Photo: God’s mission for cities requires less institutional responses in increasingly fragmented communities.

Issue Five: A Fresh Hope Horizon Paper – July 2020      

Introduction

Fresh Hope has five strategic themes emerging from our ethos within a 100-year horizon framework. One of these themes is ‘Urban Mission and Regional Renewal’. The primary objective is: To partner with our affiliated entities and agencies across NSW and the ACT to acquire, develop or re-develop facilities for local mission and ministry.

This article is proactively positioned as an ‘essential introduction’ to assist your church consider the opportunities for your suite of facilities including your property. While some churches don’t own facilities, still others are the custodians of ageing buildings that are potential liabilities going forward.

There are rigorous planning and development protocols within each local precinct impacting our network of churches.   These planning regulations hinder many faith communities as they seek to renovate or reposition their facilities for a vital future.  Consequently, I believe many churches will struggle as they attempt to navigate the myriad of complex processes necessary when considering future new or redeveloped church buildings.

Strategically it is important to consider, among other essentials, the future of this movement through the lens of property.  I focus on urban mission and regional renewal from the premise that there are geographical locations across NSW and the ACT that are essential for our future.  Many of these are located in urban precincts or ‘activation zones’ while other regional centres are flagged for substantive infrastructural work as a precursor to population growth and renewal. 

 

Let’s Discuss Urban Mission and Regional Renewal

In each generation, there emerges opportunities that are compelling and challenging.  For over 175 years, Churches of Christ in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory (a movement or network of churches) have developed church facilities in communities that reflect local expressions of faith committed to the Gospel of Jesus.  Many courageous pioneers took substantial risks to financially create church assets in the suburbs and cities across this land we call home.  In their time, they sacrificed substantially with the view that these pioneering outposts would become pivotal in the future witness and evangelisation of Australia in diverse and expanding communities.

I am grateful for each church’s work in continuing this faithful service and pioneering tradition.  However, in critiquing the church properties and buildings within Churches of Christ in NSW and ACT, the overwhelming majority of those assets are well beyond their usable life.  This is a risk or an opportunity that significantly impacts our future witness and viability.  A failure to respond or ‘do nothing’ will substantially hamper the future positioning of our collective network in the many cities in which we exist.

There is a considered view that the majority of churches, while having a genuine heart to care for their faith community and promote the Gospel of Jesus, may lack the capability, experience and skills necessary to manage the best use of their buildings. These management issues include being able to navigate the legal, architectural, planning, building, project management and financial orientations necessary to develop or re-develop their property assets.

It is important to note that as a movement of churches, we have resisted the idea of ‘central’ or ‘hierarchical’ governance.  The inherent strength of our movement lies in its capability to be flexible or agile in contextual mission, without due need for unnecessary bureaucratic controls.   

The article argues philosophically we are stronger and wiser together.  Our key ideas are ‘synergistic partnership’ and ‘contextual place-making’ for facility design and development linked to future mission.

The new era presents an important challenge.  Instead of autonomous or isolated practice, I propose synergistic partnership as a means to leverage innovative facility outcomes.  Moving beyond isolated ideas, I advocate inter-dependent helpful sharing, leveraging our strengths and capabilities in strategic execution.  Instead of antiquated properties, I envisage innovative new contextual facilities or re-developments purpose-built for a 2050 generation and beyond.

The article reflects some of the dynamics of the strategy as follows:

To champion a vision of synergistic partnership and contextual place-making for a 2050 generation (the long-term horizon) by:

    • developing and/or re-developing or acquiring property assets as new or refreshed mission and ministry centres across the Fresh Hope network of churches;

    • informing, clarifying and defining strategy and processes for local churches seeking to engage with Fresh Hope;

    • stimulating innovative contextual place-making and holistic wellness in buildings and facilities as a part of urban mission and regional renewal;

    • helping to create, where possible, multiple returns on investment being financial, community and spiritual; and

    • where appropriate, leveraging broader Fresh Hope assets, agencies, finances, resources and staff expertise to facilitate this strategic vision.

This journey requires conviction and courage.  The focus is preparation and innovation for future generations.  The strategy encourages current generations to sacrifice for future generations.  I am convinced that this is a ‘once in a century’ opportunity to refresh and re-design our church and community property portfolios and leave a lasting legacy for those who will follow.  It is a bold and audacious vision requiring high trust and significant investment.   It is important to deliberately set the bar high. This is not to discourage you but realistically inspire you to do the preliminary work necessary to partner with us to launch into the future.

 

Beyond the 2050 Year Window: Essential Mission for the Future Church

The early pioneering spirit of our movement is typified by two complementary gift sets, namely; the gift of evangelist and the gift of entrepreneur. 

A cohort of successful innovative businessmen [1] worked tirelessly to acquire appropriate assets for the establishment of the movement in Sydney.  Similarly, tent evangelists penetrated new locations to proclaim the Gospel with boldness and urgency.  In Canberra a national initiative of collaborative mission saw the church planted and emerge to plant other churches.  The synergistic effects and efforts of these two gifts enabled the strategic and catalytic initiation of this movement.  It was a time of great passion, partnership and momentum.

A critical element in the early foundational mission, was the ability for the ‘parts’ to work in concert, in high trust with appropriate deference to the roles each was to play in the establishment of new frontiers.  In those days there was never any doubt as to the priority of the movement as a conduit for expansive mission.   Local churches sacrificed in order to see new works planted for the Gospel as they sowed and prayed together for Kingdom results.  The mission of the whole, was just as critical as the ministry of the local church.

An essential orientation was our redemptive fingerprint.  This fingerprint increased the capacity of the body of believers to work together for kingdom purposes, often in very short time spans.  Consequently, we were able to align resources (human and financial) into strategic locations to plant new churches.  This fingerprint was about pioneering through evangelism with entrepreneurship together; expanding our reach into new locations for Gospel impact.

Imagine a future where our churches work together for the cause of the whole; where Kingdom activity is directed and mapped across both New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory to pioneer, develop and re-develop facilities ready for a 2050 generation and beyond.

Collectively:

    • We dream of a church movement that engages proactively in Fresh Hope Pioneering [2]. That is, the ability to raise up and release workers who are sent on behalf of our movement and its churches to pioneer new faith communities for future generations in strategic planning precincts and growth locations;

    • We encourage churches to be partnered in engagement; not functioning in tangential misalignment or attempting to stimulate further movements in isolation outside of shared strategy;

    • We envisage a suite of church facilities that are purpose built for a 2050 generation and beyond.  These assets would be community oriented, capable of 24/7 utilisation and valued as Christian community contributing to each city’s welfare and blessing;

    • We intend to stimulate innovation and contextual mission and placemaking as precursors to facility design so that Fresh Hope churches are celebrated as city assets; and

    • We will pursue and facilitate a vibrant future; a network of churches in outstanding contemporary facilities serving Australians for Jesus and His Kingdom. 

 

A Final Word about Contextual Place-Making

Scripture reminds us that the prophet Jeremiah commanded the people of Israel to pray for the peace and prosperity of the city and seek its welfare. (see Jeremiah 29:7). The Hebrew word shalom (translated as welfare) literally means complete well-being and wholeness, universal flourishing, delight and blessing. 
I believe this reflects God’s redemptive purpose and design for all cities.

Could such a command still have relevance in a post-Christian secular Australian society?  We believe it does, primarily because the church and followers of Jesus are called to be salt and light in a world that is inherently lost, fragmented and bewildered.

Our population trends are gravitating to cities in urban and regional centres. We affirm that God loves all people and recognise that this invitation will prioritise limited applications; but that all churches should seek to bless their communities through ministry transformation beyond their facility needs.

 

The Lausanne Movement has highlighted the importance of mission in cities:

‘Cities are crucially important for the human future and for world mission. Half the world now lives in cities. 

Cities are where four major kinds of people are most to be found:

1. the next generation of young people;

2. the most unreached peoples who have migrated;

3. the culture shapers;

4. the poorest of the poor.

We discern the sovereign hand of God in the massive rise of urbanization in our time, and we urge Church and mission leaders worldwide to respond to this fact by giving urgent strategic attention to urban mission. We must love our cities as God does, with holy discernment and Christ-like compassion, and obey his command to ‘seek the welfare of the city’, wherever that may be. We will seek to learn appropriate and flexible methods of mission that respond to urban realities.’ [3]

In response to this declaration, I encourage you to reflect on God’s activity in our nation and the population shifts gravitating towards cities.  The strategy is both urban and regional in design; a recognition that cities are critical in God’s plan for the salvation and restoration of His creation.

‘Cities are diverse, dense places where different types of people interact with one another.  Cities are populated with people of various cultures, different world-views and different vocations.  Cities force individuals to refine their cultural assumptions, religious beliefs and a sense of calling as they rub-up against the sharp edges of assumptions, beliefs and expertise of other city dwellers.’ [4]

How God views cities is an important conversation.  Tim Keller from Redeemer Church in New York comments:

‘The New Jerusalem…. Is the Garden of Eden, re-made.  The City is the fulfilment of the purposes of the Eden of God.  We began in a garden but will end in a city; God’s purpose for humanity is urban.’ [5]

Our view is that cities are the epi-centres of Kingdom mission. Urban and regional hubs are loved by God and critical for the restoration and transformation of lives and communities.  As Fresh Hope pursues God’s agenda, we are primarily a contextual mission movement in city centric communities. 

This city activity (kingdom mission and ministry) requires spiritual leaders who develop holistic approaches to transformation.  Those immersed in urban mission describe the approach through the lens of ecology:

‘Effective urban mission requires an ecological mindset, an ecological sensitivity, and at a practical working level, ecological knowledge.[6]

Put simply, God’s mission for cities requires less institutional responses in increasingly defragmented communities.  Ecological or environmental mindsets are organic, agile, highly relational, innovative and contextual.  It is hoped that these orientations will capture the imagination of future generations without compromising the Gospel.

The strategy invites you to consider that Fresh Hope collectively needs facilities designed as ‘contextual place-making’ in key cities as a means to extend the Gospel to peoples from all cultures and races. 

Contextual place-making has two orientations:

Firstly, we need churches to design new facilities that are places that fit their immediate context.  Contextual places that are architected to fit the community needs of specific locations. Places that are made to orientate the demographic, geographic and sociological uniqueness of particular cities as vital witness and mission conduits for the Gospel.  The goal is for the church’s facilities to be treasured and valued by the community as spiritual assets, places of hope and vibrant community.

“Strategic spatial planning is defined as: ‘a transformative and integrative public-sector led, and 
socio-spatial process through which visions/frames of reference, justification for coherent actions, and means for implementation are produced that shape and frame what a place is and what it might become.’ [7]

The key word in this definition is ‘place’.   Place-making is an important discipline: an art and science, and churches need to consider the kind of ‘places’ they intend to build.  Place-making is the art and science of developing public spaces that attract people, build community by bringing people together, and create local identity.  This is the new future for church facilities.

Secondly, it is important to prioritise strategic locations (positional places) where city growth determines the necessity to be geographically positioned beyond 2050.  Not every city will grow at the same rate (indeed, not every city will grow), but those in planning precincts are targeted for substantial infrastructure expenditure and population growth.

There will be some small cities and towns, where we may choose not to have a presence.  While we would love to saturate as many places as possible, our hearts recognise this is impossible given our scale.  This is due in part to our lack of resources and the witness of other churches in those locations.   Our theology will shape us to lean into our strengths, to pursue opportunities where we have spiritual leaders capable of impacting culture on mission for God.  Our strategy will focus, align and orientate where God is already at work bringing growth and health in our movement.

 

In some cities, where churches are already positioned, we will always champion partnership rather than competition.  We are resolute to encourage collaboration, and if appropriate consolidation of facilities to ensure our facilities provide the best possible environments for Christian witness to thrive.

There is at Fresh Hope, a desire that our facilities would make Jesus attractive and irresistible to all.  We pray our motivation will glorify God and that at the end of the age a future generation will give thanks because we were emboldened in faith and partnership to move forward.

 

Discussion Starters for Church Leaders

Thank you for taking time to examine this strategic theme and article.  We believe the future of the church is critical and our capacity to envision and design new facilities paramount.  This conversation should include both staff and key church leaders as you willingly open the door and allow new ideas to emerge.

We recommend the books listed at the end of this resource.  We would be open to advise you on a key resource for you to study further depending on your context.

This article discusses planning future facilities for a generation beyond 2050.  Why do you think it’s important to plan this far in advance?   

Discuss together the relevance or suitability of your church’s buildings/facilities.   Be prepared to listen and invite feedback.  If you were to ask those not in your church but in your community what they thought of your buildings, what do you think they would say?

Often when people discuss the ‘church’ they refer to the physical buildings and confuse the difference.  In this article we introduce the idea of ‘place-making’.  Consider these two possibilities being:

1. It’s time to renovate your existing facilities.   What kind of ‘place’ would you like to create?

2. It’s time to rebuild/relocate and start again.  How does ‘place-making’ influence your project even prior to engaging an architect or designer?

Which scenario is more relevant to your situation?  Please dream and brainstorm together: what might you create for a generation not yet within the kingdom?

How might the mission of the church in your unique city shape your hopes and expectations for a future suite of church facilities?

Discuss together the biblical idea of urban mission or regional renewal.  How applicable is this to your situation?   What do you need to still learn?  How might you engage someone to help you with this conversation?

Fresh Hope collectively has discussed ‘partnership’ as an important opportunity for local churches to consider.  We do so on the basis that we have broader experience and resources that might help a church in navigating their future plans.

Assuming you were to contemplate a partnership with Fresh Hope, what would be important to your team?  Please discuss.

Final orientation.   Any change to a property or properties comes at a great cost and with a degree of grief.   At times there are members of churches who become emotionally or spiritually attached to the church building as they were perhaps married in the chapel, or the building has important significance to their family.   How might you become aware of some of these challenges and then manage a positive change processes that engages your stakeholders?

Pray together for courage and conviction.

Helpful Reading
  • Bennett, J. & Beudel, S. Curating Sydney: Imagining the City’s Future. © 2014, Sydney. UNSW Press.

  • Coffin, C.J. & Young, J.  Making Places for People. © 2017 New York, Routledge.

  • Conn, H.M. & Ortiz, M. Urban Ministry: The Kingdom, the City and the People of God © 2001 Illinois, IVP.

  • Driscoll, C., Darian-Smith, K. & Nichols, D.  Cultural Sustainability in Rural Communities: Rethinking Australian Country Towns. © 2017, London & New York. Routledge.

  • Hamnett, S. & Freestone, R. Planning Metropolitan Australia. © 2018, London Routledge.

  • Hayward, H. & Nutt, D.  Enmore Incorporated: Pioneers of Churches of Christ in NSW  © 2014, Rhodes, Fresh Hope.

  • Hill, G. Salt, Light and a City, © 2012, Oregon, Wipf & Stock.

  • Hoyne, A. The Place Economy Vol. 2 © 2019 Andrew Hoyne Design.

  • Keller, T., Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City © 2012, Grand Rapids, Zondervan.

  • Kreminski, K.  Urban Spirituality: Embodying God’s Mission in the Neighbourhood. © 2018 Urban Loft Publishers.

  • Sinek, S.  Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. © 2009.  Great Britain, Penguin.

  • Snyder, H.  Small Voice Big City: The Challenge of Urban Mission © 2016 California, Urban Loft Publishers.

  • Thomas, D.  Placemaking: An Urban Design Methodology. © 2016 Routledge.

  • Um, S.T. & Buzzard, J. Why Cities Matter: To God, the Culture, and the Church. © 2013, Illinois, Crossway.

  • Weller, R. & Bolleter, J. Made in Australia: The Future of Australian Cities © 2013 Perth, UWA Publishing.

 

Dr. Andrew Ball
Executive Ministry Director

Churches of Christ in NSW & the ACT.

© Fresh Hope Resources 2020.

Level 1 No 3 Rider Boulevard Rhodes NSW 2138

www.freshhope.org.au 

 

[1] Hayward, H. & Nutt, D.  Enmore Incorporated: Pioneers of Churches of Christ in NSW  ©   2014 Rhodes, Fresh Hope.

[2] Fresh Hope Pioneering is a cornerstone strategy of fresh hope.  It articulates our strategic for planting and initiating new faith communities in strategic locations across NSW and the ACT.

[3] Lausanne Movement from: The Cape Town Commitment Part 2, Section IID, 4

[4] Um, S.T. & Buzzard, J. Why Cities Matter: To God, the Culture, and the Church. © 2013, Illinois, Crossway.

[5] Keller, T.  ‘A Biblical Theology of the City,’ – accessed from http://www.e-n.org.uk/2002/07/features/a-biblical-theology-of-the-city/

[6] Snyder, H.  Small Voice Big City: The Challenge of Urban Mission © 2016 California, Urban Loft Publishers.

[7] Hamnett, S. & Freestone, R. Planning Metropolitan Australia. © 2018, London Routledge.