Reset: A New Mindset for A New Season (Part 3)
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“The church won’t look the same in the future… and that’s okay.”
This week is Part 3 of our “Reset: A New Mindset for a New Season” series, where Amy and I are interviewing four pastors from churches of different sizes in the U.S. and Canada to hear how they are leaving the past behind and leading forward in 2022.
In Part 1, I sat down with Pastor William Attaway from Southview Community Church to discuss what his church experienced in the last couple years and how they’re shifting their mindset outward again. In Part 2, we were joined by Pastor Ty Bean from Cowboy Junction Church to hear about the unique challenges they faced during the pandemic and how they managed to come out stronger on the other side. (Part 4 of this series is now available).
This week, I’m joined by Jonathan Smith, Lead Pastor of OneChurch.to (Toronto, ON), to dive into how his church clarified their vision and pivoted their priorities to reach their city, despite the challenges and disruptions. We also talked through:
- Focusing your mission and pruning your methods
- Being “for” your community digitally
- Creating urgency around the need for change
- Defining bold moves for the future
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Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we are exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. If you’re headed into 2022 feeling dissatisfied with half-full worship services, a lack of volunteers and declining engagement in key ministries, it’s time to consider a reset and shifting to a new strategy for a new season. On today’s podcast, Tony and Amy continue our reset series in a conversation with Jonathan Smith, Lead Pastor at onechurch.to, to hear how their church has pruned for healthy growth, impacted thousands in their city and clarified the bold moves they’re focused on for the future. If you’re new to the podcast, before you listen, head over to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast, and subscribe to get the show notes in your email. When you do, you’ll get resources to go along with each week’s episode, including the leader conversation guide and bonus resources, as well as access to our podcast resource archive. Again, that’s theunstuckgroup.com/podcast to subscribe. Now let’s join Tony and Amy for this week’s conversation.
Well, Tony, I love how we’re starting the new year with this series called “Reset: a new mindset for a new season.” And I think what’s surprised me so far is that the challenges and the strategies to overcome them sound somewhat familiar, even though these churches are very different shapes and sizes.
Yeah, I agree. And I think the key here, of course, is that every church, regardless of size, needs to hit the reset button based on what we’ve experienced, especially in the last couple years. But in a moment, I actually think we need to hit the reset button because of trends that have been in place for decades, maybe, within the context of our mission, but I know there a lot of churches out there that they can’t wait for 2019 to return. But we just, we can’t wait to return to the way we used to do church. And I hope even in this series that we’re doing, you’re starting to hear this growing sense of urgency that I know I have and I know, Amy, you share. But it was pretty telling before the holidays, there was some additional research that came out from Pew Research Center. They released some fresh data helping us see a little more clearly how the pandemic continues to accelerate trends that we’re seeing related to faith and religion in the US. And some of these stats were just staggering to me. As an example, now only 63% of Americans identify as Christians, and that’s down from 78% only 15 years ago. And so 15 years, especially at my age, doesn’t seem like that long ago, Amy. So that rapid of a decline is just staggering for me. 29% of people now identify as not having any religion or we’ve maybe referred to those folks as the “nones” in the past. So that’s now at 29% and again, 15 years ago that was only 16% of people indicated that they didn’t identify with any religion. And I don’t know, this is based on those two stats. Maybe this one shouldn’t be a surprise, but for some reason it was this stat that hit me the hardest. Again, this is from Pew Research, but they indicated that less than half of Americans now pray on a daily basis. And that’s when it just hit me. My goodness, these are real lives that we’re talking about here. These are real communities. And if less than half of us now are praying on a daily basis, that certainly has to be impacting the ministry and the mission of the church as well. And again, if we’re honest with ourselves, I think we would agree that these are trends that were true before the pandemic. And if anything, what we’ve experienced in the last couple years have accelerated these trends. Our mission, of course, it hasn’t changed. The question though, is if we’re satisfied with continuing to use the methods and the strategies that were ineffective before COVID, and now in many ways feel like they really weren’t designed for this current season of ministry. Amy, I was recalling, I remember walking into churches back in the 1990s and there was this stark contrast that I used to see between churches that were essentially using 1950s models of doing church and those churches that had started to rethink their ministry strategies and were doing church for a new generation. And when I walk into churches today, honestly, it feels like there’s a growing and very obvious divide between churches again, only now the differences that some churches are still doing church using 2019 models, and other churches have moved on and are starting to implement new models to reach a new generation. So I think the question church leaders need to wrestle with today is what church are we going to be? Are we going to push reset and fulfill our mission for this new season of ministry that God has us in?
I’m excited to hear the interview today because I bet we’re gonna get some good example and challenge of what does it look like to be in this new church? So why don’t you introduce today’s guest, Tony?
Yeah, this is gonna be a fun conversation. I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Jonathan Smith. He’s the lead pastor of onechurch.to. He’ll explain the name of his church in a moment, but the church is located in Toronto. It’s one of several churches that we’ve had the opportunity to engage with in Canada over the last year or two. And just to put this conversation into context, onechurch.to was probably about two or three times larger than Cowboy Junction Church, and we talked with Pastor Ty Bean from Cowboy Junction in last week’s episode. So they’re considered to be a megachurch, if you will. And particularly in Canada, they’re a very large church with a growing ministry impact that they’re having in their region. So with that, here’s my conversation with Pastor Jonathan.
Jonathan, we’re gonna talk about the church in a moment, but before we get to that, can you tell us a little bit about your journey into ministry and how long you’ve been pastoring at onechurch.to, and kind of while we’re at it, tell us a little bit about the church’s name too, cause that’s unique.
Yeah, sure. Thanks, Tony, for having me on your podcast, it’s great to be with the Unstuck listeners. I’ve been a pastor for 29 years. I’ve pastored in three different Canadian provinces in my early twenties. I planted a church in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I pastored in beautiful downtown Montreal, Quebec and in Toronto has been the bulk of my ministry years. And I’ve been the lead pastor here for about five years, but I was on staff in a previous iteration as an associate pastor in this church, and our church’s name, onechurch.to, we’ve just recently changed the name in the last few years. Onechurch.to represents we’re 75 nationalities and five generations on one mission. And the “.to” is actually, it’s a kind of a colloquial term for Toronto. Toronto has, we’re the 416, Fort we’re “t-dot” we’re “t.o.” So we’re one church in Toronto is the idea, that’s the idea behind the church’s name, and it’s our website.
Well, that makes it easy for everyone then, right? That’s good. So, gosh, I don’t know if you can remember, we were talking a little bit about where the church is before we started to record today, but let’s go back in time a couple of years. Jonathan, give us a picture of what the ministry looked like back before the pandemic.
Well, before the pandemic happened, I think right before we were in really feeling some momentum and growth in the church, and it had followed a series of pretty strategic decisions we had made. When I came back from Montreal to be the lead pastor here at the church, it’s a great church. It had been around for a lot of years, had never had any significant downturn because such great leadership, consistent faithful leadership over the years, but we were in decline and we were aging. And so we made some decisions. There were 42 staff on the team when I came back, and everybody seemed to be overworked, but what we really were were like an overgrown garden. We were great at starting new programs and new ministries and very lousy at ending them. So we weren’t good at the pruning process and through some attrition and some hard decisions, we moved from to about 25 staff, and our productivity and effectiveness just began to skyrocket. It really changed the trajectory of the church. We were also a multi-site campus church in a previous iteration and I actually launched all of those as an associate pastor. And so we had five campuses, and when I came back from Montreal, it was clear too they weren’t doing what we intended them to do. And so we launched one as its own independent church, and we folded the rest back into us. Cause I knew the future would be digital. And so we had launched already, pre pandemic, a digital stream of the church called “onechurch.to live,” we called that at the time. And we put a lot of our eggs into that basket. So pre pandemic, we were seeing a lot of momentum based off of some of those hard decisions we had already made.
So here we are a couple years later, and of course, a lot about our world has changed, but I know because we’ve been working with your team over these last number of months, that a lot about the church has changed too in the last couple of years. So kind of catch us up to speed with where you are as a ministry today.
Well, first off, it’s been awesome working with you and the team at The Unstuck Group. We had been following you guys for quite a little while and actually had really taken your little pyramid structure. We had actually been working on it internally just by ourselves before we really engaged with you guys to help better clarify where we were going, because we’re actually still in the thick of the pandemic while we’re recording this. Toronto’s probably not as open as other areas in Canada and maybe areas even in the US right now. But we kind of got our staff aside and began to engage in, you know, clarifying our future next steps. And I think during, you know, what the church looks like now, two years later into the pandemic, well, we’ve taken a number of steps. One was to engage you guys. That helped clarify, well, our direction. That has been super helpful in determining our staffing structures and next steps. But we did other things. We launched, I’ve got the hoodie on right now. We launched The Love Army in the middle of the pandemic. And the aspirational goal of The Love Army is that we would do a hundred thousand acts of goodness over the next five years as a people group. And today we launched it in the middle of the pandemic cause we wanted a way to keep our volunteers engaged. And also too, we knew the witness of the church, often the witness was being more known for what it was against than what it was for. And we wanted to be bold in the city of Toronto about “be unignorably good” is our tagline. And so I’m really proud of the congregation year at onechurch.to cause in the last year they’ve done 30,000 acts of goodness. And that’s only the ones we’ve been able to record. So they let us know when they’re doing it, and they can do it anonymously through our app or they text it in and great stories of engagement in the community in the city. So that’s a little bit of what we’ve been working on over this last two years during the pandemic.
Yeah, and actually, The Love Army, it sounds like it’s kind of taken on a life of its own in a way and starting to go even beyond your ministry, is that right?
Yeah. There’s a number of organizations in our country and churches that have adopted it because we like to call ourselves an open source church. If we’ve got something and we’ve been able to do it, we want to help others do it and if they can use it, we want them to use it. So I think it’s golovearmy.org is the website for Love Army, but it’s just really, it’s been awesome because people have been able to engage people from their work and the neighborhood, others to participate in doing these acts of goodness around the city, as well as working towards some of the larger social issues in our nation. And we have a, you know, a systemic issue of, you know, whether it’s racism or misogyny or whether or not it’s the plight of first nations people, Love Army addresses those and walks towards it in trying to do good and rebuild health and contribute to our community that way.
Well, Jonathan, as you look back through these last couple of years at what the church’s experienced, what you’ve gone through, what would you say was the biggest challenge that you had to overcome in this season?
Yeah. I barely need to think about this one. I’d have to say unity. I mean, it’ll be 30 years next year I’ve been pastoring in very diverse congregations. All of them have been multi-cultural in different settings across the nation. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a more distracted or divisive season in the church as the one we’re actually traversing right now together. And it’s almost as if politics, or even agendas, have superseded the mission Jesus gave us a church and I almost feel like we have amnesia about what our enemy really is. It’s not the government. It’s not politics. We have an adversary far more cunning than that. And it’s almost like we’ve forgotten what the mission is. And I think, you know, if Jesus was right, which I think he is, he said, you know, your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples. It’s been really taking a lot of extra energy to walk towards the mess, and that’s our saying in our ministry setting, to not ignore those things that are either going off track or added drama, because all of that is taking away from our energy towards the mission. So I think trusting, actually trusting in God’s providential agenda. I almost feel like, and I won’t speak for all churches cause everyone’s different, but when I talk to other leaders, I almost feel like we’ve become insecure almost, we’ve become insecure and small in our thinking, and I think it’s hurting our witness. So we’ve paid a ton of attention to that, cause we’ve really seen that not only has the church potentially has potential to divide, but we do feel like that our adversary would love to fan that flame.
Jonathan, I’m just a little bit surprised because I just assumed that a lot of the division that churches are experiencing here in the US is related to the politics and all that we’ve been through in the last number of years here. But it sounds like you’re dealing with similar issues in Canada as well.
Yeah. You know, I think COVID has revealed a lot of things. You know, people say COVID maybe caused things in the church. I just think it kind of really revealed what was already in the church. And I think, for us, we even went through our discipleship processes again and a lot of it was using your material to help us rethink our discipleship process. But what happened in the middle of COVID, when all of this was getting stirred up, I just had this moment where I’m looking at our pastors and our directional leadership team. And I just felt like the type of disciple we are producing has left us wanting. There’s something wrong there. And we’re arguing over minutia. We are distracted by small things and, you know, where’s that compulsion to lay down our lives. It’s not about our rights. We’re giving up our rights to serve others. And so we begin to rebuild our discipleship process around it, but I think COVID, and people’s rights, and we made a determination as a church early in this that we wouldn’t take our cues from other churches or even the government. We follow the governance’s protocols, but we have great medical professionals in our church and in our community. And we’ve really worked with them to help form our position and how we respond in this pandemic. And of course that’s not always popular because people like to compare churches and ministries and other things. And we certainly don’t want to, we bless anyone that might have a different approach because we feel like everybody’s carrying it and they’re processing it the way they can. So we’re just here to help others get through it. And we want to do it as safely as possible. But, no, you guys are not alone. And I do think, you know, we’re your younger brothers or at least smaller brothers. And so I think what happens in the US definitely influences what happens here in Canada.
Well, Jonathan, we’ve talked a lot about the ministry of the church in this season, but let’s talk about your personal leadership. What leadership lessons have you learned in the season?
You know, engaging The Unstuck Group was very intentional, and it kind of came in the middle of the pandemic. And I know too, there were, you know, rightfully so, some in our team, whether at our deacon level or others, were just wondering, is this the right season to do this? But we really felt like it was the right season to lean in. And my son works in marketing, and he has a little term that they use in their company. They’ll say that sometimes you can have some people in the business, but you need to not be in it. You need to be on it. And I’ve thought about that a lot with my own leadership and even pastors and others that I’ve journeyed with. Sometimes we’re so in it that we can’t get on it. And that’s why we marry our methodologies so much. We’re so invested in the way we do things. And so when things like COVID comes, it’s really hard to leverage us off of those ethics and ways we’ve done things cause they have been so successful in the past. But when the game changes, the strategy needs to shift. But I think if anything, it’s really caused me to really try to reposition myself on the ministry, not in the ministry. Now I have things I have to do like everybody else, I have responsibilities, but I need those pause moments. But The Unstuck Group, and this is not an infomercial for you, but man, honestly, it was true. You guys helped us kind of get our heads out of the weeds to get ourselves on the mission and the ministry, so we could kind of forge way forward. And that’s certainly a valuable leadership lesson that I have through this. Often it was tweaking and you’re dealing with a lot of minutia that isn’t working anymore. And unless you can get on top of it, you can’t see what’s next. You’re just too close to it. And that’s a big lesson certainly through this pandemic I’ve learned.
All right, well this entire podcast series is all about the reset button that churches are needing to push at this point in the pandemic. And with that in mind, I’ve really appreciated your church’s Five Bold Moves for the Future. And I just, well, first of all, will you just share what those are. And how is that helping you set the reset button at this point for your church?
Yeah. I mean, this has been so invigorating and energizing for us as a church. And this is the result of what’s kind of come out of working with you guys is to really help clarify these five bold moves for us. So the first bold move is to reach and touch a million Torontonians every year, digitally. And, you know, Toronto’s the fourth largest city in North America. I think it’s LA, New York, Mexico City, then Toronto. And there’s a lot of people to be reached here. And so we know that, and this is kind of even the strategy of moving away from the multisite, we wanted to put all of those resources into the digital because it could go places our bricks and mortars operations could not possibly expand to. And you know, if you have a multisite model, anyone listening, we applaud that. It’s not like we think this is the only way. It’s the way we determined we needed to do. So on an aspirational side part of that goal is we just want be a leading digital church in Canada, that we can help other churches digitalize and take their next steps because we’ve learned a lot of lessons and we can share those along the way. So that’s kind of our heart in it. But the first bold move is reach 1 million people digitally every year. The second bold move is to blow open the doors of the church. And the idea behind that is to steward the great facility and campus that God’s given us. A lot of our rooms are empty a lot of the times during the week. We’re determined to fill it with our community, to make opportunities for them to be a part of us, join us, no strings attached. We’re working right now. I mean, I haven’t even told you all about this, Tony, but we’re working on something called Alter Labs, where we’re going to create these digital labs that companies and others can come in and be a part of us. And we can begin to build think tanks around it. And Jerry Sen, our digital team leader, he’s actually the guy who architected The Love Army, on our team is really leading the charge in those things. Being sticky for the next generation. I think anyone watching this, you’d appreciate that. But we just felt like we needed to be intentional right across the board. How does our finance team help the next generation stick? How does our adult ministries team help recruit people to help the next generation stick? Every division of this church, every team in this church is all in on that one mission. So we know that everyone that greets on a Sunday, everyone that’s a part of something, they’re all advocates for the next generation. Being unignorably good to Toronto, and that’s part of our Love Army mission, and Jerry’s leading us in that, and we’re already ahead of that scale. We’re really excited about that. And then the last one is to champion justice the Jesus way. The injustices in this world, and, you know, I think during the pandemic, it’s been interesting watching what’s boiled to the surface racially, the tension that’s been there in Canada, too. It’s been the plight of first nations people here. We have a very cruel history in this nation of how we’ve treated first nations people. We’re determined to be a part of allowing the church to be known what it’s for. And that means standing up too. And it means speaking up. And so we have this little saying, speak up, stand up, and look up, pray, and be a part of the solution side. So we’re taking on some of the injustices in our culture, in our setting, so that we can make it better for newcomers to Canada, we can make it better for, and you know, as a side issue along these lines would be, you know, this is where millennials and Gen Zed’ers are, and how do you guys, you guys don’t say Zed in the US, right? Z, do you guys say Gen Z-ers.
Gen Z? Yeah.
Wow. There you go. There you go, Gen Z’s. We know their heart for this too. I think too long we’ve allowed the gospel to be proclamational, but it needs to be incarnational and proclamational in the way that we demonstrate it.
Well, Jonathan, again, I just love how your church, you and your team, and your congregation, you’re just not waiting for us to kind of get back to what normal church used to look like. You’re embracing all the opportunities for this next season of ministry to impact people’s lives in your community and really around the world. And so I just think it’s phenomenal how you you’re engaging, especially in these five bold moves that you just outlined. So as again, we talk about the reset button, any other final thoughts you wanna share?
You know, if anything, I wanna encourage anyone who’s listening to this. There is so much opportunity right now. I feel like this is a strategic moment in the kingdom of God, and Canada is a little bit more post-Christian probably than a lot of areas in the US. And if the US could learn anything from Canada is I think you guys are moving towards where we already are and we have been for some time. And I feel like it’s, I want to encourage anyone who’s discouraged in this moment. There’s incredible opportunities. I love that verse in Isaiah that says there’s treasure hidden in dark places. And this certainly has been a dark place, but we are mining treasure right now. And we’re looking towards the future, and the church won’t look the same and that’s okay. And this might be a gift in the long run. And I don’t mean the tragedies associated with this because we certainly have had them here in Toronto. We mourn with people as we’ve navigated that, but there’s incredible opportunity here to leverage off old mindsets and maybe some staff holding we’ve held onto that has not really propelled the mission forward. Maybe it’s grown us, but has not really produced the type of disciple that may maybe at the end Jesus will be saying, well done, good and faithful servant. But this is a great clarifying season. So use it and lean into it and don’t ignore it. That’d be my encouragement to anyone listening today.
This has been such a great episode already, but I just wanted to take a minute to thank our sponsor for today’s episode, Text In Church. We’ve been partnering with Text In Church, and we love how they find new ways to help church leaders thrive in ministry. And one of the incredible ways that they do that is through the Engage Conference. So save the date, February 8-10. This conference is a free online event for church leaders, where you’ll be led by ministry experts who will help your church reach more people using the right technology the right way. No matter what your role in the church, whether you’re a pastor, a tech director or children’s minister, there will be something for you. And the best part, it’s 100% free, 100% online and requires zero travel. Trade technology confusion for proven tips and strategies by getting your ticket and joining over 18,000 other church leaders at this free conference. To register, go to theunstuckgroup.com/engage.
Tony, that was such an encouraging conversation on so many levels. What are some of the highlights that stood out to you?
Yeah, so it was interesting. I don’t know if you caught this, but he talked about doing some things before the pandemic and then doing some things during the pandemic. So, first I want to highlight before the pandemic, they went through a pruning process where they began to focus their ministry programming and specifically reduce some staffing. And it was interesting to hear from Pastor Jonathan that they actually became more productive as a ministry and started to make a bigger kingdom impact because of going through that pruning process. And, again, just a reminder that getting that focus before the pandemic probably better positioned them to tackle the challenges and disruptions that they experienced in the last couple of years. But then, this is what stood out to me was all of these key initiatives that they have started to engage since the pandemic. So he talked about clarifying their future direction, and related to that specifically those five bold moves and how they really began to work on their ministry, especially around their ministry strategies. They launched The Love Army. And the picture of what they’re doing with that is just incredible, that they’re trying to do a hundred thousand acts of goodness in their community. And I love the phrase. He said, we want to be undeniably good to Toronto. Don’t you love that?
So good. So good.
And then, in the middle of the pandemic, they revisited their discipleship strategy. They want to help people continue to form a healthy spiritual journey and form faith so that they can live out the mission God’s called them to. They rolled out their new digital ministry strategy in this season. And again, the vision is just, to me, it’s just so huge because they’re trying to reach 1 million people in Toronto every year through their digital ministry strategy. And again, trying to be a leading digital church in Canada. I love that. And then in the last year or two here, they’ve also implemented a brand new strategy to reach the next generation. And so Amy, as I’m listening to all this, I’m just thinking, my goodness, I think a lot of us in this last season, we’re just, you know, kind of pushed off center a little bit and not sure how to respond to what we were experiencing. And onechurch.to, and mainly thanks to Pastor Jonathan’s leadership, just decided no, we’re gonna look at the opportunities that we have in this season, and we are going to move our mission forward.
Well, based on everything that Jonathan shared, what’s one next step that church leaders should take, especially in light of the need to reset.
Well, in the previous two episodes, we’ve talked about two critical leadership moves. With William Attaway, he provided an example of how leaders bring clarity. And we talked about specifically bringing clarity around the church’s reach strategy and the church’s discipleship strategy. And then last week with Ty Bean, he provided an example of how leaders embrace change, and he provided several examples of changes at their church and in his leadership over the last couple of years. Well, this week as we were listening to Jonathan, it reminded me that great leaders also create urgency. In other words, they don’t wait for challenges to resolve themselves. They don’t wait for the perfect solutions. They don’t wait for others to move first when new opportunities present themselves. And as one example of this, because as fewer people were coming to their buildings, the team at onechurch.to decided no, we’re gonna focus on reaching outside the walls of our church and instead reaching 1 million people in Toronto every year through their digital ministry strategy. Again, I absolutely love that. So Amy, if I’m a leader, listening to the conversation, I’m maybe thinking, here we are nearly two years into one of the biggest disruptions our ministry has ever faced, but we’re still waiting for the world around us to return to normal. We’re still holding on to our past methods. And because of that, it just, it feels like we’re getting stuck. And if that’s me as a leader, my next step after today’s interview is to figure out how am I going to create the urgency needed to help my ministry team and help my congregation move forward with our mission? So again, leaders create urgency, leaders bring clarity and leaders embrace change, but great leaders know it begins with creating a sense of urgency. And my goodness, it feels like here we have a global pandemic and reports of more and more people turning away from faith. This is certainly an appropriate combination of factors to help people see the urgency of now. So if you are still on the fence, let me remind you of something that Pastor Jonathan said, the church won’t look the same in the future, but that’s okay. You have permission to consider new strategies to reach a new generation.
So good. Well, Tony, any final thoughts before we wrap up today’s conversation?
Yeah, Amy, we love the Canadian churches that we’ve had the opportunity to serve in the last couple of years. And onechurch.to is just one example of the close to 200 churches The Unstuck Group has served in the last couple of years. If you are trying to clarify where you go next as a church in this season, where there still seems to be so many unanswered questions, we’d love to help your church as well. You know, it’s a brand new year and it’s time for a fresh start. And if you’d like Amy, me or someone else from our team to help create urgency, bring that clarity and embrace the appropriate changes needed for this new season, please reach out to us today at theunstuckgroup.com.
Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. If you like what you’re hearing on the podcast and it’s been helpful to you in some way, we would love your help in getting the content out farther. You can do that by subscribing on your favorite podcasting platform, giving us a review there and telling somebody else about the podcast. Next week, we’re back with another brand new episode. So until then, we hope you have a great week.
Can you provide a link to the latest research from pew research center on less than 50% of Americans pray daily? Only one I found on their site is 5 years old.
Hey Ben, we grabbed those stats from this WSJ article.