Early last year, Ryan Sim put his house in Toronto for sale and moved an hour east to Ajax to start a new church, Redeemer Church. I'm excited to ask Ryan about his church planting efforts in this short interview.
Ajax is a commuter town. How does that shaping your approach in planting Redeemer Ajax?
We are committed to planting a church focused on making new disciples, by understanding and serving the needs of people with no prior experience knowing or following Jesus. As I learned about Ajax, and prayed to discern the needs of people here, I saw how over 80% of working-age adults in Ajax commute to work in Toronto and the surrounding suburbs. I realized how the commuting lifestyle can be so consuming, through surveys, interviews, observations and a demographic study. Train and bus schedules, traffic, daycare hours and bedtimes shape commuters’ schedules and priorities, especially if they have young children. It’s a stressful way of life that takes a toll on marriages, parenting, finances and more. People say their priorities are out of order, especially their time, relationships and finances but they haven’t managed to sort them out on their own.
For commuters who happen to be followers of Jesus, those priorities are being shaped by submission to Jesus as Lord. Church membership, services, courses, small groups, spiritual disciplines and more are all ways that Christians are nurtured and grow in faith. But for those who are not followers of Jesus, attending a first church service, marriage, parenting or Christian Basics course, or even a special event means shuffling priorities, schedules and more. Some do this at the invitation of a friend or loved one, but a growing majority simply never learn about Jesus, or get the help they need from a community of Christians, in one of these venues. I heard this week that 1 in 3 Canadians has never attended a religious service of any kind.
With all this in mind, we wanted to make sure that Sunday services, courses and special events were not the only venues for discipleship, but that people could be introduced to Jesus on their commute. It’s one of the few moments of quiet during the day, and something people say is a waste they’d love to “redeem”. So we are about to launch Redeem the Commute, a mobile app for commuters that offers good news and help, and we trust, will introduce them to the Redeemer himself.
I've heard of churches using mobile apps before, but this is the first time I've seen a church use an app as a major part of its strategy. How will that work?
At launch, commuters will find a marriage course and two parenting courses with gentle reference to being shaped by Christian belief and values, as well as a Christianity 101 course where I introduce the Christian faith in more depth. Each course takes less than 10 minutes a day, in audio or video formats, with a discussion question and lots of encouragement to invite spouses, friends and colleagues to follow the same content. Our dream is that a network of small groups will form in trains, buses, carpools, neighbourhoods and workplaces, of people engaging with these courses, and then with our daily challenges, fresh, rhythmic daily content where we explore and applies scripture to daily life.
Our vision is that we’ll have a number of these groups meeting and learning to follow Jesus, with their leaders in a coaching network. After a year, we’ll gather all these groups together for the first of many large group celebrations and become known as Redeemer Church.
Many churches use mobile apps to deliver their sermons, worship services and educational materials to members and those they influence. Redeem the Commute is uniquely focused on a specific group of those outside the church, and delivers content customized to their needs, not those of a worshipping community already following Jesus. It begins by simply serving their need for help with relationships, while offering immediate opportunities to form community and go deeper.
What has been the hardest part of planting so far?
Waiting! God is teaching us patience. It took much longer for my family to find a house and move to Ajax, so we haven’t been on the ground building relationships or a team as long as we’d hoped.
As of today, we are fully ready to launch Redeem the Commute, but have been waiting two months for Apple to approve the iOS app. The content is ready, our advertising is ready, I’m ready, even the Android app is ready, but our iPhone/iPad app is just waiting for approval. The approval process is opaque and mysterious, and there’s nothing I can do but wait and work on future content. Apple represents such a big part of the mobile market that we’re not going to launch until it’s approved. And so, we wait!
What has been the most joyful part of planting so far?
The most joyful part of planting has come from identifying God’s care, even in the midst of adversity. God has sent us good news, people, gifts and more to remind us that we are here, and planting a church in such an unusual way because he has a plan.
It can be discouraging to plant a church in neighbourhoods that are empty all day, and busy all evening and weekend. All our usual methods of starting services, events, courses and even serving needs just do not seem to fit this community, and would probably only attract Christians. But it is in those moments of discouragement that God reminds me that our approach is tailored for those kinds of people, and it was his idea, not mine. I never imagined we’d be using a mobile app like this, but it is the fruit of good prayer, research and discernment, and I trust that God is behind it all.
How can we pray for you?
Pray that in this time of waiting, God will introduce us to people of peace in this community. Pray for Redeem the Commute, that it will be discovered, installed, and used more than once by those who need it, and that we’ll see a Christian community develop. Pray for me, as I learn to pastor in that context, and for my family, as we adapt to a new community, and the very same stressful commuting lifestyle that our neighbours know so well.
Find out more about Ryan at these links: