The Rev. Ryan Sim is a church planter who created Redeem the Commute, an app for commuters that is ultimately designed to grow a church in Ajax, Ont.
The town of Ajax is essentially a bedroom community of Toronto where 87% of working adults work outside of Ajax. The Diocese of Toronto is funding a six-year project to plant a church in this area so after a period of research and development Mr. Sim launched the app in November 2012. Redeem the Commute offers audio and video-based courses on marriage, parenting, Christianity 101, as well as a daily challenge.
1. So you launched about six months ago. How are things going?
Things are going well. We have been steadily gaining users. As we did our research in Ajax we found that people were so overwhelmed with the commuting lifestyle it was impacting all areas of their lives. We wanted to help them.
We’ve got close to 700 people who’ve installed the app on Android or iPhone. In the last 30 days we have 100 people who have used the app. Many of them are regular users and many others use the website version. It’s hard to distill exact traffic but every month we have hundreds of pageviews over several platforms. We just started on LinkedIn as well.
Within the past week I had someone send me an email that said our videos were well produced and compelling to watch. They even prompted a discussion with his wife about faith and passion. This person wasn’t a Christian but he’s paying attention to the content and Jesus is beginning to do something in his life. This was really encouraging.
2. Any big surprises?
I knew that on the internet people value their anonymity and privacy but I think what I’ve found challenging is that I don’t hear many stories from people like that LinkedIn user. We have great metrics. I have a lot of numbers but I don’t have a lot of names. It’s been the challenge to help people open up and create community online when everybody knows that it’s a little bit risky.
3. Making the leap from an online community to in-person community sounds difficult. First of all, why is it important?
This whole project was developed to plant a local church. I’m always intentional in describing this because we can get blinded by technology and people can assume that the app came first and we did this to be cutting edge, but none of this would be a good enough reason.
We want to help people learn how to follow Jesus and this is best done in community. I don’t want a virtual church where we have spectators. In every video we make there’s an encouragement to share it with somebody.
Our dream is to see a network of small groups forming and we’ll come to a point of getting a critical mass together to begin public worship, but where that never takes over, and our emphasis remains on engaging in ongoing discipleship as individuals and small groups.
4. So how are you trying to make this leap from online to in-person community?
We’re trying a lot of things, so I’m not sure what will ultimately prove most fruitful. I’m at a coffee shop every week if people want to meet up. We’re sending regular encouragements for people to form groups and we offer live courses. You can attend one in evenings, but I’m not surprised that people haven’t come yet. We’ve done a couple of contests and we attented the Durham region baby and kid show. We’re always working to get the word out.
5. What inspired you in this work?
In its entirety it’s tailor-made for Ajax. It’s so tempting to build a church for “church people” but that’s a negative example of church planting. You don’t just want to set up another service that attracts Christians. I’m formed by a lot of the Fresh Expressions work, particularly the “formative journey” that describes a process of listening, serving needs, building community, making disciples, and then finally to worship.
A missional church is formed where people are, serves people’s needs in that place, and becomes church there.
6. Some Christians view the internet with suspicion—seeing it as a cesspool of tawdry content and distracting memes. Others see it as a saviour, a way to bring back the kids into church. So where are you on this spectrum? How do you think Christians should view technology?
Technology has been always been used as a tool to create community and communicate, even back to the the printing press, the Roman Road, scrolls, stone tablets and beyond. Technology is not a new thing. It’s been part of human development since the beginning. When a new technology is used to communicate the gospel, we rightly have lots of questions. But we should not be afraid to use new technologies to communicate the gospel simply because they are new.
7. How can we support Redeem the Commute?
I encourage people to see this as a gift to friends and neighbours and people in their life who might not connect with traditional forms of church. I really want people to use it with friends. Maybe they could together every Wednesday night for coffee to discuss what they’re learning? The app is a great way for Christians to share with friends and neighbours and colleagues.
You can also pray that God will use it to communicate the gospel with people who might not have otherwise encountered it. Pray that these people form communities and through those communities that we’ll see a gospel movement coming from this. There is so much potential.