Talking Community with KW Pastors

Submitted by Derek Alton on January 31, 2013 - 4:49pm
Prt. 1

Community, it is something that is at the very core of what it means to be a Christian and as a Mennonite, it has been a defining feature of my life.  I have been given the amazing privilege of heading up a campaign to create a national dialogue on community on behalf of the KW based charity, Tamarack: An Institute for Community Engagement.

As part of this campaign we are engaging with faith communities from coast to coast.  This fall as part of getting the campaign started I had twelve phone interviews with a group of local pastors in the KW area.  We focused on three main questions:

How is your church already working at community building?

What challenges stand in the way of building this community?

What would be helpful to support your church in building community?


St George's, Kitchener, Ontario


These conversations stimulated a rich dialogue with each pastor, as they were excited to share what their church is doing to build community and were frank with the challenges they are facing.  Two common themes jumped out from these conversations.

The first theme was the deep passion that each pastor and their church had for building community, not just internally but also in the broader area, both locally and in many cases internationally as well.

The second theme was around how the cultural context that we exist within is shifting and the struggle that churches are having when trying to adapt to this societal shift. 

This is the introduction in a five part series of reflections written about the interviews.

The next article will focus on the role of space.  The function of a church building as a hub to build community was discussed by many of the pastors both as a benefit but also as a cost.  One of the pastors also spoke from the perspective of a church who is trying to build community without their own building.

The third article will focus on this shifting culture of individualism and its impact on the role of church in building community.  Now more than ever, the church is no longer the primary hub in people’s lives but rather one of many competing interests. What does mean for the church moving forward?

Despite these many challenges, all the pastors identified opportunities that they were exploring to build community.  The fourth article in this series will focus in on these opportunities, what is working and how can we expand on these insights.

The final article is a personal story that pulls on themes that came out of the conversations and also on writings by Tamarack's President, Paul Born.  In this final instalment I will talk about my own experience growing up in Community Mennonite Church, and how this church through building community built me and my own understandings of people and society.

To learn more about Tamarack’s national dialogue on community or to host your own community conversation you can contact Derek Alton at


Come to our church!

Hi Derek,

Can you come have these conversations at our church? I think it is helpful for an outside person to come in and value community-building enough to focus on it and make it into a whole nation-wide campaign.

A big barrier we're running into at our church is not knowing who to ask and how to get permission to use the building for community-building. We've been taking the easy way out by asking an older and more respected member of our group who carries "clout" in the church to ask for the space because he seems to get an easier yes and is charged less of a fee. (How is it that I'm almost 40 and still feel like a teenager at church as far as not being part of the leadership? - That's another whole converstaion.)

I just want to say that a big success has been the resurrection of a church weekend retreat two years ago. We call it simply : Church Fun Weekend and many people LOVE IT. We've learned to make it VERY flexible so people can stop in for a few hours or spend two nights (we hold it close to the city). Some of the best times are cooking and doing dishes together!

If you have any advice on building community in churches, please pass it on to us.


I echo Derek's response..

... we would love to!

Derek has likely already connected with them- but so glad to hear of your enthusiasm!

He will be in contact with you about this, Nina :)

I would love to come to your church!!

Hi Nina, thank you for the comment.  I would love to come to your church and have a community conversation.  We are actually currently in th middle of getting 40 faith communities to be part of of this campaign and are working on creating a specific report on this group.  We would love for your church to be part of this.  What is the name of your church, it is possible I have already reached out to them.  Though if there is interest from within the church that is even better.

To give you a sneak peak into the final article of this series, church retreat for me growing up was the ultimate realization of our church community.  When I was young we used to have the retreat a couple hours away so people came for the whole weekend.  As I got older, due to pressure from within the congregation it was decided to move it closer to town so people could mach their busy schedules and still make it out to church retreat.  I actually think this choice was to the retreat's detriment and highlights one of the major challenges facing not just church communities but all communities.  That is that people are involved in many different communities and as a result do not dig deep into any of them (no time).  We are trying to do so much with our lives these days.

In summary it is my hope that there will be a whole bunch of insights that will come out of this campaign that will help churches build community.  There is an interesting article that will be written in the next month by the pastor of Emmanuel United Church about their journey to the edge and back.  They almost closed four years ago, but instead they reached out into the community for their purpose and now they are a vibrant and healthy church.

Churches in Community

A pastor at one of our local churches does a workshop every year that guides people through a process of how would they like to be involved in community & what are the needs of the community. The groups looks at what gifts they have to contribute and has guest speakers come in to talk about community needs. maybe you could find someone to lead this at your church to start people thinking. In Oakville we are very lucky to have some churches involved in community. We meet every month or so to talk about what each church is up to, share resources & ideas & pray for each other.

The new focus on developmental assets in children & youth has sparked a new interest in municipalities in connecting with churches because one of the assets is to be involved in a faith community 2 hrs a week. You may want to connect with your regional health dept and see if they can help you with reaching out to the church.

Love this

Hi Michelle,

What if churches everywhere could take this kind of iniative--- playing a role in this dialogue about deepening our sense of community? That would be so powerful.

Derek is working on this campaign and as he says, he'd love to attend one of these events and perhaps have it documented here, on seekingcommunity, so many more folks can learn/grow in our understandings of community and the role faith communities can play in this.

He'll connect with you!

Learning from Oakville

Hi Michelle, it is really cool to hear about what churchs are doing in Oakville to build community.  I would love to learn more about this group and connect with them.  I think this is a model that other communities could learn from.

As part of the campaign: A thousand conversation to shape our future.  We are focusing on faith groups and how they are building community across Canada.  The hope is to learn how people are experiencing community and what we can learn from this.  We also want to know what innovative ideas groups are implementing to help build community and help spread these ideas across the country.