LIFT Church was founded in 2006 by a small team at McMaster University. Simply put, our vision was to see students come to know Jesus. With the conviction that students on other campuses in Canada needed to hear the Gospel and be empowered to share it with others, the vision has since grown to include other campuses in Canada.
Currently, LIFT Church meets on four campuses in southern Ontario: McMaster University (2006), Brock University (2015), Mohawk College (2019) and the University of Guelph (2019). During the academic year approximately 600 students now gather for worship across these sites. Our best guess is that they are made up of roughly equal thirds: those with no prior church connection, those with some very nominal church connection, and already committed Christians. It makes for a fruitful mix, as we live out our mission to be sharing Jesus with those who do not know Him and equipping those who do, to do the same.
The university milieu
The universities and colleges of Canada are an enormously influential enterprise. More than 2 million students and tens of thousands of staff interact on our campuses every day. The nations of the world vie for attention at our universities, with 350,000 students from more than 150 nations currently enrolled. Our universities spend over 13 billion dollars on research in a single year and have generated over 1.5 million brand new jobs in the last 10 years – three times more than any other job creation vehicle.
However, the most significant output of our universities is not their scientific discoveries, artistic work, or even their direct cultural impact. Rather, the most significant influence of our universities is found in the individual lives of those that comprise them. University drastically reshapes the relationships, purpose, and ultimately the identities of those who are within.
The question asked – who am I?
The underlying objective of the university experience has become answering the question “Who am I?” However, this question is not asked in isolation. Students often ask it in the context of tense financial realities and amid the pressure to succeed at their studies. There is also now the added pressure to discover a social belonging, achieve athletic success, and determine a sexual identity in an increasingly ambiguous landscape. To top it all off, there are a thousand voices screaming for attention and shouting, “We have the answer.”
The effects of this environment are telling. A recent study of 25,000 students at Ontario Universities found that 67% abused alcohol, and 19% participated in drug abuse of some sort. Perhaps more alarmingly, 65% feel overwhelming anxiety, and 13% have seriously considered suicide.
Does the Church have an answer?
Christians often believe: (1) that the church cannot compete amidst the ever-mounting pressures and competing voices that university students face, and (2) that the content and culture of universities are one of the greatest threats to the faith of this generation. However, in our experience, we have found: (1) that universities create a most fertile ground for the Gospel, and (2) that the church cannot speak to a world in which we are not present. It is clear that students in this environment need Jesus, and at LIFT Church, we believe that it is our call to introduce them to Him.
From our perspective, the environment of the university or college is the perfect place to plant churches! As evidenced by the statistics cited earlier, students are naturally seeking for purpose, relationships and a mission for their life; in other words, they are looking to be whole. This is why LIFT Church exists: to see people made fully alive in the hope of Jesus by being the church on every campus. It is our prayer to see a discipleship movement that will result in churches being planted on ten major post-secondary campuses by 2026.
In the last thirteen years, we have seen thousands of people hear the Gospel preached weekly on university campuses, we have baptized hundreds of brand new followers of Jesus, and we have trained many hundreds to be disciple-making disciples.
It is out of the seeds of our discipleship emphasis that we arrive at our church planting strategy. Effective discipleship and effective evangelism should always go hand in hand. As we teach people to follow Jesus and be transformed in who they are, we equally call them to embrace the missional call on their lives to see others know Jesus as well. Mobilized-disciples that can effectively evangelize are the most basic and essential ingredients of church planting. Church planting is the natural and inevitable by-product of effective discipleship.
Simple Church – a church planting strategy
Discipleship at LIFT Church occurs through small missional communities called “Simple Churches.” Simple Churches are a vehicle to see the “priesthood of all believers” move from a theological construct into a lived reality; we work to take a student from no knowledge of Jesus to church-plant ready in just four years of university. If they have effectively been able to lead a Simple Church as a student in one location, then it is not a substantial stretch for them to do so in another location. In so doing, we mobilize the ordinary believer to become a church planter.
Every time we plant on a new campus, we start with Simple Churches. Our focus on Simple Church as a church planting strategy means that the basics of discipleship and evangelism are the foundation of the church. Through Simple Church we can provide a context to support many hundreds of people. However, the real benefit is that effective discipleship and evangelism, activated through the ordinary believer, means that we can also commission churches in new locations with low costs in both physical and human resources. While these churches start small, they can scale rapidly to have a substantial and multiplying Kingdom impact.
Through Simple Churches, we teach and empower all of our students to be disciple-making-disciples in their world. By encouraging students to form meaningful relationships with each other where they invest large amounts of time together and are by nature of the campus in close proximity to one another, genuine space for vulnerability is created. Time, proximity and vulnerability are the essential fuel for effective discipleship, and the university campus provides the context where they almost automatically exist. (See Acts 2:42-48.) The university context provides a natural context to plant churches that in turn plant churches by mobilizing ordinary believers to become disciple-making-disciples. It is really that simple.
Finally – a few figures
Here is a breakdown of the 600 that meet at the four campuses. There are 440 at McMaster, meeting for 13 years; 100 at Brock, meeting for 3 years; 50 at Mohawk, meeting for 6 months; and 15 at Guelph where they have only been going for 3 months and have not started meeting for worship services yet. Of that 600 we would say that 350 are consistently engaged, (roughly twice a month) and of the consistent attendees 70% are in a Simple Church and about 70% of those are serving in a leadership role, approximately 250 people.
 Universities Canada, Facts and Stats, https://www.univcan.ca/universities/facts-and-stats/
 College Health Association-National College Health Assessment II: Ontario Canada Reference Group Executive Summary Spring 2016. Hanover, MD