“What will it take to get a catalytic movement happening at the University of New South Wales (UNSW)?”
This was the topic of conversation one day in 2002 between Allan (Power to Change’s National Director), Peter (Catalytic National Director), and Geoff (NSW Area coordinator). What a task! A campus of 40,000 students in Sydney, academically rated in the top 4 in Australia... we hadn’t had a Power to Change presence there for 20 years... Some had questioned the necessity of our even being there at all, due to the presence of another Christian group of around 800 students - the largest student Christian group in Australia. The three of them tossed around ideas, but their conclusion was this: it would take 20 students, and $2000. They prayed and committed it to God, and left it at that.
In 2005, Andy Chin, youth pastor of Wesley International Congregation in the centre of Sydney, who had known Power to Change for a while, approached us with a proposal. He had a bunch of uni students from his church at UNSW, and could we help to mobilise them in reaching out on campus? “How many?” we asked. “About 20”, he replied. “And”, he added, “we can kick in $2000 to get it started.”
What an answer to prayer! And so started our first and church partnership in launching a catalytic movement on campus in Australia.
In the next five years or so, we’ve sought to build relationships with many, many church leaders. Most have expressed a moderate level of interest which hasn’t led to anything (as yet), but there has been a handful of encouraging successes. The exciting potential of a church partnership is the possibility of having an instant pool of students to work with. They are admittedly totally new to Power to Change, and probably need lots of training and aligning, but if they come from a church with a similar ministry philosophy to ours, there is huge potential.
Along the way, we’ve learned a few home truths about seeking to partner with churches to start catalytic movements:
- A successful church partnership normally takes time, probably a few years to produce success. So the key is to be patient, build the relationship, and not rush things. Keep contacting the church leader, at least several times per year (eg invitations to camps, summer projects). Show an interest in their church – how it’s going, successes and failures, what their struggles are, and pray for them.
- Working with a church is all about the relationship with the pastor. The partnership lives or dies on the strength of that relationship. Partnerships can be fairly informal – without anything written (such as the one with Wesley International Congregation). But they can also be formalised, with a written Memorandum of Understanding (such as that formed with Woodvale Baptist Church in Perth)
- If the partnership is informal, there is the possibility that, if a church leader leaves or changes role, the partnership could be drastically and immediately affected.
We’ve therefore sought to push the leadership of the movement down to the student level so that changes in church personnel aren’t so critical.
- Most pastors are not going to be able to become a Key Volunteer. They may be available for a few hours a week on campus, but it’s very unlikely that they will be released from their church for the conferences and summer project. This means that the pastor’s role is more as an advisor/coach to the student leaders who must become the KV’s.
- We just aren’t going to be able to partner with some churches. If they are not willing to be kingdom-minded, to think broader than the immediate benefits to their own church, it’s probably not going to work. There must also be an agreement with our ministry philosophy.
- If it’s a real partnership, we need to consider: what can we offer to the prospective church? Can we train them in building movements or evangelism? Serving the church will really open doors of trust and mutual benefit.
Harvey had been running a ministry in his hometown of Ballarat, Victoria, for a couple years, and wanted to try another campus. He looked to the 4,000 students at Latrobe Uni in Bendigo, an hour to the north. Harvey knew no students there, so how would he start? What followed over the next couple years was, according to Harvey, nothing short of “a miracle, it’s all of God”. He met Rob, the youth pastor of the Anglican church across the road from the uni, and started to coach him to launch a movement. Rob, however, was soon asked by his church to concentrate more on his church’s youth ministry; but he did provide the link for Harvey to meet Greg, a uni chaplain and another Anglican minister.
Harvey’s and Greg’s hearts knit straight away, with the same passion for evangelism and discipleship. His church immediately subsidised five students to go to Power to Change’s Mid-Year Conference, which they loved, and Rachel, a Korean student studying human resource management, rose to be the first leader and Key Volunteer. There was unquestionably a movement there – at the O- week stall in semester 2 that year, Harvey could really see the Holy Spirit at work in the students, as people moved from other stalls to cluster around the Power to Change stall. It was an absolutely electric atmosphere! As a result, there were about 30 students in small groups, led by six leaders. Harvey’s role, in his weekly visits, had been purely to train the students and to guide student leaders.
When we partner with churches with a similar vision to ours, and God works, the results are amazing. Working with churches provides great potential to work with the local body of Christ and launch movements where we know no one.
By Scott Adamson (Feb 2011)