BY Emily O'Connor
The amount of people who identify as “no religion” continues to grow in Sydney, Australia. The churches that still reside in the city are mostly made up of older generations. When Grace’s Sydney church plant team visited Australia in October for a conference, they noticed that some churches were literally dying. A Greek Orthodox Baptist Church consisted of a handful of people over the age of 80. The leadership understood the church could not survive without new and younger leadership, so they handed the church over to Grace’s Sydney plant team.
“When a church is healthy, it multiplies. I think that’s the way God’s economy works,” said Aaron Elliott, Associate Pastor of Church Planting. “The local church, when it is functioning and healthy, when it is evangelizing in discipleship, it exists to bring healing to separation.”
Sydeny’s iconic Harbour Bridge represents the vision behind Grace’s mission of church planting in Sydney. To heal separation from God, Grace hopes to build bridges that connect people to Him.
“The world is in Australia, so part of the key vision is going to gateway cities, and Sydney is very much a gateway city,” said Aaron. “Depending on where you are in Sydney, the world is there. You don’t just see what you would think of as an Aussie culture.”
People from a myriad of nationalities and cultures do life together in Sydney. This lends itself to Grace’s strategy of a multi-ethnic leadership team and a mindset of multiplication. The church planting team finds success in the number of people being sent out to plant churches because there are literally not enough in the Sydney area.
“Part of our strategy is to have a multi-ethnic leadership team – Aussies, Kenyans, and Americans,” Aaron said. “Part of the strategy in the conference was for Ken Kamau (pastor of the Australia church plant) to identify somewhere between two to four future church planters that would come and help us start and then be launched out within a year to some of these other church buildings that are empty.”
Teri Capehart, director of children's ministries in Sydney, said Australia has empty church buildings that are waiting for leaders, some with less than 50 people who currently attend.
Another challenge for the Sydney team is building a children’s ministry, which is a novel idea in Australia. The closest example of children’s ministry is a group of kids of all ages pulled aside to read and color during services. Offering a children’s ministry can allow parents and kids to find unity with God.
“They don’t do anything for children under the age of three. So if you’re a parent of a child under the age of three, and then you usually in that time period are having your second and third children,” Teri said. “Generally you’re saying that couples will not sit in church together for the time that they’re having children until the last one is three years old. So you have women that won’t be in church for ten years.”
Aaron used Matthew 9:37 to represent one of Sydney’s biggest problems – the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few, so the team is praying for more laborers.
“The consistent message we got from this last trip from the people in Earlwood was that it’s an answer to prayer. They’ve been praying for the last few years about what was going to happen to their church,” Teri said. “They wanted God to do something to make it useful for His work again, impactful. They’ve just been waiting to see how He was going to do it.”