VANCOUVER, B.C. (ABP) — American ministry strategies in a Canadian culture have proven to be an imperfect match, at least for the North American Mission Board's Strategic Focus Cities effort.
But ministry leaders at NAMB and within the Canadian Convention of Southern Baptists are encouraged by their decision to regroup and restructure the existing mission model in the multiethnic city of Vancouver.
On June 1, Vancouver Focus, NAMB's first Strategic Focus City in Canada, will officially transition from a NAMB-directed ministry to leadership by the Canadian convention and the local Baptist association.
Strategic Focus Cities is NAMB's emphasis on increasing evangelism and church-planting efforts in major metropolitan areas in North America. Cleveland is the latest city to use the plan.
“We were trying to do Strategic Focus Cities in Vancouver pretty much like we had done it in other cities in the U.S.,” Marty King, a NAMB spokesman, said. “It was too aggressive for Canada. And the Canadian folks thought it was too aggressive. They asked if we could lengthen our commitment.”
NAMB decided to restructure the effort, but not the funding, King said. The Canadian group will also do the lead coordination instead of NAMB, which will make the Canadian group similar to how NAMB relates to other ministries, King said.
“We know going in what the money will be used for and there will be lots of reports and accountability,” he said. “It will be more like [how NAMB relates to state conventions] than a Strategic Focus Cities effort where we had more involvement.”
“Different cities have been more effective in different ways,” King said. “Some have had more church plants, some more professions of faith, and some more volunteers. They [have been] very individualized.”
Although Vancouver will be the first city to make the change in leadership, Canadian officials welcomed it.
Gerry Taillon, Canadian Convention of Southern Baptists national ministry leader, said he readily accepted his new role.
“We want to conserve the results we get,” he said. “Sometimes it is much better to spread out [the work] with a wave rather than a big splash.”
Alan Au, city coordinator for Vancouver Focus, agreed.
“We are very excited about the opportunity that we can do this with longer time,” he said. “Building relationships is very, very key. Time plays a major factor.”
Au said NAMB's “rapid investment and rapid outcome” philosophy does not work in Vancouver with the cultural and language barriers that exist — there are nine different languages in the churches supported by the association and Vancouver Focus.
“We are dealing with a different mission field,” he said. “It is really secular.”
The 8-year-old Strategic Focus Cities effort typically lands in one city for three years, King said — one year for planning and two-to-three years for implementation.
But Vancouver Focus will take closer to six years. Canadian officials are extending the emphasis to 2009, said Au, who left a missionary position with the International Mission Board two and a half years ago to lead the effort.
To prolong the end with the current funding will require some sacrifices, the Canadian leaders said. Office space and equipment will be downsized, as will staff, Taillon said.
Additionally, the communication coordinator position was cut as of May 31, and another position could potentially be cut. But because the original staff consisted of only three full-time people and one part-time person, Au said, he is taking a few months to decide about the remaining positions.
“Our staff is very … small,” he said. “When a person is gone, everyone has to pick up that … job, and we are not as effective.”
Au, who is currently a national missionary with NAMB — which means his position is funded entirely by NAMB — will also experience some changes. He will continue to lead the Vancouver Focus effort, but his relationship with NAMB will be different, according to King.
“Alan … will become a jointly funded missionary with the Canadian convention,” he said.
Au said he anticipates his position to end with the original schedule of October 2007.
“This was not to be a forever job,” he said. But “my role will continue (after October 2007) … in the transition to the local association and national convention. I will either work or volunteer in the association.”
The effort will gradually become 100 percent organized and implemented by Capilano Southern Baptist Association, Au said. While Vancouver Focus works in partnership with Capilano Association, Canadian Convention of Southern Baptists and NAMB, it is the relationship with the association that is building future ministries, Au explained.
“We are working together hand-in-glove with the association,” he said. “Hopefully we are laying down a good infrastructure.”
Taillon said people on the local level won't notice many changes with the transfer of responsibilities and funding.
“Right now, one of our biggest focuses is a decentralizing process,” he noted. “We are dividing up Canada into regions — there are 65 now, looking at 100. We want to empower the regions to do the work they need to do. We want to network with the churches … connect someone who needs something with someone who has it.”
When Vancouver Focus started, there were 34 churches targeting the ethnic population in the city, 10 of which had no pastor.
“We now have 45 churches and all church pastor positions have been filled with full-time or interim pastors,” Au said. “The church plants and percentage growth are phenomenal.”
Still “we are praying for more churches to be planted and more leaders,” he said, noting the largest ethnic population in Vancouver is Chinese. “We need more workers in the field. It is a critical issue.”
— Jennifer Rash is managing editor of The Alabama Baptist.