“When I began in April 2017, my daughter was the first child to be in church for more than ten years,” said Revd Chris Bowditch, Rector of Lindisfarne Anglican Church. “They were all so happy to have a baby in church again.”
Prior to Chris’ commencement, the Parish Council acknowledged that with an average age of seventy-two they needed to try something new and had agreed to host a Pathways workshop with Ken Morgan.
Since his appointment Chris has led his church in prayer, seeking God’s leading, and exploring new effective mission pathways.
“God’s timing is perfect. I started a week after Easter and six weeks later we had the launch of the new Diocesan Vision,” said Chris. “I asked my parish: How are we going to respond to the Bishop’s vision – to be a church for Tasmania, making disciples of Jesus?”
Chris framed some questions and began a consultation process. He asked: What do you love about our church? What should we do that’s new? What should we stop doing?
“We ran the Pathways workshop in June. It was an eye-opening day for us as we realised that as a church we had limited effective mission pathways,” he said. “We did agree that to be a healthy church we needed families.”
“So we asked ourselves: ‘What have we got?’ (one family with children under 5); ‘What should we try to get more of?’ (more families with children under 5); and ‘How do you get that?’ (we need a mission pathway for families with children under 5),” said Chris.
One of the key outcomes of the workshop was to decide on a Mission Focus Group (MFG). “Our MFG became: anyone who lives nearby who has a child under the age of 5. They are a potential contact.
“We then agreed that our mission pathway would be: to run a Playgroup for children under 5,” he said.
Creating an inviting space for parents and children was not easy or cheap. The church hall was not a safe or attractive space. Bar heaters were removed from the floor and replaced with two new heat pumps. The old church library with unsecured shelves was removed and the out-dated curtains replaced. It has cost the parish about $15,000, and $2000 for new toys, books, play mats etc.
“The idea that it was all fun and smooth sailing is certainly not true. For some people, embracing change is not easy. However, if we don’t change the church will die. We needed to provide a child-safe place where parents could feel like they belong, and would not inhibit future ministry,” said Chris.
Chris had to focus on the Vision and push ahead for change.
“We made posters and put them up everywhere around Lindisfarne. Ladies visiting the Royal Hobart Hospital handed out flyers, gave them to all the midwives, and stuck it on the wall,” he said.
“Facebook is the reason, apart from God of course, that most of the things have gone so well I’m sure. We created a Facebook event, then paid for it to be put in people’s newsfeeds. This gave us great exposure. Social media presence is essential if you want to attract young people.
“Ellisa [Chris’ wife] and I, with the help of seven volunteers, started the playgroup in October. We had arranged for five of our friends to come along and were really surprised when we had nineteen children the first week. We continued to average fifteen children each week.
“Thirty-five families have contacted us through this ministry so far, with just under fifty children in total attending over the term. At Christmas time seven of those families came along to the Kids Christmas Service, with one of the new families helping us out by playing music at the service.
“Three of the families we’ve met through Playgroup have come along on at least one Sunday morning, and my greatest joy is that one family has joined the church and now come every week.
“We’ve been able to offer meals and pastoral support to one family as they went through some major emergency surgery. It was lovely to be able to bless them in this way.
“Now when we come together as a church to make strategic decisions about how we are going to use our time, space and resources, we concentrate on our mission pathway – we are constantly talking about families with children under 5.
“We have given ourselves until 2020 to have this rolled out. I’m hoping that our current MFG, some of whom by then will be over 5, will naturally lead us into having a second mission pathway: families with children in primary school,” Chris said.
Lindisfarne Anglican’s strategic goals for this year are to provide opportunities for those families we meet through Playgroup who are interested to: (1) embrace the Gospel; and (2) get to know Jesus/grow in their discipleship.
“We need to figure out how we run something like a Parenting or Alpha course, to provide an opportunity for new parents to engage,” said Chris.
Chris shared his concern that the church services currently on offer are not particularly family-friendly. His biggest challenge this year will be to work out how he can provide both a traditional service and create something new that will cater for new families to come to faith and be discipled.
“This has all gone far better than I could’ve dreamed. God is indeed a good God, who answers our prayers and is blessing our pathways strategy,” said Chris.
“2018 should hopefully continue to see God bless our strategy as we establish some Embracing Jesus steps and work through how we have family-friendly services that help us follow Jesus.
“I’m excited by what God has in store for us as we continue to follow His leading and see Him grow us and shape us to be a church for Lindisfarne, making disciples of Jesus,” said Chris.
*Playgroup runs every Tuesday from 10-12pm during the school term.
Any questions please contact Chris on 0412894012 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Chris is willing to share his experience and provide guidance to other parishes who are considering a similar mission pathway.