Dividing to grow in Sydney’s north

AMS Staff

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prayer points

- Praise God for the growth in St Thomas’ evening service over the last ten years that has seen many put their trust in Jesus and allowed a new service to start.
- Pray that the 5pm and 7pm congregations will have a strong sense of mission and purpose, and that this will result in both services growing as many people come to Christ.
- Pray that the new structures will allow Christians at both services to be pastored more effectively.

by Geoff Robson

For some people, ‘church planting’ means travelling long distances and perhaps breaking brand new ground in a previously untouched community.

For the evening congregation at St Thomas’, North Sydney, a new church has meant just the opposite. In fact they’ve done it right on their own home ground.

Earlier this year, St Thomas’ made the decision to plant a new congregation from within its existing 7pm service. A new meeting at 5pm is aimed at better utilising the church’s resources to allow the remarkable growth of recent years to continue.

When the Rev Steve Young joined the staff at St Thomas’ in 2000, the evening congregation had been through a period of significant growth in the 1990s. With around 300 people attending the service, which already filled the church building, it was obvious that a decision had to be made that would allow the ministry to continue expanding. While the service could have stayed the same size and been moved offsite, the decision was made to split the congregation and start afresh.

“We felt it was time for a bit of a shake-up, to create a bit of space,” says Mr Young, who was pastoring the 7pm service and is now overseeing the new 5pm group. “The theory is that once you hit a certain limit, you’re not going to grow any more. The factors pointed towards doing another service, rather than just finding a bigger venue.”

Mr Young says a desire to see more people actively using their gifts to serve each other was a factor. “We wanted to shake people out of the complacency factor of feeling like we have a big church, we’ve arrived and there’s nothing left to do,” he said.

Similar in style to the existing 7pm service, the 5 o’clock meeting includes most of the usual features of a contemporary Anglican service. “We still keep the word of God central, through preaching and the public reading of the Bible,” Mr Young said.

Elements like interviews, testimonies and culture reviews have also allowed more people to be involved and foster community in the new congregation. “There is a closer feel and a sense of belonging to it, which people really enjoy – it’s a little bit more personal,” Mr Young said.

While none of the existing congregation were officially asked to make the switch to the new timeslot, around a third of the group was at the first 5pm service in June. Attendance at 5pm is now around 120, mostly 25- to 35-year-olds, with around 200 people from teens upwards still at 7pm.

Mr Young admits that while parishioners were aware of the strategic reasons for the plans, the actual process of change proved to be difficult. For many, existing relationships became much harder as they no longer had regular weekly contact at church.

“But the people that went to 5 o’clock knew why there were going – they wanted to start something new and be involved in that,” he said. “The challenge at 7pm is to help them see that they have an opportunity to start something new now.

“The sense of mission and purpose it was supposed to engender is slowly coming through to people at 7pm, whereas it came more naturally at 5pm.”



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