Recently I had the opportunity to sit down and have a chat with Greg Elford and his team at New Heights church. They have been undergoing some significant changes as they take active steps toward accepting responsibility for their neighbourhood. Their efforts have been daring and exciting. What they have built points to what is possible when God’s people step out in faith together. But I don’t want to give you the impression that this happened over night. This was a journey.
Greg and his wife Erin (and many others at New Heights) have been wrestling for quite some time with a sense of holy discontentment. They were a well-established church that was planted in the mid 90’s. They engaged in meaningful ministry. They bridged cultural and socio-economic gaps in Mission. They were a free and relaxed community when it came to issues like worship style and ministry choices. Based on their history, Greg and his community could have easily rested on their laurels. But they didn’t do that. They had the courage to ask, “What’s next?”
A simple question to ask, but a far harder question to answer.
As a denominational leader I got to watch Greg wrestle at training events like the Culture and Missional Church or at a New Leaf Design Shop. We talked about his holy discontent during shared drives, walks, coffees and meals. I’m proud to say, I never once saw him take the easy way out. He stayed with the question, and in God’s perfect timing the answer slowly began to take shape. Greg and his church began to notice that they were not as effective as they had once been at reaching the younger generation. Instead of ignoring this fact he began to ask why.
Change for New Heights did not come easily. There were difficult questions and difficult conversations to have. There were preferences and habits that had to be set aside in order to make room for a newer generation. Greg did not make the pastoral mistake that some do of simply pushing through his agenda. He was patient as he invited people into the challenge of accepting responsibility for their neighbourhood. He facilitated conversations. He invited people into a process of discovering what God wanted to do next in and through New Heights. He turned aside the all too common church leadership temptation of seeing himself as the visionary CEO who’s only task is to swiftly and decisively get his way. Instead he framed this as a family project. They did the hard work of deciding, believing, and risking together.
The Way Forward
Here is what is going on at New Heights these days. For the first time in their existence they have a building to call their own, but unlike many buildings that churches use this is a 7 day per week space. The Penny Cafe, New Heights Church, and Hope Central are partnered together to ensure that something is always going on in downtown Mission.
The Penny Cafe, which serves good coffee (verified by yours truly), provides as a neutral communal meeting space.
New Heights Church, a community of Jesus followers, worships together and animates the other spaces with their hope and faith in the Good News.
Hope Central is there to provide vital resources like connection, friendship and warm meals to the homeless in the city. It’s a match made on earth as it is in heaven, and I for one couldn’t be prouder.
Friends, the future of the church belongs to people who are willing to do the hard work of asking God “What’s Next For Us?” This is not time to rest on our laurels. It’s time to put aside preferences and habits that act as barriers to new generations and new kinds of people. It’s time to accept responsibility for our neighbourhood.
If you’d like to see for yourself what Greg and the New Heights crew are up to check out this video. https://vimeo.com/288424127 password: fmcic2018
Rev. Jared Siebert
Director of Church Planting