Church plant holds community’s first gospel-centered service in 132 years

Matt Lahey says Newfoundland, Canada — the place where he’s now planting a church — is called “the rock.”

“It’s called that literally and figuratively,” he said, “because of the type of terrain we live on, but also because it’s spiritually hard here. It is a brutally hard place to do ministry.”

Drill down even more, and the city of St. John’s has an even tougher history.

“Tragically, back in the ’70s, St. John’s went through a significant sexual abuse scandal at the Mount Cashel orphanage run by the Congregation of Christian Brothers (a Roman Catholic lay order),” Lahey said. “Because of this, a lot of people in this part of Newfoundland are really jaded, and they don’t trust the church. There’s a lot of uncertainty about it.”

Many people in the St. John’s area have either experienced abuse personally or know someone who has. That tragedy compounds the already existing issues of drug abuse, alcoholism and general disinterest in Christianity.

“It’s a really interesting melting pot here for people. Not only is it highly steeped in tradition, it’s also highly steeped in ritualism, in humanism,” Lahey said. “And so you take the lack of trust of the church, you take the deeply traditional culture, you take the spiritual aspect of it all, and it’s a very interesting spot.”

It’s a spot that hadn’t had an evangelical, gospel-centered worship service in 132 years until Kilbride Community Church (KCC) held its first service June 6. It was two years in the making. In 2019, KCC held a Bible study for 10 weeks — and only one person showed up.

“Out of a community of 10,000, only one person came out,” said Lahey, who is planting through Send Network and the Mile One Mission church planting network in St. John’s. “It was a bit of an eye opener, to be honest.”

Then the COVID-19 pandemic happened.

“That left a big question — how do you church plant in a pandemic? How do you be in a community without being in the community? We hadn’t even laid our roots yet,” Lahey said.

With that lack of options, he began to ramp up the church’s social media presence, as many did in 2020.

“We started blasting our community with blogs and devotional videos and anything else we could think of,” Lahey said. “And honestly, I saw God work more during the time that we were in lockdown than the time we weren’t in lockdown.”

When KCC tried holding a Bible study again in the fall of 2020, 10 people came. They’ve been meeting weekly. And when Kilbride Community Church held its first worship service June 6 in a local community center, 22 people came.

Lahey said they will continue holding monthly services and aim to start weekly services by the end of the year.

“I’m still kind of living that high right now,” he said. “How does that even happen? God is good.”

Published June 22, 2021