A Mission that Fits Today's Culture

A conversation with Norman Greene, Minister
North Bramalea United Church
Brampton, Ontario

We have continued to grow steadily, about 30% in the last five years or so. We added a third service at Easter 2006. This past year we recognized that our growth was slowed by a lack of staff and too small a facility. We developed a ministry growth plan which has four elements: developing new ministries by our people, developing leadership, adding staff, and expanding our building.

This growth plan grew out of our mission statement established in 1996: "To enable spiritually hungry people to share the life of Christ." We added a vision slogan in 2006: "Imagine God building better lives, better families and a better Brampton. We do." That vision slogan grew out of work that identified five basic components of vision: transforming people, building a caring community, reaching out to Brampton with emphasis on preventing families from falling into disrepair, and offering hope. We have a neighbouring Baptist church that has all kinds of programs dealing with addiction and recovery. We don't need to repeat that. We aim to work upstream in the prevention areas. Those are the points of our vision that were developed by our leadership and focus groups of the congregation.

The church program that epitomizes our vision has turned out to be a summer carnival day. My colleague, Jamie Holtom's son Lucas was killed in the Pine Lake, Alberta tornado several years ago. To celebrate Lucas' life, Jamie and Katrina and the Church organized an annual carnival for the neighbourhood. It is a free carnival that is attended by two to three thousand people. It has involved 250 volunteers from the church and neighbourhood. Reaching out to our neighbours like that has embedded an effective gospel vision and perspective for our City, in the Church.

I can't say there is a direct connection between this person or that coming to our church because of the Carnival, but it gives the Church a sense of being outward looking. It has attracted people.

Of course there are many other active groups and programmes in the Church that continue to work for each other and for our neighbours.

Our ministry growth plan includes developing ministries and leaders among our people over the coming year. Our Ministry Council has proposed a thematic goal of strengthening our core to receive new members through five areas of work: a belonging process, discipleship growth development, leadership development, discipleship of giving development and reworking our church government toward supporting mission. Recently we held a workshop with sixty leaders who brainstormed tasks and champions in these five areas.

Of course our standing operating mission teams - Worship, Discipleship Growth, Outreach (including Community Support Initiative), Welcome, Hospitality and Pastoral Care, Small Groups and Resource Management - continue with yearly objectives.

With regard to adding staff, we just received Presbytery approval for a Joint Needs Assessment Committee report for adding a Children, Youth and Family minister. We are also looking at a part time church manager position.

We also received Presbytery approval in principal for adding 26,000 sq. ft. to our building, with a sanctuary that seats 500, and a basement under that with a number of rooms for doing the ministries we have.

We completed a financial campaign in mid November through which people committed $905,000 over three years toward staffing and building. That is the most recent figure. We hope eventually it will be a million.

Behind these recent initiatives lies a change in the late '90s. At that point we began to move from a middle of the road traditional United Church. We have a band now, with worship music drawn from a wide variety of sources. Our worship has become far more visual. Most of our service is projected. We have a lot of images, movie clips, etc. Our values are that we need to offer the good news of the gospel in the context of Brampton. That means a different style of music that fits the Brampton culture and far more visual projection - that's the culture these days. The image culture is very powerful.

Another cultural shift - we are quite informal. We have coffee before the service, and people bring their coffee into the church. Our ministers wear street clothes. In terms of worship style, we have a lot more people up front, whether it is the band, the worship team, or people being interviewed or talking in various ways - talking about their faith. We want the people participating in the worship to see their faith modeled up there. We need different styles of people, different kinds of people, different races - all that in the leadership reflecting the congregation.

We realize that changing with the culture requires a whole lot of other stuff. Leadership has become very important. First of all, we are cultivating leadership at many different levels in the church. We have a budget for training leaders, taking leaders to conferences, meetings with leaders to offer skills and points of view and encourage them to lead.

We have moved from a minister centred church with committees to ministry teams. There has been a change in our governance. We don't have a Board with ten committees, we have a Ministry Council with six teams. We coach our leaders to encourage other leaders. Jamie Holtom and I intentionally offer leadership. If you ask where the vision of the church has come from, it has come out of our hearts - Jamie's and mine. We listened to people and then check with people in a number of ways, individual conversations, Ministry Council, focus groups, etc. The mission and vision comes from an interaction between minister and the grass roots. It is verbalized by the leadership, we check back with the congregation, and it gets crystallized. We try to promote that kind of leadership in each of the groups and ministries that we have.

We have tried to cultivate small groups. We are not very systematic about that, but we have a lot of teams or small groups working throughout the church's life. They have a good deal of freedom to lead and meet the needs of the particular people around them. We support them by budget, recruitment and as clear a vision as possible within which to work.

Our men's group of 35 or so meets for breakfast on Saturday morning once a month. The agenda includes talks from different guys in the church on spiritual questions, initiatives and interests they have found helpful. Some of the guys meet Wednesday mornings, have breakfast together, support each other and pray for each other.

The Women's ministry began more with small groups and an Annual Retreat and now has also taken up a Saturday morning breakfast. The groups tend to focus on spiritual growth and learning. The groups do include a UCW and a Craft Group which also fund raise. All this comes under the umbrella of "Women's Ministry."

We have moved from an outreach emphasis on benevolence to something we call Community Support Initiatives. The significance of the shift has to do with a change from giving money to members being active in the life of our City in the name of Christ. We have, for example, an evening for cancer victims and their families. Out of this came a Regional Councillor's initiative to develop the Wellspring Centre, a centre for social and spiritual support for cancer victims and their families, here in Brampton. She convinced developers to donate a lot and a house, and she is well on her way to raising three million dollars in assets for that. The idea came from an Evening of Hope and she attributes the Wellspring development to God's work and the support of the Church. Needless to say, that's a very exciting outcome.

A single parent moms group has emerged. This group has a dinner a number of times a year so the women can have a night out and feel support. That group invites single Mom's from the local shelter to their events as a way of extending the gospel to Brampton. Forty five mom's and children came from the shelter at one of their recent dinners and movie nights.

We have been heavily influenced by Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Ohio and Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago. Our theology is significantly different at times, but we find their methods, their vision and their hope very enabling. We take 15 to 20 people down to their August leadership conferences, delivered here in Toronto by video cast. We also have participated in other conferences from both churches, for small groups or worship arts, for example.

The one single most important aspect that has contributed to our growth? It is hard to pick out one factor because it has involved a cultural shift. But I would say the key factor has been to clarify the mission and vision, and having someone to drive that.

Norm Greene was appointed by Dufferin-Peel Presbytery to develop the new congregation of North Bramalea United Church out of Harrison United Church members and others gathered from the north Bramalea area in 1983. He has served North Bramalea United Church since then. Visit the North Bramalea website at http://www.nbuc.ca for more information.

A Visit - Camera in Hand

Clair Woodbury visited the congregation Sunday Feb. 4 and took a few pictures.

We were greeted warmlly by Pamela Gibson. When she found we were visitors, we were shown where to hang our coats, helped get the grandchildren into the right care locations, and talked about their plans to expand the facility.


Worship began with a video illustrating what it meant to be an inviting congregation. Then came the music. The four piece band - keyboard, two guitars and drums - was excellent.

They need three services to accomodate the people who attend on an average Sunday. The 10 a.m. worship was jammed, but there was a room for us at 11:45.


Norm Green's talk described some practical ways to handle conflict, based on Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. It was illustrated at one point with a video scene from the movie The Mission. The music team leads the music. Norm's associate Jamie Holtom did the Children's Time. A lay person read the scripture. Another lay person did the announcements. All together worship is a team effort.


On the way out, we were invited to help ourselves to a "Church Shopping Bag." It contained some information about the church and two DVDs, one a welcome to North Bramalea United and the other communicating what they believed as a congregation.


February 2007


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