Jonathan Manafo on Becoming a Community Connecting Church


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Jonathan Manafo is an artist, pastor & church planter. In this interview he gives some great insights for church leaders looking to connect with their communities. Listen in for the heart behind making and impact … and for practical advice on how to make in roads! Listen in for some fascinating ways that The Village church is reaching out to their community and making a difference!

Jonathan Manafo [twitter] [The Village] [blog]

Interview Highlights //

00:36 // Rich introduces Jonathan.

01:28 // Jonathan introduces himself.

02:52 // Jonathan talks about how the Village Church connects with the community.

04:55 // Jonathan talks about the Running for Home event.

06:47 // Jonathan talks about sponsorship for the Running for Home event.

08:20 // Rich talks about Liquid Church’s 5k.

09:24 // Jonathan and Rich talk about how Starbucks support local church events.

12:03 // Jonathan talks about partnering with other denominations.

14:28 // Rich talks about his fascination of how the Village Church are almost multi-denominational.

14:53 // Jonathan states his relationships with different denominations have been formed through friendship and partnership.

Lightning Round Highlights

Helpful Tech Tools // Evernote

Ministries Following // Church of the City Nashville and The West Side Gathering, Montreal

Influential Book // The Artisan Soul: Crafting Your Life into a Work of Art

Inspiring Leader // Bill Hybels and Eugene Peterson

What does he do for fun? // Golf. Running. Family. Writing and playing music

Interview Transcript //

Rich – Alright, well welcome to the unSeminary podcast. My name’s Rich Birch, happy Thursday everybody. Hopefully you’re having a great week as you get ready for this weekend at your church. Today we’ve got a great church guest on the phone. We’ve got Jonathan Manafo from the Village Church in Whitby or just really outside of Whitby Ontario. It’s so great to have Canadians on the show. I love exposing, particularly a lot of our American listeners, to Canadians because of this. Canada as a total country is less churched than anywhere really in all of America. So I think, as people living and working in America like myself, we should learn from people in other parts of the world and Canada is a great place to do that from. Obviously I’m also biased because I’m Canadian too. So Jonathan, welcome to the show.

Jonathan – Hey great to be here, thanks Rich, thanks for having me.

Rich – Now Jonathan’s a great leader. I think you’re going to get a lot out of today’s conversation, there’s a lot to talk about. We’ve got this really cool kind of partnership model he’s got going for his church and he’s doing some interesting things. But Jonathan, why don’t you start by kind of giving us a bit of your story, tell us a bit of your background and why don’t you tell us a little bit about the Village.

Jonathan – Sure, I’ve been pastoring for about 15, 20 years in three different locations in Ontario. I grew up in Ontario in Quebec in Montreal. So I have a bit of that background. I’m a musician as well, so part of the church work I’ve been doing has been a bit of music, but a lot of leadership and teaching and all that kind of stuff.

Then in the last three years or two years and a bit, we’ve entered into this church planting phase, which is wild and fun. I didn’t think I would do it, but boy we just felt like it was something that God wanted us to do. So in the last few years, the Village has come alive and become a church community in North Whitby and it’s been a lot of fun to see that kind of happen, yeah. A lot of work and a lot of fun.

Rich – Nice it’s always great to speak with someone that has a little bit of that Quebec accent, it just softens out the language nice, it’s great, it’s very good. It’s nice to listen to, it’s good. So why don’t you tell us, give us kind of a flavor for the Village. Obviously when you set out and plant a church, you have some unique ideas and you want to try some things differently. What is it that you think the Village is doing that’s kind of unique, particularly to reach people who just don’t like to go to church, which there’s a lot of those in Whitby?

Jonathan – There is. Whitby or the area that we’re in, it’s called Durham is the region. There’s churches but there’s a big population that really has no interest in the traditional church or what they think the church looks like. So we really felt that a different kind of a unique expression needed to be had here and felt God wanted it as well.

So I guess we want to think about people that don’t like church, that wouldn’t really step foot into a traditional church, specifically maybe not even in a church building. We’ve heard that from people that have come to the Village saying, “I don’t think I would have walked into a church building if you were in a church building, but because you’re in a public school, already the walls seem down.”

So those are the kinds of people that we want to reach and we feel they’re are coming and journeying with us. It’s been really neat to see it happen actually.

Rich – Now what are you doing? I think a lot of times we’re seeing a trend in churches that are trying to reach people who don’t normally attend church, where it’s less about come and see it, it can be about go and do. Like “We are going to go and actually participate in some missional activities,” or those sorts of things. Do you guys have that, is that kind of a part of your flavor at the Village?

Jonathan – I think collectively, we’re always trying to see how we can be connected in our community and how we can be serving in either needs or just generally connecting in people’s lives. So we invite people to do that along with us, we encourage people to do it on their own, like window living in their neighborhoods. So it’s not just like, “Oh there’s this church event that they’re doing,” no we want it to be like, “This is my neighborhood, this is where I live, how can I express God’s love with my neighbors and my friends and my coworkers?” and all that. In very practical, normal kinds of ways you know?

Rich – Nice, yeah very cool. Now you did an event called Running for Home. Could you tell me about that, what’s that all about?

Jonathan – Sure, Running for Home started five years ago. It was, and I hate saying that I started it, because it’s never one person, but it was just a dream that myself, my wife and a few other people kind of had to start a run that would benefit people in their homes, like organizations that help people in their homes. Habitat for Humanity is a great example here in our area and so we just kind of started it five years ago, had this idea. The first year maybe 41 people ran with us, not much but a good little start.

Rich – Yeah.

Jonathan – The second year about the same and then the third year it kind of just exploded and grew by four or five times.

Rich – Wow.

Jonathan – Yeah so in the last five years now, we’ve seen over 200 people in the last three years come out, and it’s a way I really feel, like the church can connect with the community in a non-threatening, very engaging way and you’re inviting people to do something that they actually want to do and then surprisingly, it’s actually connected to some local churches.

Rich – Absolutely.

Jonathan – So we encourage local churches to connect with us and spread the word but we’re also obviously connected to business. This year our best sponsor, one of Canada’s banks, RBC sponsored our event and that just like elevated what we could do and how much money we could raise. It was a big deal.

Rich – Cool.

Jonathan – Yeah like all our sponsors underwrote all our expenses this year for the first time.

Rich – Now how did that conversation go, because at Liquid, the church I am a part of, we do a 5K every year, we’ve done it the last couple of years, the last few years, I guess three years or four years and we’ve tried to kind of tap the sponsorship thing but we’ve had a harder time with that. How did the conversation with the bank go, because I would think man, they’re pretty conservative on that stuff?

Jonathan – You don’t just walk into a bank and ask them the questions. You connect with somebody. So it just happened through a relationship in our neighborhood. A friend of mine is a regional manager, we got talking about, “Hey would you like to be partnership in any way with us?” Knowing that we connect with Habitat, there was this instant, “Oh we want to actually connect with Habitat, we’re trying to figure out how.”  Well our run is one way how.

So it was a really simple conversation and then it ended up in quite a nice sponsorship and not only for us but they sponsored us about 25 hundred, they’ve actually, since my initial conversation, they’ve probably given Habitat Durham 20 or 30 thousand dollars.

Rich – Wow.

Jonathan – Yeah.

Rich – What a win for you. I love that, that’s a great story. Here’s a local pastor who’s trying to pursue the best for your community right? So you’re working with this bank and you obviously get them to help sponsor your event and then in the end, broker that deal so that Habitat can get support. That’s amazing.

Jonathan – Yeah that was really a neat offshoot or a surprise to see that kind of happen and I didn’t do anything except just say that we support Habitat, here’s the person to talk to and then it just snowballed for them. We had other great sponsors as well, locally, some really great local businesses that help us out, including like The Running Store, The Running Room that does all our online registration and some good stuff, yeah.

Rich – Very cool. Just last weekend or a couple of weekends ago, when this actually airs, we had our 5K and it was a great event. Our 5K is for Clean Water, so we try to mobilize people and it’s amazing the things I’ve learned through that over the last couple of years. People will come and they’ll participate because they perceive it as a good thing. They’re like, “Well it’s a good thing,” a little bit like in your case. Who’s going to say, “No I don’t want to support people in their homes,” who’s going to be against that? “No I don’t think people should have a place to live,” they’re just not going to say that right?

Our hope is that as they engage with folks from the church and get to know people, that it will move from being a good thing to being a God thing and it’s been incredible to watch that happen over the last couple of years.

Now you guys do some other events. You do, I think movies and some other things. What’s that look like for you as you try to engage your community and as you’re planting your church?

Jonathan – We just want to be present in our neighborhoods and so as a church community there’s two things we do right on the property of our school. One is really simple, it’s not rocket science, it’s not like best idea in the world but you know what, it’s so simple. We just give people free coffee and hot chocolate on Halloween and we did this before we launched and we did it this past year as well and you’re just connecting with people, serving them. They are so thankful that they have a hot cup of coffee on a cold Canadian night, you know like glazier, it was raining and people were still out, walking with their kids. They can’t believe that we’re out on a windy night, in the rain, giving them hot chocolate and Starbucks coffee right?

Rich – You’re not giving them Timmy’s, you’re not giving them Tim Horton’s coffee?

Jonathan – No and now they’ve sold out to Burger King so that’s it.

Rich – That’s even worse.

Jonathan – And the local Starbucks they’re generous, when you connect with them, with their managers, it’s just a great community connection. So we have some good relationships with them.

Rich – Absolutely that’s a great tip for folks. We found the same, here we are in New Jersey, you’re in Ontario. We found the same thing with our local Starbucks as well. If you get to know the manager, we’re talking about the 5K, Starbucks provided all the coffee for free for all of our volunteers at that event, which was amazing. They just showed up, “Here’s a big thing of coffee,” and all that stuff and didn’t make a big fanfare about it. They were just like, “Sure we’ll provide that.” I think actually we had to go and pick it up but that’s a good tip for people who’re listening. You’ve got to be nice to the manager, get to know them, because they get a lot of those requests, but that’s a great opportunity for sure.

Fantastic, I love Halloween too.

Jonathan – For us, they actually came to us.

Rich – Oh nice.

Jonathan – Sorry.

Rich – No, no that’s fine.

Jonathan – Very sorry.

Rich – No, no that’s great. Yeah Halloween, just one of those great times of year too because people are out walking around the neighborhood, they’re out already and particularly as you’re trying to articulate, trying to be a community church, there’s not a lot of other better days when the community’s actually out and about, walking around which is fantastic, so that’s cool.

Now I’d love to hear a little bit about you. You kind of have this unique structure, you’ve kind of partnered with a couple of different movements to provide some covering and support for you. Talk us through a little bit about that, how does that work?

Jonathan – Well me myself personally, I really felt it was important to be connected to a local church body, close to where we were planting. It just meant for us that we’re not in this alone. That we’re not just going into some community and starting a church and feel like we’re not connected to anybody.

I live in Whitby so it’s not like I moved into Whitby to plant this church. This was kind of the reversal of a great commission and instead of going with disciples, we felt God saying, “You need to stay and make this.”

Rich – Oh very cool.

Jonathan – So BVC, Brooklyn Village Church, their hearts are generous, they’ve been wanting to plant another church for themselves for the last four or five years. This opportunity came where they could partner but a lot of the heavy load would come from the BIC, the Brethren in Christ in Canada. So we were able together to say, “Hey let’s do this together, let’s see if we can kind of use each other’s strengths and see what everyone can contribute.”

So our parent church is a Pentecostal church in North Whitby or Brooklyn we’ll call it, but our denomination is the Brethren in Christ in Canada and it’s been great to connect with them. I feel a real alliance with who they are. But to have a relationship with the Pentecostal church, it’s really unique to have those two things kind of happen.

Rich – Absolutely.

Jonathan – The other side of the partnership is just recently, the Alliance churches we’ve had some relationship with them over the years and so they kind of said, “Well we’d love to do something in Whitby but we’re already doing something new in the same pocket so why don’t we just support you and let’s try this non-denominational support?” Of course, I don’t want to say no to that, so there’s a no-strings attached from them. Basically they help us as much as a mother church helps or a parent church, with no strings, just relationship. We can help each other and we can mentor one of their future church pastors, something like that in the future.

Rich – That’s amazing.

Jonathan – That’s pretty cool.

Rich – The thing I think in a kind of post-Christian culture, a lot of times you say a non-denominational church will help reach people because it doesn’t have any baggage. The thing I love about what you’re doing is, you’re kind of like multi-denominational, some people have said like, “Ah let’s stop being connected with denominations,” you’ve kind of gone in the opposite direction saying, “Hey, I’ll connect with lots of them.” Which is fantastic, that’s fascinating to me for sure. That’s great.

Now is there anything else you’d love to share with our listeners before we jump into the lightning round?

Jonathan – Well even the whole relationship with different denominations, I think it comes out of relationship. Not just out of wanting their money or wanting their name connected, it’s more the fact that over a bunch of years you kind of connect with people and do ministry together and you care about your city together.

So out of that these relationships form, rather than this kind of business transaction. I think it comes out of friendship and a connected cause to what we want to do together for the Kingdom. I think that’s something that I just wanted to get out, I think it’s key. It’s not all business, it really is friendship and partnership you know?

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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.