60 years of God's Faithfulness
Willingdon Church held its first service on April 30, 1961 with 116 (founding) members, a 25-person choir, and 137 children attending Sunday school. We recently celebrated 60 years of what God has done through Willingdon. Praise the Lord for His work at Willingdon – to God alone be all the glory!
Willingdon Through the Years
Willingdon Church is founded on Jesus Christ. It is a church mobilized by the power of His gospel. Proclaiming the cross, upholding scripture, and believing God in all circumstances characterizes the church – where faith allows the church to build upon truth, to offer hope to others in need, and to witness changed lives, strengthened families and personal growth. Its mission is to know Jesus Christ personally and to carry on His ministry.
Situated in the heart of Burnaby suburbs and home to over 4000 in its community, Willingdon Church was once known as “the small brown church in the wildwood.” It was born out of the vision of 116 individuals who united to share the gospel of Christ with their community.
The 1950’s pressured the Vancouver Mennonite Brethren Church, the city’s only MB church, to expand its reaches in order to accommodate the rising number of European immigrants. Unable to develop at its location at Prince Edward Island Street and 43rd Avenue, the church planted several new churches, one of which was Willingdon M.B. Church in the spring of 1961.
However, the prevailing desire that led the church founders to plant Willingdon was their passion to proclaim the gospel to their city. The church purchased an empty lot at 4812 Willingdon Avenue and built a 450-seat sanctuary for a total of $78,000. Willingdon’s property, which was once just a farmland, is now the geographic centre of the Vancouver Lower Mainland.
Interviews with our founding members
The 1960’s: The Church with a Vision
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 George Letkemen. Reverend Jacob Thiessen gave the first sermon. Motivated by their desire to minister in Burnaby, Willingdon’s founding families traveled long distances from their Vancouver homes to plant the church with former staff of Vancouver M.B. Church, including the Assistant Pastor, Sunday School Superintendent, Youth Leader, Choir Conductor, Church Secretary, Registrar, and both Treasurers participating in Willingdon’s founding. This enabled the church to run a full program from its inception.
Willingdon held its initial services in German. However, the congregation’s desire to engage its neighbours with the gospel motivated the church to change services to English. In 1962, George and Carol Braun accepted the position as Willingdon’s senior pastoral leadership. During this period Willingdon also purchased an adjacent one-acre lot where the church built a parsonage. After Pastor George’s resignation in 1966, Willingdon hired Isaac and Anna Redekop in 1968 to take over church leadership. In 1970, he resigned from the position due to health problems. George Letkeman again assumed interim pastoral leadership.
Willingdon’s first ministries included many children and youth programs to serve the younger to middle-aged families that made up the majority of the congregation. These programs included Pioneer Girls and The Christian Service Brigade for boys. Willingdon connect to families through neighbourhood children who participated in these programs, seeking friendships with their neighbours and often sharing meals with these families. God enabled members to witness the gospel and the love of Christ, and see Him transform lives as He grew Willingdon Church.
Its vision, devotion to scriptural teaching, passionate worship, prayer, and faith during uncertainty began to define Willingdon as an early church; God filled its congregation with a sense of unity and family. The average attendance during the first decade was 200.
The 1970’s: The Church is Strengthened
The 1970s marked a period where God strengthened Willingdon’s leadership and core ministries.
In 1971, Herbert and Adeline Neufeld accepted Willingdon’s senior pastorate. Under his leadership, the church established Home Bible Studies, with an initial 12 studies and nearly 120 members. This strengthened church fellowship, encouraging personal growth and church unity. Some referred to the Bible studies as the ‘heart’ of the church which represents Willingdon’s early Small Groups.
During a pastors’ retreat in 1977, God led Willingdon to establish elder leadership guided by scripture given in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. The intentional approach to selecting church leaders reinforced Willingdon’s solidarity by centralizing leadership with a group of elders. Elders prayerfully sought God’s vision for the church, holding each other accountable and responsible for the spiritual growth of Willingdon and its members.
Pastor Herb strengthened Willingdon’s missional focus by forming church outreach goals. By 1978 Willingdon added a Minister of Evangelism and Visitation to its pastoral staff. Willingdon’s Music Ministry conducted several outreach events, including one youth musical performed by 100 singers at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre to an audience near capacity.
Willingdon hired its first Youth Director in 1971 and a Minister of Youth in 1972. In 1972 church members designed and built the Christian Education Wing for its Sunday School, which trained children, youth, and adults in biblical studies. By 1978, Willingdon offered nine adult classes emphasizing evangelism, teaching, and discipleship. Willingdon founded its Children’s Church program in 1974 and a ministry to single adults called Positive Christian Singles in 1977.
In 1976, the church added a second Sunday service as attendance rose. The elder leadership and Home Bible Studies network formed during the 1970s set Willingdon on a course for growth, first spiritually, then numerically. The average attendance during the 1970s reached 360.
The 1980’s: The Church Multiplies
Out of the prayer-led desire to double church attendance within six years, Willingdon constructed and completed a renovation that included its 1250-seat sanctuary in 1982. The generosity of its members made the project debt-free, despite the construction taking place during a period of high inflation with interest rates over 18%.
In 1983, Willingdon formed its Counseling Ministry which directed a program called Careline, a phone service available to the Vancouver community for people seeking social and spiritual support. Willingdon founded its Mom’s Place program in 1988 to provide shelter and personal care to young women who decided to carry their babies to term as an alternative to abortion.
During the decade, Willingdon also formed its Ministry to the Deaf in 1982, New Horizon’s Seniors Ministry in 1984, Spanish Ministry in 1985, Young Adults ministries in 1985, and Korean Ministry in 1988. By 1983, Willingdon developed a two-year curriculum called “Training for Discipleship” for its Adult Sunday School class in Christian Basics, Old Testament Studies, New Testament Studies, Christian Living, and Christian Ministry.
Pastor Carlin and Marcia Weinhauer joined Willingdon in 1984 as the church’s Minister of Leadership Development. He became Willingdon’s senior pastor after Herb Neufeld resigned in 1986.
Church attendance rose faithfully through the 1980s. In 1986 Willingdon helped plant Cornerstone Church in Surrey as well as Hyde Creek Church in Coquitlam in 1989. Only six years after the completion of Willingdon’s renovation, church attendance reached the seating capacity of its sanctuary. Church Elders again sought to accommodate Willingdon’s growing membership, pursuing alternate properties in the Lower Mainland. However, God clearly directed the church to instead expand its current facility for the third time. The building project, known as “Vision for Ministry,” began in 1990.
God worked in Willingdon’s ministries to touch lives and call people into His church. Attendance reached an average of 1400 by the end of the decade, exceeding the church’s vision to double membership and
The 1990’s: The Church Diversifies
Willingdon completed its building project in 1992, adding the chapel, gymnasium, kitchen, multiple classrooms, renovated sanctuary and renovated offices. Throughout the 1990s, the church formed many of its international language ministries, including its Cantonese, Japanese, Mandarin, Indonesian, and Russian ministries. Each of Willingdon’s language ministries began through the initiative of a church member who desired to reach their countrymen living in Vancouver. This led Willingdon to engage the ethnic diversity of the city. International ministries translate sermons live to the sanctuary to unite members of different languages into one church congregation. Both the Spanish and Indonesian ministries went on to plant their own churches.
Willingdon formed its Missions Committee in 1990, partnering with the Mennonite Brethren Missions Service International (MBMSI). Willingdon also reached out through several street evangelism ministries, conventions, Ladies’ Teas, Men’s Breakfasts, Dinner Theatres, musicals, prison and correctional facility outreaches, and short-term missions trips through the 1990s. In 1997, Willingdon began its Discovery Program, connecting new believers and seekers with foundational truth about Christ and the gospel.
During the 1990s, Willingdon also founded its Food Services Ministry in 1992, InTouch Phone Ministry in 1995, Healing Place Ministry in 1996, Family Ministries in 1998, and Men’s Ministry in 1999.
Willingdon introduced its L.I.N.K. mission strategy in 1998: to lead people to commitment, include people in community, nurture people to completeness, and kindle people in their calling. The strategy focuses Willingdon’s growing ministries on shared objectives as the church pursues its mission to ‘know Jesus Christ personally and to carry on His ministry.’
The diverse groups of people God brought to Willingdon gave the church a unique platform to preach the gospel to “people of all nations’ living in Vancouver. By the end of the decade, Willingdon’s average attendance reached nearly 3000.
The 2000’s: The Church Broadens its Borders
Willingdon entered the 21st century with the addition of its French, Romanian, and Arabic ministries. The church added a fourth weekend service on Saturday evenings in 2003 and opened The Connection video venue in the building’s Chapel in 2005.
In 2006 Willingdon began streaming translated video and audio of services on its website. Willingdon translates sermons and worship songs into Korean, Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, French, Russian, Romanian, Spanish and Filipino, preaching the Word to people of different languages around the world.
Willingdon’s Media and Communications (MAC) Ministries began to decisively focus their productions on engaging unbelievers and sharing the gospel with their audience. Willingdon promotes its repeatedly sold-out shows through media advertising, welcoming approximately 12,000-14,000 attendants each year and donating ticket revenues to charity.
Each of its ministries began to broaden universally, including Women’s Walk ministry in 2005, Willingdon Fine Arts Academy in 2006, Imagine Ministry in 2008 and Alongside Ministry in 2008.
Willingdon School of the Bible was founded in 2003 to teach college-level courses in biblical foundations to students from the church congregation and across the city. By the end of the decade, the program was instructing over 400 students with a curriculum of 17 different courses taught by Willingdon pastors. In 2003, Pastor John and Kathy Neufeld accepted Willingdon’s pastoral leadership after serving five years as Assistant Senior Pastor.
Pastor Carlin became Willingdon’s first Missions Pastor, eventually moving on to a leadership position with MBMSI. During this period Willingdon furthered its involvement in global ministries. In particular, it formed a strategic partnership with Emanuel University in Romania in 2005, with the purpose of providing financial support and helping to train students to plant churches across Eastern Europe. Emanual University is the only government accredited evangelical Christian university in Europe at the time. Willingdon pursues such missions around the world through church planting and training leaders for church planting. The church also sends and supports many church families on mission as they strive to take the gospel to the ends of the earth and make disciples of all nations. The church launched Willingdon School of Missions in September of 2008 to train short-term teams for projects to assist its missionaries. Towards the end of the decade, Willingdon also began to be involved in a major leadership development program in the Middle East.
In 2007 Willingdon founded reFocus Canada, uniting, training, and encouraging like-minded individuals to take a stand for expositional preaching. The network brings its members together for an annual conference, seminars, and workshops from across the nation. By standing together, reFocus members encourage each other as they uphold the supremacy of Christ and the sufficiency of His Word.
In September 2008, Willingdon formed the Willingdon School of Ministry to cultivate church leaders. The one year internship program combines practical training and mentorship to develop solid biblical convictions, ministry philosophy and skill, and discipline toward godliness in the lives of future church leaders.
Willingdon Church had reached an average adult attendance of 4500 with 800 children and 400 youth in the second half of the decade and a fifth service was added on Saturday evenings in 2009. In 2008, Willingdon launched its “Building On Up” expansion and renovation project, adding a 600-seat worship centre for The Connection venue, a renovated Sanctuary with 120 additional seats, the Willingdon Café, a new office and expanded facilities to serve its growing ministries. The project added a total of 18,000 square feet to the church’s facilities. Willingdon completed the renovations in 2011.
Willingdon partnered with Church Planting BC in 2009 as church Elders envisioned Willingdon’s support of new churches as an effective means of reaching the city with the gospel. Willingdon sought to resource church plants that are “Gospel-centred, Spirit-led, and Mission-focused” in the city. The church’s partnership follows Willingdon’s support of Westside Church plant in 2005 and Reality Church plant in 2009. At the end of the decade, Willingdon supported pastors Lee Francois and Andy Frew in their decision to plant Crossridge Church in 2011 to reach the city of Surrey for Christ.
The 2010’s: The Church Celebrates God’s Faithfulness
On June 12, 2011, Willingdon Church celebrated its 50th anniversary with a combined service held at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver. This milestone event was evangelistic and the church family was encouraged to invite their unreached friends to the service. 7,500-8,000 were in attendance that day to celebrate what God has done at Willingdon Church over the past 50 years and in the lives of its members, glorifying the name of Jesus Christ in one united voice in the heart of the city of Vancouver.
Throughout the early 2010’s, Willingdon Church looked to expand the ways it could assist in training people in the truth of God’s Word throughout Vancouver and the world. During this period many churches participated in the biblical training at Willingdon School of the Bible. WSB expanded to overseas schools, translating its curriculum into Arabic, Spanish and Chinese and the Arabic International Bible Institute was established in Egypt.
The congregation got more involved in Global missions to look beyond ourselves and provide support, people and resources to mission’s organizations and partners around the globe to reach the lost and share the gospel. Willingdon, along with the Willingdon Charitable Holdings Society, welcomed the opportunity to help provide financial support to church plants with funds for renovations (Westside, Christ City Church), building purchases (Clova Theatre – Crossridge Church), and supported the planting of Reality Church in Vancouver and Meta
The International language Ministry renewed its focus on “many nations, one church” with the 12 official language ministries, including English. The congregation continued to worship together through translation services during weekend services. An ESL Bible Study Program, which helps build Christian community for many new immigrants, was started. Small Groups began to translate and published small group curriculum in several languages allowing the whole body of believers in Small Groups to study together.
A seventh service at 11:45am in the Connection was added to accommodate the growth of the church. In 2014 Pastor Carlin Weinhauer passed into the presence of the Lord. In Fall 2014, Pastor John and Kathy Neufeld resigned as Senior Pastor. Pastor Ray and Judy Harms-Wiebe took on the role of interim pastor and
then in March 2016, they were invited by the elders to take the position of Lead Pastor.
God Builds Willingdon Church
God builds Willingdon Church, transforming lives through His Spirit and by the power of the gospel. He alone is worthy of praise and is responsible for advancing His Kingdom through Willingdon Church.
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved…” – Eph. 2:4-5
We can know Him personally and carry on His ministry because of His grace, which offers us forgiveness of sins, redemption, steadfast love, salvation and eternal life. The heart of Willingdon is to reach the lost; the church evolves to engage and reflect Vancouver’s dynamic society, but Jesus Christ and His gospel remain upheld and unchanging.
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.