By David Dawson
Baptist and Reflector
MONTREAL — Although the ground is hard and the labor is challenging, substantial progress is being made in the harvest fields in Montreal, Canada.
The enormous city, with a population of almost six million in the metro area, is the most unchurched area in North America. But there is a gradual groundswell taking place, with a number of new churches gaining momentum across the city.
“Montreal was once known as the place where church plants go to die,” said NAMB President Kevin Ezell. “Thankfully, that is beginning to change.”
Propelled by a collection of young and vibrant pastors who are carrying the banner, the gospel is now being shared in a city where most of the citizens have a deep-seated negativity toward the church as a whole.
“The spirit of God is moving in our city,” said David Pothier, the pastor of the flourishing La Chapelle Church that was planted in 2013. “My prayer is that people will continue to support the vision we have for Montreal. Because the plan is working.”
Montreal is designated by NAMB as one of the 32 “Send Cities” — an initiative that aims to reach the most influential, and most spiritually parched, metropolises in North America. Montreal is one of five cities in Canada selected for the initiative.
Celebrating its 375th anniversary this year, Montreal was once a vibrantly spiritual city, filled with thriving Roman Catholic congregations. But the landscape changed dramatically in the 1960s and 70s, when The Quiet Revolution took place in Quebec. Citizens developed a disdain for the church and for religion as a whole based on the general belief that the church was essentially a money-making machine.
The fallout from the Quiet Revolution is still felt in Montreal, and a secular mindset is deeply embedded. But during the past half-decade, the tide has begun to turn. The gospel is being shared. Churches are emerging.
Pothier’s church, La Chapelle, is booming. It is reaching 950 each week, has baptized 400 new Christians in the past four years, and has helped plant two additional new churches in Montreal.
Pothier envisions even bigger things in the near future. He said he hopes churches will be planted “in every neighborhood in Montreal” in the years ahead.
“The vision of La Chapelle is to become a church multiplication center,” he said. “We want to plant around 50 churches in (the next) 30 years in Montreal and the province of Quebec. We’re moving toward accomplishing that goal by equipping and training planting teams to be competent in every field needed to plant a church.”
Chad Vandiver, mobilization specialist for NAMB Canada, has been serving as a Send City Missionary in Montreal since 2013. He is encouraged by the momentum he is seeing in the streets.
“This is a historic time for our city in terms of church planting,” said Vandiver. “It’s been amazing to see God moving among the people of this city. What God is allowing us to do right now is to redefine the church for the people.”
Vandiver, a third-generation missionary, said “of anywhere I have ever lived in the world, this is the place where they have the worst definition of church.
“(Because of the Quiet Revolution), there have been two generations that have sheltered their children from the church and from Christianity,” he said. “But what is happening now is that we have all these great opportunities to share our faith in the streets of Montreal. There are gospel conversations taking place every day.”
Among the newest church plants in Montreal is Renaissance Church, launched in Little Burgundy in 2015. James Copeland is the pastor.
“In 2015, the Lord made it clear that He wanted us to serve the lost in Montreal,” Copeland said. “After much prayer and preparation, we relocated our lives to this city that is in desperate need of hope found only in Jesus.”
When it started, Renaissance Church was held in the living room of one of its members. It is now averaging about 40 attendees — roughly 30 adults and 10 children — each week.
Copeland said churches in America can support the ministry in Montreal through prayer, participation (either by visiting the church or providing short-term or long-term help), and provisions.
Copeland said there is a “newness” to the gospel in Montreal that is not found in the states. While most Americans have at least been introduced to the gospel — either by a grandparent or perhaps a teacher at school — many in Montreal have virtually no “reference point” in regard to Christianity, he said.
“One of the really exciting parts about our church,” said Copeland, “is that some of our attendees are hearing the gospel clearly for the first time in their lives.”
Another budding church in Montreal is the Passion Center. Pastored by Tony Silveira, the church has a unique setup. Due to the culture of mistrust toward churches in Montreal, it is almost impossible to lease a building for the purposes of hosting church services.
So, Silveira had to get creative. The building where his church holds weekly services — called “Le Studio” — is also used for a wide variety of other reasons, including a monthly managers meeting for Starbucks. It has also hosted a Muslim wedding.
But the core purpose of the building is to worship Jesus. And the people have responded, with some driving as much as 90 miles to attend worship.
Silveira also is connected to “First Nations Ministry” which reaches the Native Americans in Montreal.
“God is really blessing our church,” said Silveira. “And we have goals of planting four more churches.”
The kingdom work that is being done in Montreal is laying the groundwork for a revival in a city that has essentially been spiritually barren for decades.
“We are seeing renewed interest in the Christian faith,” said Ezell. “These encouraging movements toward God are reasons to celebrate.”