Our Story

Grassroots Church was founded in 2002.

The tl;dr Version…

Grassroots began as a home church in 2002. The church quickly grew, eventually moving to the college cafeteria until steady growth and opportunity allowed for the purchase of 1250 Balmoral St. in 2008. 

Our founding pastor, Chris Pacholczak, served until 2014. Steve Bill served for an interim period before Keith Jagger took the lead until July 2021. Following the Jaggers departure, Steve Mills served as an interim pastor for 18 months and then in the Spring of 2023, Steve Bill was hired as our full-time pastor. 

The pandemic impacted our community in all sorts of ways, not least of which was a result in a steady decline in attendance and thus, givings. This unfortunate turn of events caused leadership to make the difficult decision to sell our building. In Spring of 2023, Lac Des Mille Lacs First Nation purchased the building, allowing our community to continue meeting in this space until April 2024. 

We are in a rebuilding stage of life and are excited about the next chapter for this Jesus-centred community.

The Long Version…

Grassroots Church began in 2002, when three couples felt led to plant a church in Thunder Bay. With an intention to provide a community of worship for those who didn’t seem to connect with more traditional churches, Grassroots was, from the start, comfortable with doing things a bit differently. Chris Pacholczak pastored with a vision of Grassroots being a missionally-minded community united in the Spirit, much like Acts 2 describes the early church. Weekly services were held in a rented church board room, then later a living room, and when that was outgrown, the college cafeteria became a place of worship each Sunday morning. The weekdays were devoted to operating the Great Commission School, in which students spent nine months studying the Bible. These early years planted a deep sense of church family, hospitality, and love for God’s story. A culture was grown in which people felt free to ask hard questions, express doubts, explore fresh perspectives, and discover new ways of understanding God within the safe place of authentic community. Real relationships were woven together and tested by the holy messiness of shared life. 

While many pastors and authors influenced the flavour of Grassroots, much of the theological underpinnings were guided by the writings and teachings of N.T. Wright, embracing the idea of being part of God’s New Creation here and now as a picture of future restoration, and firmly anchored in the hope and truth of the Resurrection. Our conviction that the Resurrection interprets reality gives us the freedom to think outside of the box theologically and explore fresh expressions of Christianity.

As the church grew, having a public space with room to expand brought about significant growth, as well as the realization that a permanent building was the next step forward. A small congregation at the former Central Evangelical Free Church decided to dissolve and sell the building for a nominal fee to Grassroots. So, in the summer of 2008, the next chapter of Grassroots began, centrally located on Balmoral Street. Over the next few years, the congregation grew in numbers (including expanding young families!) and in purpose. This new start in our own space was a time of joyful worship, inspiration from other emergent church leaders, and investing in the many children in our midst. Being an independent start-up church presented several challenges like generating new policies and succession planning for leadership.

In 2014, the Pacholczak family felt called to move on from Grassroots and Thunder Bay. During this transition time, we were fortunate to have church member Steve Bill serve as an interim teaching pastor. 

In May of 2016, Grassroots entered another exciting chapter, with Pastor Keith Jagger coming on board. With a special emphasis on Spiritual Formation and Biblical Studies from his graduate studies with N.T. Wright, Keith challenged the church to be transformed by the selfless love of Jesus, engaging in God’s story so that we may cover the earth in his love, meeting both spiritual and physical needs of Grassroots and our broader community. 

When the spring of 2020 hit, much momentum came to a halt in terms of unity, mission, new initiatives, and growth. Like most churches, Grassroots weathered the effects of the pandemic life, adapting in huge ways as we struggled to maintain community connection, worship, and learning. Home groups were a saving grace, offering for many that place of connection and support when community gathering was drastically reduced. For large group worship, we relied on Zoom church as well as outdoor services when the weather co-operated. In the spring of 2021, we said goodbye to Keith and his family as he moved on to a new career as a university chaplain after five years of pastoring Grassroots. 

As an interim measure, we were glad to have retired pastor Steve Mills with us, providing Sunday morning messages, care and guidance through the spring of 2023 before Steve Bill took the reigns as Lead & Teaching pastor in the summer at the same time that our building was sold to Lac Des Mille Lacs First Nation. We continue to meet at 1250 Balmoral St. and are excited for what’s in store.

Emerging from the past couple years has been both humbling and awakening. While we recognize and honour the reality that each person is on a journey, the challenges of individualism in this day offer a stark reminder of what needs to be set aside when we come together as a community of worshipers. A long-defining mark of our church family which we aim to reclaim is how we come together during crisis and take care of each other well. Grassroots began as a movement and continues to operate as a movement: fluid, flexible, adaptive, evolving. We are a work in progress, but there is both beauty and strength in our imperfection.

Chris Pacholczak holding a baby
Church learning in the Study