Being ‘The Bridge’ in Niagara Falls

We want to show Niagara Falls a whole new idea of what church can be. We want to make the community part of our DNA, not just be a Sunday event.

The city of Niagara Falls, Ontario, home to the world-famous waterfalls by the same name, is nestled along the Niagara River, which flows from Lake Erie into Lake Ontario along the border between Canada and the United States.

“Niagara” is said to come from the Iroquois word for “point of land cut in two,” and the city’s proximity to rivers, lakes, and the border means there are a lot of bridges there.

These bridges inspired the name of “The Bridge,” one of the newest church plants in the Christian Reformed Church.

The church’s mission is to be a bridge connecting people to Jesus and to each other, said Rev. Allen Kleine Deters, who is partnering with Christian Reformed Home Missions; Classis Niagara; Providence CRC in Beamsville, Ontario; the Village Church in Thorold, Ontario; and others in this venture.

“We want to show Niagara Falls a whole new idea of what church can be. We want to make the community part of our DNA, not just be a Sunday event.”

Niagara Falls, Ontario, has one of the highest rates of poverty in the Niagara region, and there is definitely a need for transformation, said Kleine Deters. “We’ve identified a kind of ‘parish’ area—basically, downtown Niagara Falls.”

In 2008, Classis Niagara planted The Village in nearby Thorold, working to connect with Canadians who think of church as boring or irrelevant, who have never been to church, or who have been hurt by the church in the past.

The Village’s outlook didn’t stop with their own community. They wanted to reach seekers throughout the Niagara Peninsula.
“It has been one of our core values from day one to partner in planting another church,” said Mike Collins, pastor of The Village. “The kingdom of God is in and beyond the walls of our city in Thorold.”

So for the last several years, said Collins, his church and churches in its classis set aside money to plant more churches in the Niagara region.

Since February 2013, a church planting team from Classis Niagara had explored establishing a new faith community in the region.
Then, in October of that year, the classis made a unanimous decision that God was directing them to start a church in the Niagara Falls area.

“A church is needed in places like  Niagara Falls,” said Collins. “We now have the privilege of extending our reach through The Bridge as it begins to be a gospel presence in that area.”
Kleine Deters and his wife, Freda, heard God’s call and moved to Niagara Falls, Ontario, in August 2014.

They live close to a dividing line between the middle-class parts of the city and the more impoverished areas, he said. “Just down the street from us, we start heading into an area of empty storefronts, vacant buildings, dilapidated motels. Some old motel rooms are home for entire families.”

He said social services provide a bare minimum of support and don’t do enough to help people deal with growing poverty, substance abuse, and other issues.

The Bridge is doing what it can to help address these problems, working in partnership with Diaconal Ministries Canada to start conversations in the community.

Using a framework called the Community Opportunity Scan, the pastor meets with local stakeholders, community members, social services officials, business people, members of government, and others.

Building relationships and asking questions of the community gives a better perspective of the needs and will allow the church to better partner with the community, rather than barging in with preconceived notions of what a church should be like, he said.
“We do a lot of networking—we’re in the community trying to get the flavor of what church is like in Niagara Falls,” Kleine Deters said.

Members of The Bridge are serving the neighborhood in various ways throughout the week, and they come to the pastor’s house each week for teaching, worship, and a meal.

“Already in the short time we’ve been here, we’ve built enough relationships in the downtown area that we’ll have a place to meet, a local cigar shop, which is good because we’re about to outgrow our house,” Kleine Deters said.

He said the cigar shop is a perfect spot that has couches and tables for fellowship and learning.

Kleine Deters said he is building a core team for The Bridge, which is training to look at the needs of its community, identify ways to connect, and become partners in the community.

Over the next year, The Bridge plans to expand into what he calls solid missional communities, raising up leaders to help the church be a part of the community, empowering them to reach more parish areas within the city, and meeting each week to celebrate what God is doing all week in Niagara Falls.

More than anything, though, he wants to see God shape The Bridge.

“We have some vision and direction—we’re grassroots, we’re community focused, but really we are trying to be what God wants us to be in this city.”

Kleine Deters said that nearly 30 years of ministry experience have given him the tools and skills to build this church from the ground up.

But there is something else beyond the skills and experience: Kleine Deters said he and his wife have missional hearts.

“We’ve always lived like this,” he said. “We’ve always had worship in our home, people staying with us; we’ve always worked to get to know people and build relationships.”

 

Please pray . . .

As they engage in ministry across North America, Home Missions leaders ask you to pray

  1. for open doors and open hearts in the community.
  2. that pastors, leaders, and congregations make connections and develop reputations for loving like Christ.
  3. that God reveals many ministry opportunities.
  4. that planting teams, communities, and clusters grow and that God brings people with the right gifts and passions.
  5. for pastors and campus ministers who raise funds, especially those who are bivocational and have jobs in addition to responsibility for leading their church.

About the Author

Scott Meekhof is communications coordinator for Christian Reformed Home Missions.

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