Willoughby Uniting Church’s Rev. Ingrid Robertson has been actively working towards church growth and community engagement for several years now through a variety of community events such as the popular Brick Show and Spring Fair. Insights visited both these events recently to talk to Ingrid about her top tips for community engagement.
When we asked what advice she would give to other churches, Ingrid explained that Churches should work to their strengths such as their location (which is often in the centre of the community), look into community events that the church could be part of and work to create interest among the community.
Another good recommendation was to encourage adult’s and children’s skill sets they might be willing to share and to assist in creating plans and activities based on those skills, like workshops, concerts or activity groups. And the most powerful advice was that since every church has a faithful band of prayers, they can start by praying for the wider children’s ministry in the Uniting Church and start supporting them. These, for her, are excellent ways to move forward, build capacity and begin to be known in your local community.
Regarding her very active communication and social media strategy (primarily on Instagram, their account is @willoughbyuniting), Ingrid said: “We need to show the world what the church is, rather than tell the world what the church is”. As Ingrid explained, we all now have access to a smartphone and we can publish photos within seconds. It is all about PR, and involving the Church community so that they feel both invited and that they get a broader view of what is possible. In this way, she explained its a great way to show people who are not church attenders, that church is not only worship on Sundays or Carols at Christmas time.
Church is much more, from helping fundraise for important causes to helping out those in the community that are in need, or letting them express their own passion in different ways.
Rev. Ingrid Robertson
“We need to show the world what the church is, rather than tell the world what the church is.”
Willoughby is also very active and creative in using their outdoor signage with photos constantly published on Instagram. Ingrid is responsible for them, and she said that inspiration comes from a variety of sources.
“It’s a mixture of informational, reflections and humour, depending on what’s happening in the church, what they want to advertise, or what the season is”, Rev. Robertson said.
What is evident, particularly on their social account, is that Willoughby are constantly working on engaging with young people, both through community and church programs.
Every week the church (including the auditorium and the hall) hosts around 1000 people for worship, playgroup or hall concerts and events. They have successfully created a solid presence in the the surrounding area by inviting the mayor, local councillors, and everyone who might be interested or can contribute to any their initiatives.
One of the most traditional and successful programs is Creative Kids, which is a thematic winter School Holiday program that caters to around 50 kids and has been running for over six years.
One of the more traditional events is the Spring Fair. This year it took place on the 21 September, and it has been running for over 30 years now. Helen Bowlan, who was a volunteer this year, attended this event three years ago for the first time, and since then she and her family worship every Sunday there. She is convinced that all these activities and initiatives help to engage families with the church. Every program is enhanced, reinforced or reinvented.
This year was the first for the Willoughby Brick Show. Everyone loves Lego and the idea to raise funds came from a child at the Church who had done an assignment on the Tasmanian Devil and discovered that it is threatened by a disease that could wipe it out. All funds collected from the Lego exhibition will be sent to the organisation that does research and is trying to save the species in Tasmania.
Although it was the first time for Willoughby Uniting Church, the Lego Exhibition has been running since 2008. With the help of the Lego fan and church member, Jaqueline Berry. Robertson and Berry came up with the idea to have a Lego display where all assistants could contribute with a gold coin for a good cause at the time.
In 2016 an article was written for Insights about the Berowra Uniting Church Lego Exhibition, and since then a lot of things have happened, and the initiative has become stronger. They have taken the Brick Show to several congregations, including country churches, as they now own a modest display that everyone can use. They now know how to engage members of other congregations that share the same passion for Lego, who are willing to volunteer, set up the exhibition and run it.
If you want to find out about the activities that will take place in the Willoughby Uniting Church and Hall, visit their website, or follow them on Facebook and Instagram @willoughbyuniting.
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