Strays, orphans and exiles

Two Rivers Church in Guelph, Ontario is building digital connections through a church podcast.

“What does being a church look like in the twenty-first century?” The Strays, Orphans, and Exiles podcast of Two Rivers Church based in Guelph, Ontario seeks to answer this question. They describe themselves as a diverse community of people, some “connected to church for many years,” others having left but “cautiously returning” and still others “exploring the Christian faith for the first time.” Christian Courier writer Candice Goodchild interviewed Ian Van Harten, host of Strays, Orphans, and Exiles and member of Two Rivers Church, about the podcast and its hope-filled message for the church today. 

Christian Courier: What is the major theme of your podcast?

Van Harten: What I see as the central question of Strays, Orphans, and Exiles is, “What does being a church look like in the twenty-first century?” I think covid vastly accelerated what was already an existing trend of church decline. And I think some churches have been running on autopilot, surviving off of habitual behaviour as opposed to real engagement. 

The disruption from the pandemic has presented an opportunity for us to take a hard look at what the church is, at the core — what is the church when all the familiar, outward trappings are stripped away? But also, what is the church in a world that’s “spiritual but not religious,” where many people’s senses of spirituality are overly vague and rootless, and where many of us feel shy and withholding of our beliefs? I think a podcast is an awesome way to pursue these kinds of questions openly, collectively and publicly. And I think having more open discussions around these things would be healthy, and hopefully lead to more engagement around what the church can do and what it can be.

I think a podcast is an awesome way to pursue these kinds of questions openly, collectively and publicly.

CC: What initiated the launch of Strays, Orphans, and Exiles?

VH: I’ve been a fan of podcasting for a long time, and I’ve always thought it would be fun to try starting one myself. The small group discussions within our church felt reminiscent of the kinds of discussions I enjoy listening to in podcasts – they’re authentic, reflective and open-minded. Podcasts can be great tools for growing and building community. During covid, we at Two Rivers Church started exploring new ideas to develop our digital and web presence, and I suggested that we try a podcast. 

A close friend of mine, Peter Szabo, agreed to help produce it, which gave me more confidence that we could really make this happen. I still think about the podcast as a kind of ongoing experiment, since we can’t know in advance exactly what shape it will take or what effect it will have. 

CC: How would you describe your current audience and your hoped for future audience?

VH: One goal for the podcast is to help build dialogue within our church, but also to be a resource that could be easily shared with others. For people who might be interested in trying us out, I think it’s a nice option to be able to see what our church is like, and what it might be like to be a part of it. Listening to a podcast can make you feel like you’re there in the room being part of the conversation. . .  it can be really intimidating going to a church for the first time!

CC: What advice and encouragement would you give to a church community who is thinking about starting up a podcast of their own?

VH: Make yourself available for what God invites you to in that moment. It’s a lesson I’ve been slowly learning with the podcast, where often I’ll have a plan for how I think the conversation should go, but then it goes somewhere else, and I [need] to follow that invitation. I’m still always learning.

Make yourself available for what God invites you to in that moment.

I don’t think a podcast will necessarily make sense for every church, but it can be incredibly worthwhile. One cool thing is how doing a podcast gives you an excuse to reach out and connect with people in the community. Often when we’re sitting down to record an episode with a guest, I have to stop and do a double take at how amazing it is to have invited someone into my home who I otherwise probably never would have talked to, and I get to have a really meaningful, fun conversation with them. It’s a great way to build up trust and connections with people in the community, which is a good thing for churches to be doing.

CC: What is the Two Rivers Church and podcast’s hope-filled vision for the future of the church? 

VH: I asked a similar question to Glen Soderholm, pastor at Two Rivers, for the first episode of the podcast. He mentioned that we want to grow, but we don’t think of growth simply as a numbers game. We want to grow personally, spiritually, in our connections and our relationships with each other. And I think we want our church to be a place where people can feel encouraged and supported in pursuing and living out those things. 

Ian welcomes anyone interested in learning more about starting up a church podcast of their own to reach out at ac.hcruhcsrevirowt@tsacdop. Check out and listen to the Strays, Orphans, and Exiles podcast. 

Two Rivers Church is based in Guelph, Ontario. They describe their community as “A safe place to explore your spirituality with a group of friends trying to follow in the way of Jesus.” This article was originally published in our March 2023 issue under the title “New ways of being church in the twenty-first century.”


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