Planting in Toronto
By Alex Newman
A Toronto plant does church where church has
never been done.
It’s a few minutes before 7:00 on a Saturday night and a steady stream of footballers snake through the atrium concourse of the Liberty Market building in downtown Toronto, on their
way to the pub. Some glance through the plate glass windows of
the Danceology studio where a worship team tunes up. Others
stop, wander over and investigate more closely before friends
prod them on.
It is the worship service at Liberty Village’s first church plant
that’s aroused their curiosity. It’s not obvious “church” is going
At least that’s what Darryl Dash hopes. The 46-year-old
didn’t anticipate this turn of events in his life. Three years ago
he was pastor of a well-established Baptist church in Etobicoke.
He had a home, stable family life, two kids doing well in school.
Then he received The Call. Not a booming-voice-and-burning-bush kind, but it was persistent – Go and serve downtown.
After more than a year of prayer, research and conversations with family and church plant consultants, Dash zeroed
in on Liberty Village, a brand new community rising out of the
ashes of an industrial wasteland of parking lots and abandoned
warehouses. But it had what he was looking for – downtown,
growing population and no church.
Condos were going up at the speed of light and he moved
into one with his wife Charlene – who works locally – and
their two teenaged children. Soon after, 36-year-old part-time
associate Nathan Fullerton joined him, moving with his wife
Sarah and four children into a condo as well. Together they are
forging a new religious path in an urban – and highly secular –
landscape. “There’s no manual for how to do this,” Dash says.
“We are feeling our way every day. Church planting, especially
in uncharted territory, and especially without raiding other
downtown churches, is a notoriously high-risk venture. Most
of them fold after a year or two.”
That may be starting to change, however. Greg Laing, region-
al director of the C2C network of church planting, remembers
how flat the Vancouver church was in the 1990s. “Nobody was
planting, big churches were in transition. Ten years later people
starting coming from everywhere, and the church planting
movement was on.”
What’s happening, Laing believes, is a massive landscape shift
– 80 per cent of Canadians now live in cities, many in condos,
and they’re becoming desperate for human connection, a sense
of belonging to a community. “Loneliness is the number one
malaise in North America,” he says. “We believe the antidote
isn’t just community, but a community of believers.”
Churches in downtown Toronto, which emptied in the
1960s when people left the city in search of wide-open space
in the burbs, have not repopulated. In fact, many have been
retrofitted into lofts.
Unlike the seeker-friendly churches that previously attracted
“tons of people, but fell short of the missional life that was
Faith Today asked three
journalists to visit church
plants in Calgary, Winnipeg
and Toronto. Their reports
reveal the diversity and
dynamism – mixed with
very hard work – of church
planting in Canada today.
18 n May / June 2014 n