Mark Conner recently concluded his 22-year placement at CityLife Church in Melbourne, leaving a legacy of four campuses with over 10,000 people. Read about Mark's amazing ministry and his contribution to the 2017 Uniting Leaders conference in this article.
From little things, big things grow
By Bindy Taylor
Communications Manager & Editor-in-Chief
Posted in Leadership
While church planting only recently became an intentional focus of the Uniting Church SA Synod, it is not a new phenomenon. Examples of successful church plants are dotted across South Australia, including one at Ascot Park – the Fish Gate Uniting Church.
Church plants often begin as a dream of an individual, a small group or a congregation. Coromandel Valley Uniting Church had been wrestling with the idea of planting a new church community for several years. When Rev David Kowalick and his wife, Catherine, arrived in Adelaide in 2000, there was an opportunity for this dream to become a reality.
“There was a feeling from some members of the congregation that the presence of the Uniting Church was diminishing in certain parts of Adelaide. We wanted to change that by establishing a fresh Uniting Church presence in Adelaide,” David recalls.
“We’d just relocated from Sydney to Adelaide and joined the Coromandel Valley congregation. We knew Deane Meatheringham, who was the minister at Coro at the time. He was aware of our eight-year experience pastoring a church plant in Sydney and approached us about their congregation’s desire to plant a church.”
David and Catherine began leading the church planting team, meeting with others interested in the project. They spent a couple of years dreaming, praying and working out the details of the type of church they hoped to plant.
Eventually a team of 17 people were commissioned and sent out by the Coromandel Church congregation. The group began meeting publically in the Glandore Community Centre on Sunday 16 February, 2003.
Over its first five years, the Fish Gate community grew significantly. It soon became too large for the original location and relocated, moving to four different venues until finally finding a home at Ascot Park Community Church.
“As our size and needs changed, we relocated to different venues – some Uniting Church sites and some community spaces,” explains David.
They first considered Ascot Park Community Church as a location when the building became available on Sunday evenings. Members of the Fish Gate community approached Ascot Park about establishing a mutually beneficial partnership. A formal agreement was reached and the Fish Gate community continues to worship at Ascot Park Community Church from 5pm each Sunday.
“It was with a spirit of generosity that Ascot Park Uniting Church agreed to the Fish Gate Uniting Church relocating to their church building,” David says.
Today, the relationship between the two churches continues to flourish as they continue sharing the same building. This successful church partnership is a valuable part of the Fish Gate community.
“I don’t believe there is a single ‘best way’ for a new church to be planted,” David reflects. “Nevertheless, there is a lot to be said for larger congregations within the Uniting Church taking a generous and sacrificial step toward intentionally building a church planting team and sending them out with maternal support – both spiritually and practically.”
In recent New Times articles, Church Planting Project Officer Rev Dr Graham Humphris has spoken about different church planting models. While the Fish Gate Uniting Church does not strictly fit any of these, it is undoubtedly an example of a successful church plant.
David credits support from the Uniting Church SA Synod Office as an important part of the Fish Gate’s continuing growth.
“The Fish Gate has been extraordinarily helped and supported by Synod. The process of becoming an ‘official’ Uniting Church is complex, and administrative support is vital – to say nothing of the pastoral and financial assistance that Synod provided,” he says.
“The Fish Gate faced some significant challenges along the way, and the pastoral and practical support of Synod was invaluable.”
This support is something the South Australian Synod office is now offering more intentionally as part of the new church planting initiative, Generate 2021. Over the next five years, the Uniting Church SA hopes to plant 10 new churches and regenerate 15 through this initiative.
Speaking about Generate 2021, and church planting in general, Graham emphasises the importance of planting churches – not for growing the Uniting Church, but for growing the kingdom of God.
“We are commanded to go out and make disciples, and studies show that new churches are significantly more likely to reach new people and grow more through evangelism,” he said in a New Times article published in late 2016.
“I really believe that planting new churches is going to be the most important and effective way forward for the Uniting Church in SA as we seek to reach people and disciple them for Jesus.”
Graham is calling on congregations and individuals to prayerfully consider whether they are being called to plant a church.
“I’m keen to hear from anyone who may be interested in undertaking training on how to plant churches or from congregations who may be considering establishing a plant within their existing church,” he says.
The Fish Gate Uniting Church is an example of what can be achieved through the dreams, plans and hard work of a small group of dedicated church members. Many of those involved in planting the community, such as Peter and Ann Karran, continue to provide key leadership in the congregation.
It’s now over 14 years since the Fish Gate was first established, and it continues to be a strong presence in the Uniting Church SA.
“Church planting is an adventure, but sometimes it can be just plain hard. Sometimes all you have is that initial call and reason for existence to keep you going,” says David.
“In the end, churches don’t exist for themselves – they exist to do their bit in the overall proclamation and demonstration of the kingdom of God. Each church is different and has something unique to bring to the table, but every church ultimately exists to tell people about Jesus Christ.”
Rev David Kowalick is now the minister at Walkerville Uniting Church. Andrew Klynsmith is the current minister at the Fish Gate Uniting Church.
For more information about Generate 2021 and church planting, please contact Rev Dr Graham Humphris on 8236 4235 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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