he Great Commission and the Great Commandment are at the heart of church growth and ministry at the Moose Jaw Church of God a community of 33,000 in Saskatchewan. Since 1943, this congregation has been a generous church supporting local missions and missions around the world.
Western Canada Administrative Bishop Larry Hasmatali has been lead pastor at Moose Jaw since 1996, and has attended the church since 1983.
While studying International Bible College, Larry served in many areas of ministry at the church, and continued serving while working in health care. When the church went through a difficult transition time and needed a pastor, Larry and his wife, Connie, accepted the pastoral call. Their level of leadership has moved from laity, to pastoring, and now administrative bishop.
Transition came naturally. Pastor Larry said, “While working in health care I received training in leadership and in managing people. I brought staff from two health care facilities into one group with a common goal to work together in a new facility.”
He recalls challenges moving into the pastorate. “People needed to learn to trust leadership; they had mistrust with the denomination.”
Larry and Connie were among the hurting in the congregation, and that opened the door for people to trust them as pastors.
“People knew us and trusted us, but would they follow us as their leaders? We had to prove our leadership.”
Turnaround came quickly with new people coming the first year.
The first few years focused on healing the church family and laying a foundation for the future. Healing came through a personal approach to ministry. “We had people into our home. We cried and laughed together. We celebrated life together.”
Asked how things have changed, he asked, “What hasn’t changed? While people still want to be loved, accepted, connected, and inspired, we’ve grown from 30 to over 500 in our weekend services.
“My leadership style has changed at least five times. I was hands-on with people when the church was smaller. Now I’m involved with leadership development, staff mentorship, and keeping our focus on the Great Commission.”
People’s involvement with the church has also changed.
“Twenty years ago, church was the hub of people’s lives,” Hasmatali said. “We had Sunday morning and evening services plus a midweek program.
“Today we compete with other community activities. We’re no longer the social hub. Church does not have the same priority in people’s lives. Social media gives people the opportunity to feel connected without the commitment to community. Many churches live-stream weekly services so people can feel a part of the church without attending a physical location.
“People are not as loyal to denominations. Over 80 percent of our congregation were not previously Church of God. Today, people are drawn by local church ministry. That’s a big difference from 20 years ago, when people were committed to the denomination. Today, lead pastors become the bridge to the denomination so people see we’re part of something bigger, with purpose and accountability. While people don’t come because of the denomination, we try to tie them into the denomination.”
The heart of ministry for the Moose Jaw Church is loving God and loving people. The goal is to be disciples and make disciples for Jesus.
GIVE is an acronym summing up the congregation’s core values: Generosity, Innovation, Vision, and Empowerment.
“We start with generosity a value at this church for over 70 years. Generosity to world and local missions, and to congregational needs,” said Pastor Larry. “I experienced this when I came to Moose Jaw. The local church took me in. We care for church families, providing meals for people who are experiencing sickness, grieving over a death, or welcoming a new baby.”
The church allocates 15 to 25 percent of total revenues toward missions. They have built church facilities in Honduras and a children’s home in Haiti, and planted and sponsored churches in Western Canada. The church supports community social services, including a nondenominational youth program, a homeless shelter, and the local food bank.
Pastor Larry’s community involvement includes chaplaincy at the local military base, hospital ministry, and working with funeral homes.
Innovation pushes the church to do things differently. Different styles of worship fill the weekend. The pastor explained, “There was a need for a Saturday evangelical service because people work Sundays. Saturday evening is a community based service a contemplative service with liturgy and weekly Communion. The first Sunday morning service gives people opportunity to sing more familiar songs with softer music. The second Sunday service has more contemporary lighting and newer songs. The same message is given in all services, and each has a children’s ministry component.”
V is for vision: helping people see God’s vision for their lives so together they can fulfill the Great Commission and Great Commandment. “Everything we do relates back to vision,” the pastor said. “With multiple staff, our vision helps us not just to be busy, but purposeful. At Moose Jaw Church of God, we measure achievements over activity.”
Empowerment is key to discipleship and involves three growth tracks: (1) “Introduction” teaches who the church is and its core values. (2) “I’m In” introduces areas where people can serve, get connected through life groups, and take the next steps healing, baptism, and church membership. (3) “Leadership Development” provides training to serve at different leadership levels: life group leaders, department leaders, elders, and deacons. The overall goal is membership with empowerment─to show that everyone is important, everyone has a ministry, and everybody is needed.
The Moose Jaw popluation is multicultural, so the church is deliberate in bringing together people of different nationalities and age groups. The goal is to meet people where they are and help them move forward in their walk with God.
Pastor Larry said, “Our family has always served together. Connie visits new families, makes hospital visits, and works in the area of hospitality and discipleship. Our children, Brandon and Madison, when they lived in Moose Jaw, were involved in ministry.”
The church elders saw the regional bishop appointment as an empowering opportunity for their pastor to lead and mentor pastors and church leaders in the region, which fits well with the Moose Jaw Church’s vision. The move was innovative because the administrative bishop continued to pastor.
How does this work? Bishop Hasmatali explained, “The reality is I wear both hats at all times, but schedule my week with Monday to Wednesday focused on the local church, and Thursday through Saturday regionally focused.”
Western Canada stretches over 1,500 miles, crossing four provinces with mostly smaller communities. “On average, I spend one weekend away monthly,” the pastor said. “We use technology to connect with our pastors, church leaders, and at times meet with the regional council. The dual role keeps me current in local-church happenings, and because I’ve led a congregation of 30 to over 500, it’s easy to relate to the challenges faced by pastors.”
The Hasmatalis serve as a team in Western Canada: Connie is the credentialing coordinator and women’s ministry director.
During four years as administrative bishop, 10 churches have been planted, congregations have been revitalized, and new pastors credentialed.
“We have learned it’s not the size of the church, but how the local church impacts the community. We will continue to see spiritual and numerical growth by staying the course and finishing the Great Commission.”
Alex Allan attends the Moose Jaw Church of God, where he is involved in chaplaincy ministry.