trust that they had with the church workers around their daughters grew too. It was not uncommon for them to use the church workers as babysitters, for the trust had been established. When a birthday would roll around, whom else but the church members would be invited. And when a long summer of camps would come to a close, this family would flood the houses of several church members, providing them with mounds of thank-you cards, personally drawn pictures and letters, baked goods, and enough hugs to keep you warm through the long winter months that Calgary has to offer. Again, it was evident that the church, not that which is held on Sunday mornings around a pulpit but one lived amongst the people, had been established. Community had been established, trust had been formed, and lives were being shared together—all in the name of Christ.
Never let it be forsaken the power that comes with community. Again, this British family may not have been attending church yet, and may not have even made a clear confession of faith, yet they were actively engaged in every conversation, were actively participating in every event, and were growing as a family unit. They had joined the efforts of the church, were openly advocating all of the efforts of Southtrails, and were even beginning to offer up their own service for the community.
In recognizing all of these blessings, the truth of Exodus 3:12 could not be more evident. Just as God promised Moses prior to the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, so has God promised the people of south Calgary: “When you have brought the people out, you will serve and worship God on this mountain.” This movement of Southtrails Network is not only making an impact among the community, but is completely revitalizing the characteristics of what a Christian church is meant to be. At no point is it there for its own gain or glory but rather only exists to provide hope and guidance in a lost world, glorifying God the entire time.