Category Archives: Church

2019 – Good memories

Another year ends and the 20s are about to begin. I can look back on 2019 with almost unalloyed satisfaction. High spots of the year:

  • A two-night mini break by rail to Warrnambool.
  • Seeing our church continue to grow, with the opening of a new service in Docklands.
  • Being headhunted to help with our church ‘mums and bubs’ midweek meeting creche. For some reason this old single guy seems to be quite good at looking after little people!
  • A four-night cruise, Melbourne-Sydney-Brisbane, on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth, made even more special by being upgraded to a suite. No upgrade for my 2020 cruise though!
  • Visiting Brisbane for the first time.
  • Through the year working as a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, building homes in Yea.
  • Visiting friends and family in the UK – when I emigrated I promised to go back and visit them each year, a promise I had to break in 2018 following surgery, and taking a first-time stopover in Singapore on the way home, something I will do again
  • Through the year working as a volunteer guide at the Newport Railway Museum, also joining the works team.
  • Taking a winter holiday in Port Hedland – seeing big boys toys close up.
  • I only got to see one musical but it was a superb one, ‘Come from away’, the remarkable true story of thousands passengers and the small town in Newfoundland that welcomed them in the aftermath of 9/11
  • And continuing to run my software business, which celebrated its 30th birthday in April and once again reached my annual sales target (just).

So why has my church grown so much?

‘My’ church (OK, it’s God’s church), City on a Hill, started with in 2007 as Docklands Church, meeting at the James Squire Brewhouse in Melbourne Docklands. When I moved to Melbourne we’d been meeting for a year and numbered around a hundred people. Not too long after we started an evening service to take the pressure off the morning service (both, now all, our services are virtually identical, so you go to whichever suits you best).

By 2010 we could not accommodate everyone who wanted to come and with no suitable affordable space available in Docklands the decision was made to relocate to Hoyts cinema, Melbourne Central, at which point we changed our name to City on a Hill. Taking 130 people to a 400-seat cinema seemed (in ‘Yes Minister’ speak) a brave decision but before too long we were at capacity so moved to holding two morning services. In 2014 we started a Melbourne West congregation, and in 2017 a Melbourne East congregation. In September 2019 the continuing pressure on numbers led to us starting a Docklands service at the new Hoyts complex.

What a difference to my experience in the UK where the Congregational/United Reformed church of which I was part has been in decline for a hundred years. Why? What’s the secret

Inspired leadership must be the big one: more than a few church (and business) leaders have excelled in the one-person startup stage but have then come unstuck when it comes to building a team. We are blessed with a wonderful leadership team that has grown with the church.

Great teaching: Week after week our pastors serve up great messages that take a Bible passage and show us its application to our lives. In a digital age will people listen to 40-minute sermons?. Yes, they’re a key reason why people (nearly all in their 20s and 30s) come. Check out COAH podcasts

Consistency: I came from a church that for 30+ years had a half-time (shared) minister, with church members or visiting preachers conducting the other services, each bringing their own gifts to the pulpit. In addition we had a good number of special services. As a regular attender I really appreciated the variety. At COAH virtually every service follows much the same pattern: worship (possibly including a short interview), Bible reading, sermon, closing worship. But the big plus of this is that if you invite a friend, you know what will be served up. And people bring friends who very often stay.

Culture: The downside of this is a largely monocultural church, nearly all (not me!) being young professionals. You’d struggle to find a retired person in our number! One of our leaders once admitted: “There’s no way I’d bring my parents here: they’d hate it!”. ‘it’ probably referring to the music type and volume. This challenges me: I spent decades believing in a ‘something for everyone’ church, but perhaps having a number of complementary churches with their own distinct way of being church is better?

Governance: My previous UK church held to its Congregational roots, in that the ultimate decision making body was the church members meeting and I found it challenging to move to a church with top-down decision making – it being announced on a Sunday that ….. Both have their advantages and disadvantages – consensus and wider ownership of decisions v. being able to make quick decisions and not being held back by the inertia of some.

Buildings: Having studied building at university it was all but inevitable that I would 30+ years as a member of our church building committee, working to keep our mid-Victorian buildings in order. Now we meet in cinema and instead of endlessly grappling with heating, cleaning, leaking gutters etc etc, we just pay rent. So liberating, though it must be admitted that the setup and teardown each Sunday involves a lot of volunteer effort.

But with all this said, the key thing is that it’s God who gives (or withholds) the growth:

  • Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain (Psalm 127, 1)
  • I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. (1 Cor. 3, 6-7)

Or as Arthur Campbell Ainger put it in a hymn I love well:

  • All that we do is nothing worth, unless God blesses the deed;
    vainly we hope for the harvest-tide, till God gives life to the seed;

Thankfully, in our case he has. May this continue.

My church is 12!

Last Sunday my church – City on a Hill – celebrated its twelfth birthday. In person I’ve been part of the church for eleven of these twelve years but was in the loop from the beginning.

Our name, City on a Hill, comes from Matthew’s Gospel , chapter 5 verse 14: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” [ESV]. We started off as Docklands Church: St James Old Cathedral and St Jude’s Church had the vision of planting a church in Docklands, which then had a population of around 5,000 – it’s probably now three times that. Guy Mason was chosen to head up this project; we first met when I was visiting Melbourne in Easter 2007 and he’d just been appointed. Over coffee he outlined his vision, which was then light on detail but over the next six months a plan came together and on 28th October 2007 regular Sunday services began at the James Squire Brewhouse, kindly placed at our disposal by the then owners.

A year later I moved to Docklands. There was no doubt as to which church I would join. On my first Sunday I met lots of new people – the church had grown to around 100 – many names recognised from the emails I’d read over the months. Before long I’d been enlisted for setup – rearranging all the furniture for our service, then the mad scramble afterwards to make the pub ready for the lunch trade.

So why are we now City on a Hill? Word of this new church spread and our numbers increased to such a degree that we could not accommodate everyone. There was no suitable venue in Docklands so we had to move out, thus the need for a new name. On 9th May 2010 we held our first service at Hoyts Cinema, Melbourne Central. Taking over a 400-seat cinema when we had around 130 people looked (in ‘Yes Minister’ parlance) a courageous step but before too long we had to move to having two morning services, at 0900 and 1030 as well as our 1800 evening service.

And that was only the beginning: in addition to Melbourne Central we now have Melbourne West, Melbourne East, Geelong and Brisbane congregations, with Surf Coast and Gold Coast coming soon. And, coming full circle, we started a 1030 Docklands service at the new Hoyts Cinema this September. In total, several thousand people. Our stated vision is fifty churches in ten cities. Wait and see.

In my next piece I’ll venture a few thoughts as to why we’ve grown as we have.