Leading Change – and the National Church Life Survey
Rev. Lorna Martin has been the minister at Gosford UC for the past five years. When Rev. Martin first arrived, there was some fear she would shut down services and change things. However, her intent was never to shut down what is working and feeding people, but to start new things that would feed the people being missed.
In many respects Gosford is a typical Uniting Church; it has a traditional morning service each Sunday. The congregation is also in the process of welcoming the congregation from the now closed Narara-Mangrove Mountain Uniting Church, which has its own challenges in these COVID times.
However, for the past thirty-five years, they have been feeding the hungry every Sunday afternoon, have a playgroup and a conversational English group. The Donnison St address is in the heart of central Gosford close to shopping centres, the courthouse and police station and is known as a place that can provide help. Recently a young migrant mum of a lively one-year-old, needing to get out and practice her English, went to McDonald’s in the nearby shopping centre. The McDonalds cashier, recognising the woman needed help, got permission to leave her station and took her over to the playgroup. From that initial contact, the conversational English group started and the little one has since been baptised.
Two-thirds of the congregation were not born in Australia, and this reflects that the community is changing with lots of recent arrivals who have limited English skills. There is also a lot of homelessness in the area.
The opportunities for mission could be endless, but how do you focus with limited resources at hand? That’s where the NCLS comes into play; Lorna is hoping to use a combination of the Survey of congregation members and Census data for the community to help inform the congregation’s forward planning.
The survey – including the optional children’s survey – would help to ensure the needs of her congregation are understood. “What’s working? What’s not working? What do we need more of? Discipleship is the key thing,” Rev. Martin said.
Gosford Uniting Church will opt-in to run the Community Survey, aimed at those who are connected within the wider community, to assess how well their current programs are working and whether there are any gaps.
Once the census data is released, a clearer picture of the community they now live in will emerge, allowing them to be more targeted in their programs: “We don’t want to repeat what is already available, and don’t want people to fall through the cracks.”
With the joining of both congregations and a new Minister joining the team, the timing of the NCLS couldn’t be better to assist with planning for the future.
One thing was clear; for Gosford, like many churches, their future thriving depends on their ability to pivot with the changing needs of their community.
Rev Martin’s message was stark: “If we don’t move forward and start doing things differently this church will die.”
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