Cyclical Churches

The Presbyterian Church in Canada doesn’t exactly have a reputation for evangelical church planting.

It’s not like the folks at 50 Wynford haven’t tried. For years, Canadian Ministries had a coaching network that worked with church leaders who felt the call. Ongoing grants helped sustain several church communities. But the interest was hardly overwhelming.

“I had one coaching initiative in three years. It wasn’t going anywhere – people were not taking advantage of it,” said Rev. Matt Brough, of Prairie Presbyterian Church in Winnipeg, who was one of the coaches.

That reputation could soon change. Canadian Ministries has rolled out Cyclical PCC, a new program in partnership with the U.S.-based network of the same name. It’s the initiative of Associate Secretary Jen de Combe. With freedom to explore new ways of doing things, she discovered Cyclical LA and took a trip to California to check it out.

“We were blown away by the model and how it encourages leaders to work with communities,” she said. Cyclical puts it in gardening terms: it’s about the soil, the nutrients, the light and temperature – the neighbourhood, culture and support from others – rather than just the plant.

“Cyclical creates an ecosystem to raise up leaders to start new communities,” said de Combe.

Canadian Ministries figured out a model that would work for the PCC. It begins with an application process for those who are discerning a call to plant churches. If, after praying through it, there’s something there, a vision is developed in partnership with other planters under the guidance of coaches. The plant comes to life and finds sustainability. And then – in keeping with the garden motif — the new church community will discern how the Holy Spirit is calling them to cultivate other communities. It’s a cycle – hence the name. Cyclical Inc. is providing the guidance and mentoring for the Cyclical PCC and its staff.

After receiving budget approval, the program was announced last summer. The response was immediate.

“As soon as it was made public, we were getting email from minsters across the country,” said de Combe.

Brough is now on the front line of Cyclical as program coordinator for the PCC’s New Worshipping Communities Initiative. As pastor of a church plant, he knows the challenges. And he’s eager to work with others.

Vision for new churches often arises in community and one’s own culture, said Brough. That’s why so many new churches are focused on language; Korean, Arabic and Hungarian PCC churches are vibrant examples.

“The best church plants are not about location,” said Brough. They’re about people and common interests. It’s right in line with Christ’s witness. One of the 12 core values of Cyclical LA is “incarnational disciple making – following the incarnation of Christ by making disciples through mutually enriching relationships with our neighbours,” its website states.

The Holy Spirit is front and centre with Cyclical. Again, that bucks the Presbyterian reputation.

“The Holy Spirit is already at work in communities and lives of potential leaders. But we haven’t provided space for that,” said Brough. “We really need the community to discern what the Spirit is up to. It often starts with vision that comes out of nowhere.”

Cyclical PCC now “provides a venue,” he added.

Brough points to Acts 16 – the vision of Paul, the journey to Macedonia, conversion of Lydia and the formation of a new community. “A whole group of people are involved – the Presbyterian church should be good at this, because we really believe in group decision making,” he added.

A key principle is that Cyclical is about churches planting churches, not individuals or small groups working alone.

It’s grassroots and highly entrepreneurial, open to the Spirit’s guidance and power. But it’s all done within a tribe. Research shows church planting is more successful within a denominational structure.

Once the application process is complete, de Combe hopes to have all 40 spots filled for discernment events in Vancouver and Toronto. Travel and accommodation are covered by Canadian Ministries. Participants are asked to kick in a modest $150. In the spring, they’ll learn basic principles of planting and be organized into cohorts of 8-10, which would meet monthly in person or online for support.

The first intake will be in place by January, but the New Worshipping Communities Initiative sees this as a three-year commitment to start.

“This is not something we’re doing once,” said de Combe.

Stay tuned.