'Something tells me this is where I belong. Seven Toronto millennials who found religion through C3 Church
This ‘hipster’ church is attracting thousands of young, urbanites from all over the world
Portrayed in CBC Docs Pov film, #BLESSED, C3 Church is an evangelical church that has its origins in Australia in the 1980's. Since then, the movement has grown to a community of over 520 churches in 64 countries around the world, including 25 in Canada.
Often described as a 'hipster' church, C3 is popular among one of the groups who are usually the least likely to be associated with Christianity; urban people under 40. Local churches, there are currently three in the city of Toronto, are usually led by a husband and wife team of pastors supported by a board and huge community of volunteers.
Services are unlike anything you'd experience in a traditional church. Auditoriums are outfitted with huge videos screens, EDM music greets people as they walk in the doors and sermons are usually accompanied by a Christian rock band.
Here are some of the people we met there.
I remember coming in and the lights were dim and focused on the stage. And it just felt different. I didn't feel like I was being evaluated and then Pastor Sam did an amazing job. It wasn't perfect or ideal but it was sincere and real.
C3 pulls you in like it's a family. They have a lot of systems set up which on the outside seem like, 'oh everyone joins a team, do they just want a bunch of free labor?' It's because your team becomes your family. I spend so much time working with people and that's what kept me at C3. That's what made me decide that I wanted to support their vision and submit to their leadership.
Once that happens, you don't feel like it's a chore. It's not like, 'I have to go since it's Sunday morning'. It's like, 'oh I get to go on Sunday and just like when I was a little kid I'm seeing my friends and family but it's my choice now.'
I think the real draw of looking for religion [in my 30s] was just loneliness and transition. I was going from one job that I was in for basically eight years and trying to find my identity again because so much of my identity was work. And then I felt alone in the city.
All my friends are married with children, they live in the suburbs. And I'm here downtown by myself just thinking what's next? There has to be more for me. But what does that 'more' mean, you know?
So C3 was like that bridge to Jesus again. I just really got a reminder of who I am. It never changed, but I think my mindset definitely changed. So just knowing that I'm loved regardless, a child of God regardless – it was the comfort I needed to step out and live life fully again.
I was a party girl. I would do anything you want me to do. Part of me underneath was just a little girl that was searching for unconditional love, and so love is what I was seeking. With all the sexual encounters I was experiencing acceptance. In the moment, I was getting attention and they needed something from me. And so that was really exhilarating. But the aftermath of everything was like, I would feel alone, I would feel used.
So now I'm hearing that there's this Father in Heaven that loves me unconditionally and that was exactly what I was looking for when I was talking about the unconditional love I was seeking in my sexual experiences. I just felt God move everything that was pushing me to self sabotage, it like physically came from my feet into my heart and God was like, now you are in a safe place to heal this.
The first time I went to C3, I walked in expecting nothing. And I'm like, this is actually the most awesome church that I've been to. My worries just dissipated when I was inside. When everyone's just singing they're not worrying about anything else except who they're focusing on – God.
I think humans look for something to look forward to all the time. Every person wants something to work towards and that's how you grow. And that's essentially Christianity - you're growing towards Christ every day. So you actually have a purpose. You have a goal and I wouldn't mind having that goal. It just has to be true. So in order to share that feeling with people I would like to believe. And I'm still here because something tells me this is where I belong.
I've always asked people 'what's drawn you to C3?' And it's always the same. The main response is community: our pastors, our leaders, there aren't a lot of churches like this. It's the first church I've ever been to that offers connect groups that you can lead or that you can go to. There's so many different outlets where you never feel alone. And I think that's what's amazing.
I think that especially now, in this generation and in our city, there's so many people that are alone. I've gone through it – where I feel so alone. It's my routine, every day I go to work, I come home, I go to work, I come home, it's the same thing. But now I go to work, I come home, and I can lead a connect group or I can go to a gathering or I can go to an event. There's so much that goes on where you literally never feel alone.
Growing up with no Christian friends, I was always ashamed of my faith to be honest. When I would travel with my friends and I'd have to go to church, I would blame it on my dad. I would literally fake a phone call and be like 'guys, my dad just called and he yelled at me. I have to go to church or else he'll kill me.'
So coming to C3 and finding a community of normal young adults who still love to live their life and go out and have fun but who believe in God and have a strong relationship with him, that made me realize that I'm not alone in my beliefs. And it's been a slow process but I'm starting to be more like, 'yeah I'm a Christian, deal with it'. It doesn't make me any different.
My childhood was really rough. I ended up being homeless. If you don't experience the pain then you won't see the survival story afterwards. And that's a lot like what the Bible is. There's a cry for help because they're in some devastating situation and then there's some salvation or redemption afterwards. And I think God has just used me for this story and now I have one to tell other people and inspire them, 'hey, I went through a situation that maybe you're going through right now.'
This person I dated introduced me to C3 and I'm just like, well, church is community, right? That's all it is. I started going and in the second or third week that I went to C3, I started volunteering. Because honestly, I don't want to just see people, I want to have family and that's what people say at church, that's what serving is. That's what being on a team is. I wanted family.
For more, watch #BLESSED.