Groceries and the gospel

Have you ever seen a 7-11 in a country town? How bout a Woolworths? How about an evangelical church? When it comes to spreading the “bread of life” around the country the evangelical church’s (defined for the sake of this post as Bible believing and theologically reformed) strategy has been closer to 7-11’s urban focus than Woolworths’ approach of putting Supermarkets wherever it might be viable.

Woolworths has more than 700 stores in Australia (according to Wikipedia). 7-11 boasts more than 350 stores in Australia

At our college weekend away our principal, and brother in the Lord, Bruce Winter (he doesn’t like the “Dr” honourific) encouraged us to consider our ministry futures as a blank cheque – and specifically raised and criticised the attitude of some people he’d met who scoffed at the notion of leaving a city to engage in country ministry. This idea stands in stark contrast to Izaac’s report from the other day.

Here’s a quote from the post where Izaac quotes Phillip Jensen.

God cares for people more than sheep. So we need to send gospel workers where there’s more people than sheep.

Alright then. Guess I won’t be leaving the city. And New Zealand is definitely out of the question. On further explanation I understood Phillip’s point. He was just using the line as an introduction to his reflections on strategic thinking. He went on to inform us if we drew an imaginary triangle between three Western Sydney suburbs (I forget which ones), there’s more people contained within than in the entire state of South Australia – so we theoretically need at least as many workers in that triangle as in South Australia. Phillip wasn’t against country ministry, but highlighted the increased importance of regional centres rather than establishing a formal church in every tiny community.

Perhaps Phillip Jensen might reconsider his quote (boldened) if those in the country stopped sending their sheep and grain to the cities for food? I commented on the post suggesting that the church should not consider itself as 7-11 but rather as a supermarket. We don’t need an evangelical church on every corner of Sydney’s bustling streets. We need a supermarket mentality where we’re in every town in Australia. All Australians need to be able to shop for groceries – and all Australian’s need the gospel. If we’re convinced that the gospel is a necessity then like Izaac says in the comments on his post – we need to be thinking in terms of access rather than saturation.

Part of me likes to think in the category of access. Though churches need to operate evangelistically as individuals that “go out” with the gospel, it is also true that churches can have an attractional quality whereby people “come in” to hear the gospel. So there is a certain reality to a smaller town with a church gathering where the gospel is proclaimed, is doing a similar thing to having one good church per suburb in the city; namely providing an opportunity for those keen to hear about Jesus the chance to do so.

I disagree with the premise that you need one good church per suburb – I suspect you need one good church hub for every six or seven suburbs.

When I defined “evangelical” churches as “Bible believing and reformed” earlier you can be sure that most of these churches in Australia are enjoying the fruits of faithful men who happened to serve in Sydney. Most evangelical churches around the country can trace their roots to Sydney (just like any white settlement in Australia). But the same can be said for Woolworths.

In 1788 Samuel Johnson’s York Street Anglican was the “cradle” of evangelical Christianity in Australia, the first Woolworths opened in 1924, about 150 years later, just two streets away in Pitt Street.

I don’t want to toy around with counting up the number of “evangelical” churches in the country – but I’d say in Queensland there are a handful (more than ten, less than twenty) in the city of Brisbane and ten or less throughout the state’s regional centres. I may be undercounting in both cases. And I’m certainly not au fait with the number of evangelical Chinese Churches around the traps (I learned this over the weekend).

I’m not arguing that we should neglect the city – I just don’t buy the argument that the number of work(er)s should be proportional to the size of the population. Here are some stats from the National Church Life survey (NCLS)

“According to the Australian Community Survey (ACS), some 63% of adults live in urban areas. Of the remaining 37%, 10% live in large regional centres (population greater than 20,000 people), 15% in centres of between 2000 and 20,000 people, 8% in centres between 200 and 2000 people, and 3% in centres of 200 people or less.”

How many of those 37% of people have easy and convenient access to groceries thanks to Woolworths or Coles? How many have access to faithful Bible teaching? If there’s a disparity we’re doing it wrong. Bible teaching is as necessary for life as bread and milk.

The NCLS provides a further breakdown…

“Reported church attendance among people in urban and rural areas is similar, with 20% of urban dwellers attending frequently compared with 19% of rural dwellers. However, farmers and agricultural workers have much higher levels of frequent church attendance (28%) than others. This could be because churches provide opportunities for social interaction, although other community organisations do this too. Alternatively, the higher attendance levels among farmers could be because the way of life of farmers and their work in providing the necessities of life receives greater affirmation from the churches than most other occupations (Why People Don’t Go to Church, 2002, p 20).”

“Christian belief is average. Urban and rural dwellers are just as likely to hold a range of traditional Christian beliefs (30%). Rural dwellers (12%) are less likely to be interested in alternative or New Age spiritual practices than urban dwellers (15%). Urban dwellers are a little more likely to value spirituality, freedom and an exciting life than rural dwellers. But rural dwellers place more importance on national security than urban dwellers (69% compared with 62%).”

Extrapolating on denominational attendance figures from census data it’s a safe bet that a high proportion of these rural church goers aren’t enjoying the benefits of reformed evangelical Bible teaching.

Denomination No. of People (2001 Census) 2001 Estimated Weekly Attendance Percent attending of people identifying
Anglican 3881162 177700 5%
Baptist 309205 112200 36%
Catholic 5001624 764800 15%
Churches of Christ 61335 45100 74%
Lutheran 250365 40500 16%
Pentecostal 194592 141700* 73%
Presbyterian & Reformed 637530 42100 7%
Salvation Army 71423 27900 39%
Seventh-day Adventist 53844 36600 68%
Uniting 1248674 126600 10%
* NCLS attendance estimate for ‘Pentecostal’ only includes Apostolic, Assemblies of God, Bethesda, Christian City Churches, Christian Revival Crusade and Vineyard

If you don’t buy the 7-11 argument you should check out this map of Sydney Anglican Churches in North Sydney

How many staff do each of those churches have? How many overseas missionaries do they support? Probably heaps – how many churches around Australia could be created and supported by deconcentrating this presence?

How is it that Coles and Woolworths are caring better for the average Australian than the church that claims to adhere to the teachings and instructions of Jesus? If the gospel was all about reaching the most concentrated populations wouldn’t he just have stuck to Jerusalem or hit the road to Rome?

He was the guy who not only traveled the countryside preaching the gospel (Matthew 9):

35Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

He also sent 72 of his followers out in pairs to the countryside (in Luke 10) to reap a plentiful harvest, and then of course there are Jesus’ last words to the church prior to his ascension – it’s not an instruction to “go to the people of the earth” but the “end of the earth” – which despite my less than rudimentary understanding of Greek suggests a geographical element rather than anthropological understanding (I haven’t actually looked at the Greek at all – feel free to correct me). How much more plentiful is the regional harvest in our time – when our “country” centres (like Townsville) are the same size as Corinth in Paul’s day (according to Biblegateway).

If secular culture and corporations understand the value of getting groceries to consumers everywhere – why are we so good at saturating the city of Sydney and so bad at reaching the rest of the country?

[ssba]

The author

Nathan runs St Eutychus. He loves Jesus. His wife. His daughter. His son. His other daughter. His dog. Coffee. And the Internet. He is the campus pastor at Creek Road South Bank, a graduate of Queensland Theological College (M. Div) and the Queensland University of Technology (B. Journ). He spent a significant portion of his pre-ministry-as-a-full-time-job life working in Public Relations, and now loves promoting Jesus in Brisbane and online. He can't believe how great it is that people pay him to talk and think about Jesus.

29 thoughts on “Groceries and the gospel”

  1. I have probably said this before on your blog, but I think young people (esp. uni graduates) are encouraged to seek out a good church when choosing where to take a job, and those good churches are in the cities.
    I was sitting in a park in Babinda last year and seeing some teenagers hanging out in a park there, and I wondered who ministered to them.
    I think we should be encouraging people to find a small community where they can serve in the church, rather than finding a church that can serve them in a city. The 1000 people in a small town need to know Christ just as much as the 1 million in a city.

    1. I have probably said this before on your blog, but I think young people (esp. uni graduates) are encouraged to seek out a good church when choosing where to take a job, and those good churches are in the cities.

      I think seeking out a good church is important – but I don't agree that those good churches need to be in the cities. Robyn and I independently sought out a church we could serve in post uni outside of the capital cities. Wouldn't it be great if every region in Australia had a good church ministry minded graduates could seek out?

      1. I don't think they need to be in the cities either, which is my point. But they are, and it is a perpetual cycle. Young people get out of the regional areas to go to uni or find other work, and aren't encouraged to go back.
        I was generally discouraged from going to a small town, rather than going to Brisbane or staying in Townsville, when I finished uni, because I would be able to find neither a good church nor a husband in a small town. So my expectations were too high to start with when I went to a small town, and then settled for a mediocre church that I struggled to become involved in because I disagreed with too much going on.

  2. I'm probably just jumping on the Driscoll bandwagon here, but didn't the Apostle Paul go to the cities, and then keep moving? Having a solid ministry base in the cities is important for influencing the culture of both the city and the country areas. In the city is where there's a higher concentration of people, and of disposable income, and so by having a strong presence there, you can create resources for funding ministry in the more rural areas.

    The city is where the bible colleges tend to be located: is it a fair suggestion that the people who are best suited to bible college teaching work tend to be drawn towards cities for their concentration of culture and thought? And once you send people there for their training, they are likely going to be swept up in that way of life, and not want to leave the city… perhaps this is something else that needs addressing?

    I would think that the Anglican church in Sydney is still smarting from the GFC, and may well be looking to regroup by strengthening its presence in the city before heading out to the areas where there's (granted) a much lower concentration of the reformed / evangelical church.

    I'm certainly not denying the need for good teaching and ministry resources in the country: it's very much a noble calling, and people should be encouraged to head out to smaller communities. It would be irresponsible for church leaders to be sending people out, though, without taking steps to ensure they're properly resourced.

    Or perhaps I'm just getting old.
    My recent post VCD: My Left Eye Sees Ghosts

  3. I should have also said that even where there are sheep there are also people – so what about them bearing in mind that God does love people more than sheep!

  4. Working on the definition of “evangelical” churches as “Bible believing and reformed”, I think your estimation that "in Queensland there are a handful (more than ten, less than twenty) in the city of Brisbane and ten or less throughout the state’s regional centres" represents significant undercounting, unless there are other qualifications that you're applying that I missed.

    What are you considering the city of Brisbane, and what are the state's regional centers?

    BTW, I certainly don't think there are too many, there's a great need for more.

    Gary.

    1. Hi Gary,

      I must admit to pulling that number out of nowhere and probably reducing the credibility of my argument by about 43%.

      Perhaps expository preaching of the word is another element in my calculations – but even then my figure probably fails to take into account about ten years worth of planting and refreshing of the Queensland scene.

      And I also, at my peril, probably don't count the other extreme of the reformed movement – the "truly reformed" types who aren't as interested in what I guess now is called "missional" Christianity.

      I would list the churches I'm thinking of (in terms of the good ones) but that sort of list always creates problems because I'll forget or disagree with someone on one or two…

      Brisbane = Brisbane City Council region
      Regional Centres = Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Townsville, Toowoomba, Rockhampton, Mackay etc.

      The regional centres, in my opinion, are critically under resourced in terms of gospel workers.

      1. Your credibility is fine, I was worried that there had been a serious decline since I left.

        I can probably think of most of the churches that you've got in mind.

        One of the problems is the lack of complementary support by other denominations that is available on the scale that Sydney enjoys.

        It will be interesting to see if the revision of the queensland presbyterian church rules, which are meant to achieve "a major shift from centralism to regionalism of the Church’s life", will help this.

        I think they will serve work in metropolitan and regional areas, but wonder who will be actively thinking about provincial and rural areas.

        We've got a couple of parishes adjacent to us that are without pastoral leadership, and like many others no-one seems to want to come.

        There is an aspect of ministry that involves service to, and nurture of, existing Christians that seems to be missing from these sorts of exchanges. The new testament pastoral/church model is not that of a body which is 100% focussed on outsiders.

        Anyway, it's always good to read material from those who are sudying at my old school. Look forward to seeing more.

        Say 'Hi' to old professor Redgen for me.

        BTW, perhaps you may be able to use a little more punctuation. As I cast my eye over your early paragraphs it looked for all the world like you were talking about 'Lord Bruce Winter'. It's good to know he doesn't like honourifics.

        Gary.

  5. I'm a big fan of churches outside metropolitan areas (and indeed, churches outside the well-heeled areas of the metropolis), but I think the analogy's wrong. People are happy to go to Woolworths to get their bread. Almost no one wants to come to church to get their gospel. So it doesn't matter how many church buildings you spray on a map. It doesn't matter how prominent their location. Most people are going to drive by and not care, or not even notice.

    We need a different strategy for littering our cities and towns and farms with communities of gospel light. I can't think of an appropriate sales metaphor at the moment, but if I come up with one I'll pitch it here :)

    1. I quite like the analogy.

      Wouldn't it be great if there was an evangelical church wherever there was a Woolworths – and then wherever there's a 7-11. It has to be a question of priorities doesn't it?

  6. Hmmm…I’m not sure whether we disagree, or I just haven’t explained myself properly. Lemme have another go :)

    Woolworths and 7-11s are both static things that people go to for products. Churches are not static things that people go to for a product. A church is a group of people, mobile, organic, in a network of relationships. It doesn’t need a building. You don’t ‘go to’ it.

    Now of course, most churches hold public gatherings, and that’s something you can attend if you wish. 80% of Australians don’t wish (according to NCLS figures: http://www.ncls.org.au/default.aspx?sitemapid=23). Of the gatherings which these 20% attend, the majority of them probably won’t fit your criteria of an evangelical church, let alone a mission-minded one.

    So by all means, let us hold events in the static locations for the small percentage of people who want to attend them. Praise God that he works through such things and many of us became believers by that method. But we need to do something else as well if we want the bulk of Australians to hear about Jesus.

    I’d go as far as to say that setting up a ‘Woolworths-style’ church (requiring a building and $50K–$100K to pay a professional pastor) in each country town might be a bit of a hindrance to the growth of the gospel.

  7. Ahh right. I see where you're disagreeing now – we're not actually disagreeing though. I'm not thinking in terms of setting up a building so much as setting up a ministry.

    I'm thinking it would be great to place a trained gospel worker running a church (as in a family of God's people) in as many regional areas as possible.

    Whether or not they operate out of a building doesn't worry me – though thanks to a strong history of regional church planting most of these centres already have church buildings and gatherings of people – they just don't have people equipped to handle the Bible (via theologcical training) nor do they seem to be considered important by the strategists from Sydney.

  8. "there’s more people contained within than in the entire state of South Australia – so we theoretically need at least as many workers in that triangle as in South Australia. Phillip wasn’t against country ministry, but highlighted the increased importance of regional centres rather than establishing a formal church in every tiny community."

    If that really was Philip Jensen's point, I think he's a bit off the mark. The people within that triangle in Sydney can travel the extra ten kilometres to attend a church. The people in rural South Australia can't travel the extra 400km to attend church.

  9. Mike
    "When you say more churches in Australia you mean more in Sydney am I right??"
    No – more in Australia. And one of the ways you get more in Australia is having more in Sydney. That grows the gospel here and sends people to grow it elsewhere. I can name stacks of people who've left Sydney to see new ministries established elsewhere. Can we send more? Sure.

    "Truth is some of you blokes don't want to count the cost but want to live in Turramurra."
    Have we met?

    1. Michael. I don't think so.

      I did spend 3 years at Moore college 1999-2001 listening to Anglican ordination candidates (sadly articulating) that mission work was heading the shire (and they weren't joking!). I had one man who now works in a North Sydney Anglican church ask me if I knew any churches in Western Sydney he might attend and when I suggest Parramatta he replied "I don't want to go that far west".

      My comment is not directed personally at you (though if the cap fits?) but at a sad and baffling mindset that thinks Sydney is all there is. It's Not!

      Let it be said we are on the same team here – seeking to make Jesus known by preaching him and his Word my only grievance is with the map (that I saw on this blog and which I also followed to yours and have now read the article on your blog) was "what about the 16 million others in our country that don't have a bible teaching church to attend".

      I've also drawn the conclusion that while I feel passionate about all this as does my friend Nathan (clearly) at the end of the day it's God who calls people to ministry and where they minister.

      I would ask that you pray with me that some of those men hear the call beyond the Hawkesbury River.

  10. I'll have some other comments to make later, but just a quick one here: this brings me back to my original point — I think we need a better metaphor. Metaphors are really important, because they influence the way we think about a problem.*

    The supermarket metaphor's not ideal because the chief points-of-contact are that (a) everyone needs both food and the gospel, and (b) therefore we should have churches everywhere we have supermarkets. This is good as far as it goes.

    The shortcomings, however, are that (a) people actually want food; they don't know they want the gospel, and (b) therefore our principle way of getting the gospel to people is unlikely to be having them attend an event.

    (Meanwhile, the original quote from Philip Jensen and a number of comments in this thread show that most of us default to the idea that the church is like a supermarket dispensing a product: if you want the gospel, you're going to have to come to us.) So my primary criticism is going to be with the strategy of increasing the number of people with theological degrees who can run events.

    Maybe I should work on a better metaphor — one which captures the idea of a missionary community sharing the gospel. Or maybe in another comment, I'll just outline an alternative model of mission which does away with the need for the metaphor, but suggests a way we can do better at sharing the gospel to a whole bunch of people both in the city and the country.

    *The importance of metaphor is something I learnt from Oliver O'Donovan. If OOD is not on your reading list for college, then put down your Hebrew paradigm and take the time to understand him. Get help from others. It'll make you a much more useful servant of Christ for the rest of your life :)

  11. How does 'de-concentrating' Sydney churches help the bush? Is that code for closing? We need more churches in Australia – not less.
    I'm working in a small Sydney church which would be one of the first to be 'de-concentrated' so people can access a larger church in the next suburb. The problem is the next suburb isn't reaching our suburb, and the pagans who live there come to us because we're local. I look at the map of churches and think we need more, not less. Almost all the churches on that map were planted more than 50 years ago, almost none have been planted in the last 20.
    If evangelical ministry outside Sydney can often be historically traced to Sydney, why would you want to weaken Sydney? In our little church we've supported Bush Church Aid, a theological lecturer in the Northern Territory, a youth worker in the bush, done short term missions in the country… a young couple are leaving us to work in country NSW and serve in churches there – he's been theologically trained in Sydney. We've got students at Moore College who may well end up church planting outside Sydney.

    1. And Jesus said… you will be my witnesses in Narrabeen, Naremburn, Chatswood and to the ends of Kuringai Chase. Have you ever played Risk Michael? Why put all your army in one area to secure a beach head when the rest of the board needs armies occupying other territories.

      When you say more churches in Australia you mean more in Sydney am I right?? Of course there is more work to be done in Sydney but what about the other 16 million people that don't live in Sydney (the place where I was born and raised?

      How is having MORE churches in Sydney strategic for the gospel? And how is not having those same men move to regional centres or even other capitals not as strategic for Sydney?

      Truth is some of you blokes don't want to count the cost but want to live in Turramurra.

  12. Stuart,

    I don't have a problem with the analogy that the gospel is the same as food – Jesus makes it. It's as essential for life as food. The fact that some people aren't motivated to feed themselves is largely immaterial for the sake of gospel ministry and strategy.

    Michael,

    Thanks for commenting, welcome, and thanks too for the map (which for those following along is featured in the post and comes from a post from Michael's blog).

    I am not suggesting that we should desert Sydney and I'm sick of people suggesting that that is inherent in my exhortation that we consider all people in Australia as worthy of hearing the gospel.

    7-11s are great. But having a convenience store on every corner seems wrong when the rest of the country is starving. Don't you think?

    And I'm not interested in the question of more or less churches – I think this should be measured in terms of faithful preaching of the Bible. Do all Sydneysiders have convenient access to good Bible teaching when they get in their cars on Sunday morning? I think the answer to this is yes. Is that the answer for everywhere else in the country (where there is a viable critical mass – as I pointed out earlier I think Christians living in absolute remoteness (like very rural farmers) should consider moving)? I think the answer to that question is clearly a no – and it is our responsibility as Christians from around Australia to be considering how we reach those people with the Gospel. It is not our responsibility to encourage people going to an elective on rural ministry (and thus indicating a possible interest in serving in the country) to stay in the city because that is where the action is.

  13. The fact that some people aren't motivated to feed themselves is largely immaterial for the sake of gospel ministry and strategy.

    Yikes. This sounds like survival of the fittest to me — i.e. if you're too dumb to come to us to ask about Jesus, then you deserve to rot in hell.

    I know this isn't what you're saying. I'm exaggerating for effect. But it's also pretty close to what I heard from one church recently.

    I think the fact that people don't want to hear the gospel has everything to do with gospel ministry and strategy. It means we need to work hard on showing that Jesus' reign is good. We need to show people how Jesus is better than their idols. And we need to follow the example of the Lord Jesus in humility: we need to be willing to sacrifice our own comfort for the sake of taking the gospel to those who haven't heard it.

    This might well mean choosing to go and live in parts of the country/city where there are fewer Christians. That's not much of a sacrifice compared to Jesus. It will definitely mean not forcing non-Christians to come onto my turf where I feel culturally comfortable, but rather taking Jesus to them where they feel culturally comfortable.

  14. When I say "largely immaterial" I mean because it is our job to be presenting them with the gospel. Strategies and ministries aren't built expecting people will come (neither are supermarkets – Woolworths spend more on marketing than almost any other company in Australia).

    This analogy isn't perfect or holistic. And I don't claim that there aren't areas where it doesn't apply. Think of it in term of market presence, of being in a position to have one's products or ideas considered. At the moment the only way that is happening for some communities is through their Catholic Church, local cult or via Benny Hinn.

  15. Nathan
    what do you mean by de-concentrating?
    If you mean 'encourage people into rural ministry & lift the vision for ministry beyond Sydney' then I think its happening – not perfectly, but it is happening.
    Do you mean more than this? II'm just trying to understand what 711/Woolworths looks like in practice. You say its not about deserting Sydney – fair enough – but are you saying we desert the 711 convenience churches, consolidate to larger suburban churches and send people/resources to the country?
    Or are you talking about having clearer goals for rural church planting – I think Geneva are talking about an initial goal of seeing good churches planted in any Australian town of 10,000 or more.
    Would you argue for a 'fair distribution' of churches globally as well?

  16. Just to clarify: I grew up in rural NSW and am deeply committed to seeing the gospel spread outside metropolitan areas. (That’s one of the key reasons I do what I do :)

    But I think the strategy of sending people to the city for three or four years of Bible college cannot be our only way to go about it, because (a) it’s expensive (it cost me in the region of $200,000, I guess); (b) it’s slow; (c) many people never go back; (d) it decontextualizes people, potentially making them less effective gospel ministers if they do go back; (e) it doesn’t necessarily train people in the kind of skills they need to do discipleship and mission in their context.

    I think another vital thing to do is to train people to develop a mission edge to their everyday lives, and to free them up from rosters and programmes so that they’ve got the time to build relationships and do the work of the gospel. It develops a culture of mission which gives full expression to the notion of the priesthood of all believers, and leads to a lot more discipleship and mission than is possible under a model which depends heavily on a professional pastor.

    I’m not saying there’s no place for Bible colleges and their graduates, but I am saying that they can’t be our sole strategy for building Christ’s church (perhaps especially in rural areas). I think we need to define their role more carefully, and equip them better for the tasks that we want them to do.

    I feel like I’ve said enough on this thread, but for an example of the kind of thing I’m thinking about, I like blogs like The Best Book Co-op (e.g. http://bestbookco-op.blogspot.com/2010/01/women-when-we-should-stop-doing-good.html) and 168 Hours (e.g. http://168hrs.blogspot.com/2009/11/missional-motherhood-month-2.html). (They may exist, but I don’t know of any men’s blogs that are reflecting on the same kind of concrete details.)

  17. Stuart,

    Thanks for your contributions here – they've been well thought out and a different perspective on the issue. Never feel like you're commenting too much here.. I welcome "reoffending" because I realise that other people like me and will often mull over a topic after posting a comment and want to add a little bit (or a lot) more. Feel free to do so.

    Michael,
    I don't know what the answer is. I know what it's not. It's not "don't go where there are more people than sheep."

    I don't know why there's an implicit concern about merging churches to develop a critical mass in your comments and freeing up human resources for gospel ministry. Mike's Risk analogy demonstrates what the strategically wise move would be – though I recognise there is strategy in holding on to significant chunks of real estate in Sydney that no doubt provide many gospel opportunities.

    I recognise too that there are people involved in any "strategic" decision and you can't make people go where they don't want to go.

    I like the sentiment behind Geneva's intentions I just wonder how many people go in to college with a blank cheque mentality when it comes to country ministry.

    The 7/11 analogy doesn't extend to a model of ministry – it is about a strategy of location. Why do we need 50 churches within a 30 minute drive of each other when there are others who have to drive hours to get to a church? A Woolworths in every strategic centre seems to me to be a better way of reaching the nation with groceries than a string of 7/11s in one city.

    I would argue for a fair distribution of churches globally. I think that's what Jesus argued for. I don't understand why we would send people globally when so much of Australia is unreached (defining reached as enjoying adequate distribution). I think Sydney has reached that point – and had some time ago – and it is the responsibility of all Australian Christians to be thinking about how we reach our country and the globe.

    How many workers in Sydney is enough? If we wait till there are enough workers for Sydney the gospel will never leave the city limits.

    It's quite possible you know Mike (he hasn't been back to answer your question) he's a Moore College graduate who left Sydney for regional Queensland. He also manages to continue to enjoy good coffee.

  18. Nathan
    I'm new to your blog so please forgive me if I'm not understanding where you're coming from
    you said "I don't know why there's an implicit concern about merging churches to develop a critical mass in your comments and freeing up human resources for gospel ministry." I'm concerned because merging churches doesn't work. It won't free up human or other resources for gospel ministry. It is the way liberal denominations slowly die – by making central decisions which are fair rather than strategic
    I don't agree with your premise that more good churches (read more gospel ministry) in Sydney leads to less gospel ministry somewhere else (or America if you want to to think globally or in Brisbane if you want to think of Qld).
    The healthier the church is in some places, the better able it is to help in others.
    I'm not saying reaching Sydney is more important than reaching the bush (I'm a country boy too – & made it through Moore College without a single cup of coffee). I'm saying as we reach Sydney we do help to reach the bush – see the examples in my first comment. I think too of the number of guys in my year of college who have headed to the bush – none of whom would have been at college but (humanly speaking) for the strength of Sydney churches.
    If you believed Jesus wants 'fair global distribution of churches' why back ministry to Australians at all?

  19. Michael,

    I'm not suggesting we close down churches overnight – and I recognise that there are significant obstacles within the Anglican system which prevent complete control over where graduates go throughout Australia.

    All I'm really concerned about is that one of our (Evangelical Christianity's) leading strategists who enjoys significant influence amongst future and current ministers is making off the cuff comments like "God loves people more than sheep…" To me this represents an undercurrent of unhelpfully myopic thinking happening within the Sydney diocese. For personal context here's a reproduction of part of one of my comments on Izaac's blog…

    "I grew up in a ministry household that was the combined product of Sydney heritage (on my mother's side) and a rural boy who went to Sydney for uni and benefited from the education he received there. My father now ministers in the city having spent 10 years in the country. My parents met at St Matthias so I would not actually exist were it not for PDJ and the ministry of the gospel in Sydney.

    I have lived in both regional (Townsville) and urban (Brisbane) Queensland and both regional (Maclean) and urban (Sydney) NSW."

    I back ministry to Australians because I don't think Australia is reached, it sickens me that other countries are sending missionaries to us. We are one of the most secular countries in the world and outside of our major cities it is statistically improbable that people will have access to a good church. This may be particularly true in Queensland – but having heard the testimony of friends from Tamworth and around the North Coast of New South Wales I don't think the problem is limited to the banana bending state.

  20. How about gospel spreading being like viral marketing? It's still not ideal, but it's closer to the mark than church being like Woolworths, I think. It sure represents a shift in how we think about achieving gospel saturation :)

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