History of Willingdon Church
Willingdon Church was born out of the vision of 116 individuals who united to share the gospel of Christ with their community.
The Vancouver Mennonite Brethren Church felt the pressure in the 1950s to expand its reaches in order to accommodate a rising number of European immigrants. Unable to develop its location at Prince Edward Street and 43rd Avenue, the church planted several new churches, one of which was Willingdon MB Church in the spring of 1961.
1960s: A Church With A Vision
With its 450-seat sanctuary, Willingdon Church held its first service on April 30, 1961 with 116 members, a 25-person choir, and 137 children attending Sunday school under the interim leadership of Pastor George (and Susan) Letkeman.
The initial services were held in German. However, the congregation’s desire to engage its neighbours with the gospel motivated the church to change their services to English.
From 1962 to 1966, George (and Carol) Braun was the Senior Pastor of Willingdon Church. Isaac and Anna Redekop took over church leadership in 1968 but resigned in 1970 later due to health problems. George Letkeman assumed interim leadership once again.
The average attendance during the 60s was 200.
1970s: The Church Strengthens
In 1971, Herbert (and Adeline) Neufeld accepted the position as Senior Pastor. Under his leadership, the church established Home Bible Studies with an initial 12 studies and nearly 120 members. These studies represented Willingdon’s early Small Groups.
In 1976, the church added a second Sunday service as attendance rose. During a pastors’ retreat in 1977, God led Willingdon to establish Elder leadership.
Pastor Herb strengthened Willingdon’s missional focus by forming church outreach goals. By 1978, Willingdon added a Minister of Evangelism and Visitation. The Music Ministry conducted several outreach events, including one youth musical by 100 singers at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre to an audience near capacity.
The average attendance during the 70s was 360.
Ministries formed: Children’s Church program (1973), Boy Scouts and Playschool (1974), Positive Christian Singles ministry (1977)
1980s: The Church Multiplies
Out of the prayer-led desire to double church attendance within six years, Willingdon renovated its facility in 1982, including a 1250-seat sanctuary.
Leadership training was a focus during the 80s. By 1983, Willingdon had developed a two-year “Training for Discipleship” curriculum for its Adult Sunday School. Pastor Carlin (and Marcia) Weinhauer was hired in 1984 as the church’s Minister of Leadership Development to train Bible Study leaders and other ministry positions. He became Senior Pastor after Herb Neufeld resigned in 1986. In 1989, Willingdon also helped plant Cornerstone Church in Surrey and Hyde Creek Church in Coquitlam.
Attendance reached seating capacity only six years after renovation, leading to the expansion of Willlingdon’s facility once again in 1990. The average attendance during the 80s was 1,400.
Ministries formed: Ministry to the Deaf (1982), Counseling Ministry (1983), New Horizons (1984), Young Adults Ministry (1985), Spanish Ministry (1985), Korean Ministry (1988), Mom’s Place (1988)
1990s: The Church Diversifies
Willingdon completed its building project in 1992. The church actively engaged in the ethnic diversity of the city, forming many of its international language ministries throughout the 90s. Both the Spanish and Indonesian ministries went on the plant their own churches.
The church continued to reach out to its community and the world through the establishment of its Missions Committee in 1990 as a partnership with the Mennonite Brethren Missions Service International (MBMSI). The Discovery Program was also created in 1997 to connect new believers and seekers with foundational truths about Christ and the gospel.
In 1999, the church added a third Sunday morning service for the growing attendance which averaged at 3,000.
Other Ministries formed: Food Services (1992), InTouch Phone Ministry (1995), Healing Place (1996), Family Ministries (1998), Men’s Ministry (1999), Cantonese, Japanese, Mandarin, Indonesian and Russian ministries
2000s and Beyond: The Church Broadens its Borders
The church added a fourth service on Saturday evenings in 2003 with the opening of The Connection venue in the chapel in 2005.
In 2003, Pastor John (and Kathy) Neufeld accepted the position as Senior Pastor after serving five years as Assistant Senior Pastor. Pastor Carlin then became Willingdon’s first missions pastor. Willingdon pursues world missions through church planting, training leaders, sending and supporting missionaries. In 2005, Willingdon partnered with Emmanuel University in Romania to support and train students to plant churches across Eastern Europe. Willingdon School of Missions was also formed in 2008.
This decade also marked the church’s transition into the online platform to expand its reach around the world. In 2006, Willingdon began streaming translated video and audio of its services on its website. The Media and Communications Ministry began to focus their productions on engaging believers and sharing the gospel, welcoming 12,000-14,000 attendants each year.
With a vision to stand for the supremacy of Jesus and the authority of His Word, Willingdon Church founded the School of the Bible in 2003 to offer courses in biblical foundations to students from the church and across the city. In 2007, Willingdon founded reFocus Canada to bring biblical refocus to Canadian churches in their preaching and teaching. Willingdon School of Ministry was also formed in 2008 to cultivate church leaders.
To continue the vision of missions and church planting, Willingdon partnered with Church Planting BC in 2009 to support church plants in Vancouver. This partnership follows the support of Westside Church which was planted in 2005 by Pastor Norm Funk. Willingdon presently supports Reality Church planted in East Vancouver in 2009, and Pastors Lee Francois and Andy Frew in their decision to plant Crossridge Church in 2011 to reach the city of Surrey for Christ.
Willingdon added a fifth service on Saturday evenings in 2009 with attendance reaching capacity nearing 4,500 towards the end of the decade. Through God’s leading, another building expansion project was initiated which added a 600-seat worship centre for The Connection venue, a renovated Sanctuary, new offices and classrooms to serve its growing ministries.
Other Ministries formed: Romanian, French, Arabic, Filipino and Persian ministries, Woman’s Walk (2005), Willingdon Fine Arts Academy (2006), Imagine Ministry (2008), Alongside Ministry (2008)
God Builds Willingdon Church
Willingdon stands visionary as it strives to make Jesus Christ known personally and to carry on His ministry, seeking to proclaim the mercy of the cross to people from all different walks of life, cultures, to all nations and to the ends of the earth – to the praise of His glorious grace. God alone is worthy of praise and is responsible for advancing His kingdom through Willingdon Church.