The Church Has Left The Building

Canceling Sunday morning services is not the usual way to plant a church. But The Lantern Community Church in Calgary, Alberta, is not your usual church.

It started when 10 families from First CRC in Calgary were commissioned to plant a church in Inglewood, the city’s oldest neighborhood. In 2003 the church plant called Ed and Michelle Top as pastors, and the group decided on a community development vision.

Instead of Sunday services, they directed their energy toward the neighborhood. Members joined community groups, such as a car club and a karate class, the same way they would a church small group. Several families moved into Inglewood, sent their children to the local school, and joined the community association.

After 18 months of involving themselves in the neighborhood, the group started meeting on Sunday mornings. Since then, many people have come through the doors, and frequently they stay.

About one-third of the attendees are new to church. One woman exclaimed, “I like the church, but everyone talks a lot about Jesus! What’s that about?” Ironically, people who are accustomed to church often go elsewhere when they realize how much The Lantern asks of its members.

On the first Sunday of each month, the church leaves the building and worships by serving the community—an exercise they call Mobile Feet.

Groups meet at the church and walk to eight nearby projects. One group sorts clothing at a shelter for women escaping from domestic violence. Another builds picnic tables at affordable housing units; another visits a homeless shelter.

At noon they return to the church to share sandwiches and stories. Often members bring along new friends from the organizations they have partnered with.

Church members see God’s hand in every inch of the neighborhood. People from the community are invited to serve on church committees and on the diaconate because they have gifts the church lacks. “They can’t ‘contaminate’ us, but maybe we can ‘contaminate’ them,” Ed Top explained.

The Lantern is a seven-day-a-week church. During the week the red brick building is filled with community residents participating in art classes, taking affordable music lessons, and playing basketball and soccer.

For three years The Lantern rented a building that was almost sold last summer. With just one week to raise enough money to make a matching offer, they succeeded with the support of the neighborhood.

A businessman they met through Mobile Feet provided a $500,000 loan. Though he was an atheist and distrusted anything church related, he told Ed, “You guys have become a fixture in this community, and we don’t want to see you go.”

The Lantern measures its health by service, not by numbers, Michelle Top says. “Success is not getting people’s butts in the pews. It’s how many lives get touched.”

About a hundred people attend The Lantern on a Sunday morning. But the Tops see themselves as chaplains, sent to bless everyone in the community. So all 3,000 residents of Inglewood are members of The Lantern—whether they know it or not.

About the Author

Kristin Niehof is a graduate student at Regent College, Vancouver.
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