By Jan Woltmann
The cataclysmic events of 9-11 marked a watershed moment for church culture in Oshawa, Ont. People literally walked away from church: in droves. According to a Statistics Canada report published in 2003, the city of Oshawa, located 45 km east of Toronto, experienced the largest drop-off rate in Protestant church attendance in Canada following the tragedy.
For Oshawa MB church planter and pastor Dave Fowler, the new reality created the opportunity to think differently about doing church.
“The original vision of the core group I started with some 14 years ago was to plant churches in schools to create a network of churches across the Durham region,” explains the veteran pastor who is partnered with two other denominations: the Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec, and the Christian Missionary Alliance in Canada. “After 9-11 we began exploring the notion of church as community centre – a community venue out of which a number of events, services, programs, organizations, and the church could all find a home – creating a true centre for the community.”
The process of acquiring a piece of property for this purpose proved to be lengthy, rife with seemingly insurmountable setbacks, but prayer and perseverance prevailed.
On Sunday, Oct. 2, Life Point Church (formerly the Durham Church Network) held its first service in its renovated space, a United Church building that they converted into Harmony Creek Community Centre, located at one of the largest and busiest intersections in Oshawa. The service took the form of a breakfast club (an idea borrowed from several Quebec MB churches), featuring football legend, Michael “Pinball” Clemons. An estimated 300 people came to hear the professional athlete who is celebrated for his community involvement and his leadership both on and off the field.
As part of the opening festivities on Saturday, Oct. 1, Fowler invited community leaders from non-profit and charitable organizations to an all-expenses-paid, day-long leadership training event, sponsored by the Canadian Conference of MB Churches (CCMBC), and facilitated by stewardship representatives Robert Bell and Ben Wohlgemut (certified trainers with CCMBC’s Eagle’s Flight program). In 2009, Fowler and his leadership team experienced the benefits of such a seminar and resolved to offer it to community leaders who may not otherwise have the opportunity.
“The response to the day was overwhelmingly positive,” said Fowler. “I was thrilled to meet with people who are movers and shakers in various organizations, some of whom I’ve been working with for quite some time. It opened up new avenues of conversation for those who came to the breakfast club the next morning – that was our hope.”
For Bell and Wohlgemut, it was the first time they presented the Eagle’s Flight leadership material to a largely non-church group. Of the 26 attendees, more than two-thirds were leaders from the community.
“Life Point wants to reach their constituency for Christ,” said Wohlgemut, “and they’re doing so by providing leadership tools for people who are in secular organizations – they’re serving them by giving them very practical helps. That’s inspiring!”
To be sure, Life Point Church is realizing its dream of becoming the centre of Oshawa community life. The gymnasium, part of the existing structure, is already home to a dance school, a karate group, and several women’s fitness groups, and is converted to a “jumpzone” with inflatable playground units for community use on weekends. Renovations are underway to make room for a large daycare centre chain due to move in next month; a music school will be occupying a revamped balcony area; a professional event planner from the church will ensure that the facility is used for weddings, banquets, and concerts year-round. And more community agencies are expected to have an onsite presence in the future.
God is on the move in Oshawa. People are returning to church: in droves.