West Edmonton Christian Assembly Chapel (WECA)
KELSEY VISSCHER HADN’T planned on going to church when she walked into the West Edmonton Mall this January. There were no spaces where she usually parked, so she ended up at the opposite end of the mall. A sign for the West Edmonton Christian Assembly Chapel (WECA) caught her attention.
Only a month-old Christian at the time, Visscher stepped inside. She saw a child sitting at a booth doing his homework and a group discussing a topic around a large table covered in study notes.
"I grew up going to a really starchy, religious church," says Visscher. "This felt almost like a community centre." A volunteer invited Visscher to join an Alpha course at WECA’s main church campus – a course Visscher attributes to shaping her strong faith foundation.
At a recent Sunday service, she watched mallgoers pause in the doorway or grab a pamphlet. Their curiosity was palpable.
"Most churches are segregated in their parking lot," says Visscher. "You have to very actively go to the church – whereas this one is right in the middle of a giant mall."
The chapel has existed since 1986. WECA took over the lease in January 2017 when the original Marketplace Chapel began struggling for lack of funds and volunteers. Inspired by Alpha’s conversational approach to the Christian world view, the chapel’s traditional vibe was reimagined and designed to be similar to that of a coffee shop, to help avoid any immediate turnoffs for people who wouldn’t normally enter a church setting.
"Catering the way a church service looks to reach a certain community, I think that’s missions," says Adam Browett, associate pastor at WECA. "How do we build churches that speak the language of the people we’re trying to reach?"
The mall has 24,000 employees and attracts 32 million people every year. Each day 40 to 60 people from all backgrounds and stages of life come into the chapel. Their needs are many and very diverse.
While the chapel offers many services like Bible studies, free counselling and ESL classes, their main ministry is as simple as offering free coffee and friendship to the lonely.
"We’ve found that through the chapel we’re able to point people to Jesus in a way that surprises them," says Browett. "They realize they don’t need all this religion stuff in order to find Christ."