The Spiritual Condition of Toronto


"What should we do with Toronto's superfluous churches?" asks a blog post. "Toronto used to be known as a City of Churches. However, since the 60s, most churches in the downtown core - particularly the more mainstream churches - have seen dwindling attendance." Although this post was written in 2010, the number of church buildings being converted into condos has only increased.

Welcome to Toronto. I love this city, and I want to see the gospel take root like never before. The reality right now, though, is one of need:

  • Toronto has lost many of its churches. While some churches are thriving, many need renewal.
  • Despite the church planting activity, we need to plant at least 300 churches by 2041 just to keep pace with the population growth. That's without making much of an evangelistic dent in the city.
  • You are 1.5 times more likely to meet a Buddhist than a Baptist in Toronto.
  • Most in Toronto have not rejected the gospel. They've never heard it.

Downtown, the need is even greater. The population has doubled downtown in the past 40 years. There are few evangelical churches downtown, though, and their combined attendance is lower than that of one large church (People's Church) in north Toronto. It's notoriously hard to plant a church here. Some estimate the percentage of evangelicals in downtown Toronto at 1%, lower than some mission fields. Entire communities lack any gospel presence.

Stephen Um said this of Boston, but he may as well have been speaking of Toronto:

Because of the hyper-mobility, and after that, the secular culture, ministry in Boston generally takes longer and is more expensive. Campus ministries will generally have 20 students rather than 100, and church-planting efforts will generally take twice as long to start seeing fruit. To be effective in ministry here, you need to have a long-term vision, even if you are very gifted.

I'm encouraged that God is sending people to Toronto who love this city and who have a long-term vision. I'm praying God sends more.

This is the spiritual condition of Toronto. Please join me in praying for this city.

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Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

Understanding Toronto

I remember the day I knew I loved Toronto. I was a young seminary student looking for a summer internship, and took the subway to the Runnymede community in west Toronto. When I exited the subway doors, I discovered something I'd never seen before: an urban neighborhood. It wasn't the city as I'd known it, all concrete and skyscrapers. It wasn't the suburbs as I'd known them either: cookie-cutter houses and cars. It was the best of both: the bustle, walkability, and chaos of the city, and the beauty and friendliness of a neighborhood.

That was 1989, and I've loved Toronto ever since. I'm a lifelong Toronto pastor, one of many who feel called to this city.

I want to try something different this month. I want to tell you a little about Toronto, and I also want to give you a window into what it's like to pastor and church plant here.

I have an agenda. I want to share my love of Toronto with you. But I want more. We need people to pray for us, and we also need people who will also grow to love Toronto and consider moving and serving here.

Facts About Toronto

Here are the facts about Toronto, although facts only tell you so much. Toronto is Canada's largest city, and North America's fourth largest city, with a population of 2.8 million people (5.5 million in the Greater Toronto Area, commonly called the GTA). It's a center for business, finance, and education. It's one of the most multicultural cities in the world. Toronto is ranked as the safest large metropolitan area in North America by Places Rated Almanac, and is consistently rated as one of the world's most livable cities.

Toronto is warm (sometimes hot) in the summer, and cold in the winter. It's an expensive city: one estimate pegs it as the 32nd most expensive city in the world, although well behind places like London and New York.

One more thing: our hockey team loses. A lot. They're the hockey equivalent of the Chicago Cubs.

A City of Neighborhoods

Toronto is a city of over 200 neighborhoods. You can find almost any type of neighborhood in Toronto: leafy suburb, high-rise condo, artsy loft, or more.

One of my hobbies is visiting and exploring different neighborhoods. I love the variety. Although I've lived here my whole adult life, I'm still learning more.

I've lived in five different neighborhoods in Toronto, and my experience has been different in each one. The two best places I've lived in Toronto have been walkable, clearly defined neighborhoods. My least favorite have been ones that didn't have a sense of community, and were built around cars.

I'm currently living in Liberty Village, a newer community that's a short walk from downtown, and I love it.

I Want You to Care About Toronto

Toronto has a well-deserved reputation for thinking of itself as the center of the universe. Some Toronto people think pretty highly of the city, and I guess this comes off as smugness. Others see Toronto as a poor man's New York — "just like New York but without all the stuff!" according to one sitcom. In other words, not everyone loves Toronto.

But I want you to. Okay. Love may be a strong word. I want you care about Toronto. The reason? There's a great need. It's one of the largest cities in North America, and it's one of the least churched.

We need your prayers. We need pastors who have the skills and courage necessary to come and revitalize churches. We need planters who are willing to do hard work. We need prayers for God to do his work in Toronto.

I even want some of you to consider moving here. James Montgomery Boice once argued that evangelicals should live in cities in at least the same percentage as the general population. If not, we shouldn't expect much influence in society. Simply put: we need more evangelicals in North America's fourth largest city. We need people who will answer God's call and move here with intentionality. I have some friends who've done this; we need more.

Jane Jacobs, the iconic urban activist and author, once said, "As a relatively recent transplant from New York, I am frequently asked whether I find Toronto sufficiently exciting. I find it almost too exciting. The suspense is scary." Although speaking in a different context than she did, I agree. The need is great, and so is the potential.

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Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

Advance Church Planting

Six years ago, the Toronto executive of our denomination invited our region's church planting director to lunch. We wanted to talk about church planting in Toronto, a city that is growing by over 100,000 people a year. We hadn't done any church planting in recent years, and had no idea where to start, but we wondered what God might do.

The view from Liberty Village, the community in which I'm planting a church

The view from Liberty Village, the community in which I'm planting a church

Some two years later, I became a church planter in downtown Toronto. We began to talk about ways to encourage more church planting in our city. Although we have many churches, entire neighborhoods lack any gospel-proclaiming church. The percentage of evangelicals is very low. We need dozens of new churches across the city.

This past January, I began working part-time with our denomination to start a new training center for church planters in Toronto. It's called Advance Church Planting Institute. The goal is to train and coach church planters over two years as they prepare to plant churches in an urban context. We began our first cohort in October, and I'm excited about the future.

I've never seen such an interest in church planting before. I've met so many great church planters over the past couple of years. God is bringing resources like C2C Network to mobilize and encourage planters. I have the sense that God is up to something in Toronto, which is good. The need is great.

Whether you're from Toronto or not, please pray for our city. Please pray for the church planters who are investing their lives in bringing the gospel to communities where it hasn't been heard in some time. Pray for more planters (Luke 10:2), and for networks like C2C. Please pray for the church we're planting, and for Advance as well. I can't wait to see what God is going to do.

You can find out more about Advance at our website.

For the Love of the City

A year ago this month we moved into Liberty Village, a condo community in the heart of Toronto. I grew up in the suburbs of Toronto, and have spent the past 20 years living in the inner suburbs. Moving into an urban condo community was a new experience for me. I thought I would love it, but it’s been even better than I expected.

I want to be careful in this post. I don’t want to suggest that cities are inherently better than other places. Sometimes you get the impression that people think city-centered ministry is what really counts, and everyone else has missed out. That’s not at all the case, and I don’t want you to think that’s what I’m saying.

But here is what I am saying: I love the city, as many of you love where you live. And here are just two reasons why.

Liberty Village. Photo courtesy of Carlos Pacheco

The City as a Great Place to Live

My father lived in a village in Kent, England. When I visited him I appreciated many of the aspects of village life. We walked everywhere. We relied on public transit (bus and train) when we needed to travel. We visited the high street almost daily. We got to know others in the community. It was easy to see why a village is a great place to live.

When you live in a certain type of city neighborhood, that’s exactly what you experience. Liberty Village isn’t called a village for no reason: with train tracks on the north and south, and only a few ways in and out, it really does have the feeling of a village within a large city. We tend to walk everywhere. To travel within the city, we often use transit. (It’s almost a kilometer to drive our car from the parking spot to the street outside, for one thing.) We shop the local shops and regularly bump into people on the street. We meet them at parties and community events. We have the best of village living in the big city.

Not only that, but we have all the benefits of urban life as well. We have many of the ingredients of great city living: diversity, culture, food, a critical mass of people. Our commute time is low because we live where we work. Jane Jacobs and others have described the qualities that make cities healthy, and many of them are present here. Contrary to what many people think, the city is a great place to live if you want to improve the quality of your life.

The City as a Great Place to Serve

As far back as Ray Bakke, and as recently as Tim Keller, people have been arguing for the importance of city-centered ministry. I won’t go over all of the arguments, but there’s no doubt that there is a need for churches in the city, just as there are in the suburbs and the country as well. I love how James Boice put it:

Not every Christian needs to live in our cities, but far more should live in them than do now. They should live in them as their mission field of choice….since we want to be ahead of the times rather than lagging behind them, we should probably lead the way with an even higher percentage of Christians relocating to the urban areas. Many thousands should move there.

The whole post on Boice’s view of the city is worth reading.

I really resonate with Boice’s statement, “And while we’re working on it we should not think that the world is utterly opposed to us. Society is often less hostile than we think.” One of the reasons that the city is such a great place to live is because there is such a need here. When a church shows up that loves the city, it is often met with more receptivity than one might have guessed.

One more thing: city ministry has the potential to be much more community-based than in other settings. We are essentially starting a parish church. I don't have to get in my car and drive 15 minutes to a church meeting. I can walk a few minutes and meet most of the people who are part of Liberty Grace Church. The potential for living in purposeful, missional community is staggering.

So What?

The city is not for everyone. Some people are city folk; some aren’t. We need people and churches everywhere.

My point is not to run down where anyone else is living or serving. My point is to tell you that the city is an amazing place to live, and a great place to plant a church, and that you should consider it for yourself.

Last year, Nathan and Sarah Fullerton moved into Liberty Village to join us. It was because they have a love for the city, a calling to the city, and a desire to serve here. I'm so glad they share my love for Liberty Village, for the Lord, and for service, and that they've brought others with them. I want their tribe to increase.

Don’t believe all the bad press about how cities are such a bad place. (A lady told me the other week: “Good luck working with all the murderers in Toronto!”) If you feel the draw to a city, consider how you might live and serve there for the glory of God. We certainly could use more servant-minded believers who love the city in our church plant and other church plants!

Pray for Toronto

Toronto has been in the news lately. Today I’m asking you to continue to pray for this city no matter where you’re from, and it has nothing to do with the news. Here’s why I'm asking you to pray:

The Opportunity

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  • Toronto is the fourth largest city in North America, and the largest in Canada.
  • The population of the GTA population is expected to grow to 7.45 million by 2031, with the population of Toronto to grow to 3 million.
  • The population of the downtown core has tripled, and is outpacing the growth of the suburbs. Nearly 50,000 condo units have been built, sold and occupied downtown (south of Bloor Street) since 2000. By the end of 2011, more than 90,000 additional condo units had been approved for construction, the majority in the downtown core.
  • Many communities lack an evangelical church of any kind.

To reach just an additional 0.5% of the existing population of Toronto, we would need to reach 14,000 people. To reach 0.5% of the Greater Toronto area, we would need to reach at least 28,000 people. That will take a lot of new church plants and revitalized churches. Of course, an additional 0.5% is not enough. We need a lot of workers!

The Encouragement

I’ve never been so encouraged by what is happening in Toronto:

  • Church planters like Daniel and Mike of Trinity Life Church are planting new churches in the downtown core.
  • People like Nathan and Sarah Fullerton, who work with me at Liberty Grace Church, are moving back to the city with a passion for church planting.
  • Downtown churches like Grace Toronto continue to grow. Grace is working on planting a new church in the west end.
  • C2C, a national church planting network in Canada, has appointed Greg Laing as its Ontario Regional Director. I’ve met with Greg, and I’m encouraged by his passion for raising the capacity for church planting in Toronto.
  • I know a growing number of solid, missional pastors of established churches who are serious about their mission to the city.

Toronto is in the news for all the wrong reasons these days. I’m longing for the day that Toronto is in the news because of what God is doing in this city.

I realize that many of you are not in Toronto, but I would appreciate your prayers for this city. Pray that God would raise up new and revitalized churches that would respond to the opportunity in Toronto in obedience.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore spray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to tsend out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:36-38)

Comment

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.