Early starters make real connections

Natasha Percy

Is connecting with the local community in January too hard? As the sun rises on 2009, Figtree Anglican Church's evangelism minister, Stuart Starr admits running anything in the holiday month has its challenges.

But last year, Fresh Start, a two-week activity program led by Mr Starr in mid-January, saw 300 Figtree Anglicans and locals connect.

The key, he says, is to make a January outreach event as "no-cost' as possible, in terms of people and money.

He has done this by building on the natural interests of Figtree's members to make connections.

So they have turned their usual January pursuits into program activities, running bike rides, pram walks, photography classes, LAN gaming sessions and barefoot bowling.

Using a "smorgasbord" approach, which gives church members a variety of times and types of activity to be involved in, also helps.

"We don't need people to come to everything " they can take their pick," he says.

Following the activities, which are designed purely to connect with locals, Figtree runs two dinners featuring a gospel talk. Last year, over 15 people made commitments to Christ, Mr Starr says.

He is adamant January is a golden opportunity to connect.

"People are in the resolution business, and health and a second chance are pretty much on the agenda at this time of year," he explains.

"It's a time of the year when people have a little more free time, just because their regular things aren't running, so it's a time where we might be able to sneak into their life."

Admittedly Figtree is one of the larger churches in the Diocese, with 25 people leading activities.

Yet Mr Starr believes the Fresh Start idea could work in smaller churches.

"I think in principle this is a scaleable idea, because you just have to work out what you can do in your area and what are the things that people at your church like to do," he says.

Avoiding the Christmas crescendo

Figtree got in early, promoting Fresh Start at Figtree Anglican's Illawarra Community Carols, which drew a crowd of 4,000 and featured Neighbours heart-throb Dean Geyer, acclaimed musician James Morrison and popular children's entertainer Colin Buchanan. 10,000 leaflets were also distributed around the parish, along with banners on the church site and a press release and picture sent to local press.

Mr Starr says Fresh Start has helped Figtree maintain the momentum of Christmas activities as another "free gift' to run alongside summer church services.

"I think we underestimate the distance from our footpaths into our buildings," he says.

"When we say, "We just want to bless you with this' and they go "That was really nice. What else have you got to say?', I think we win credibility, which may just win us a hearing for the gospel."