Church planting: Reflections and upcoming gatherings

This page has been set up to include reflections, helpful information and details about prayer meetings, gatherings and conversations regarding the possibility of The Billabong starting a new worshipping community.


Congregational Meetings on 18th September & 23rd October
See below for a letter (and video with the same content) with information circulated prior to our meeting on 18th September. For final info and proposals relating to our meeting on 23rd October, please email luke@thebillabong.org.au


Why Plant Churches? - Article by Tim Keller


To RSVP to our Congregational meeting on 23rd October, click here.

Why Plant Churches? (Recording from May)

If you missed our Church Family Lunch on "Why Plant Churches?" we encourage to watch the recording here. During this time we heard from guest church planters and discussed some of what a new worshipping community being planted by The Billabong will (and won't) look like. As we move towards decision making about leadership and investment of resources in such a venture, we hope this session both answers some of your questions and sparks more, and encourage you to share the questions you have via the form below.

Towards church planting (info for meeting on 18th Sept - click to expand)

Dear church family,


Over the course of this year the leadership team have been prayerfully taking the initial steps required to prepare The Billabong to launch a new worshipping community - a church plant. There are many reasons for this, and before reading on, I ask you to watch the recording of our lunch from May on “Why Plant Churches?” (if you haven’t already). This, along with other snapshots from this journey so far, can be found at thebillabong.org.au/churchplanting


Why?


If I was to pick one thing that makes this venture a step of faith worth taking, it’s the fact that church plants are all about the mission to go and make disciples. Author and church planter Peyton Jones says that ‘church planting’ and ‘church starting’ are two different things. ‘Church starting’ involves finding a venue, recruiting churchgoers, designing a logo, choosing a catchy name, advertising the new church and then… launch!


But I’m not interested in just starting a new church. I suspect you aren’t either. But church planting is something quite different. It starts with, and is shaped by, the harvest field. Its focus is the people of an area or particular setting; people that God loves so deeply, that he would call and send some of his representatives to create a distinct community to love those people towards Jesus. It’s what The Billabong was 22 years ago when God sent a few people to Canning Vale as his ambassadors.


There are many ways to reach the people of an area (such as Harrisdale and Piara Waters) with the gospel. But church planting has always been the most wholehearted, holistic and effective way to see God’s Kingdom come in a local area. This is clear when we read the book of Acts, look at church history, and consider recent research. It will require trust in God, and sacrifice, but mustard seed faith and simple obedience is all God requires of us. He’ll do the rest.


Essential starting points


Deciding to commit to such a venture as a congregation will be no small thing. Having listened to the wisdom and advice of other church planters, the leadership team felt that two things needed to be in place before calling our congregation together to prayerfully make a decision: a proposed leader and a proposed location.


The leadership team have proposed Cameron and Anneliis Harries as the couple we feel are called to lead this venture. At this point, no others have been seriously considered, but we decided to first approach Cameron and Anneliis in light of their significant involvement in ministry leadership in our church and Cameron’s heart and gifting for pioneering. They recently engaged in a series of sessions called “Am I called to church plant” with training organisation City to City and have since affirmed that they feel called by God to this.


Practically speaking, this would mean commissioning and employing Cameron approximately 3 days per week as a lay Pastor, a process which will involve the Uniting Church Presbytery of WA. While Anneliis would not be employed, we recognise the substantial gifts she brings and the part she will play alongside Cameron.


We are also proposing Harrisdale & Piara Waters as the focus area and future location of worship services and activities of this church plant. While we have explored and held prayer meetings in other neighbouring suburbs, we continue to sense God’s leading towards this growing area (almost the population of Canning Vale) which has almost no churches.


Gathering the Family


We would like to bring the congregation together on Sunday 18th September for discussion, Q&A and prayer, and then Sunday 23rd October to make a decision to proceed with the proposed leaders and location (or otherwise).


The intention would be for Cameron to begin in this new role from February 2023. Initially, Cameron would be focussed on developing a team to launch this new community. The team would explore the activities, the location and style of worship, and how these will best reach and serve the local community. This means that while we will continue to pray and talk about what this church plant will look like in 2022, many of the specifics will only be worked out in the “launch phase” in 2023. Cameron (and Anneliis) will be coached and trained in this process by City to City as part of a church planting “residency”. It is essential that the ‘shaping’ of this church plant is undertaken slowly, prayerfully, drawing on as much wisdom as possible.


Important Considerations


In the meantime, there are a few important considerations for us as a congregation, namely the financial commitment and the refilling of our children and youth support worker position (Cameron’s current role - 3 days per week).


We have developed a draft three year budget ($230,000 total) which assumes a church planter/pastor at 3 days per week (with potential additional staffing towards the end of these 3 years), venue hire costs, equipment and training. We are able to apply for a grant for 50% of the funding required in this three year period through City to City, who are supported by a generous donor. The Billabong has also set aside $75,000 from previous year surpluses for “Expanding Ministry” which we propose are put towards the initial cost of this plant. The plant will then have 2 to 3 years to become self-sustaining from gifts and tithes. More details on this draft 3 year budget are attached.


(Note that this church plant would not become a separate Uniting Church congregation, at least initially. The new worshipping community would be a part of The Billabong family, under the same leadership team and governance. This will be discussed more at our meeting in September)


If Cameron is to move out of his current role as children and youth support worker, it is imperative that we find a person/people to fill these responsibilities. We certainly must not sacrifice our children and youth ministries on the altar of church planting!


Following one of our “Pizza and Prayer” meetings a few months ago, my wife Kerin and myself, independently of one another, felt that God may be calling Kerin to step up in children’s ministry in the near future. We prayed about this and approached the leadership team with the suggestion of having Kerin fill at least part of Cameron’s current role on a voluntary basis from 2023. Kerin and I wholeheartedly believe that God has called The Billabong to this church plant and want to invest in it however we can - this is one way we feel we can contribute. Our draft 2023 budget would still include capacity to employ someone in a children/youth role if this was needed and helpful (whether from the beginning of 2023 or later on).


In summary, we hope to come together as a congregation in October to decide on the following proposals (note that these are currently in draft form and would be tweaked and formalised over coming weeks):

  • To agree to launch a new worshipping community in Harrisdale/Piara Waters in 2023 (subject to a successful grant application)

  • To affirm God’s call upon Cameron and Anneliis to lead this plant and agree to commission Cameron as a lay Pastor in early 2023 (subject to adequate re-filling of the childrens and youth support worker responsibilities)

  • To commit the funds saved in our “Expanding Ministry Fund” ($75,000) to this church plant and agree to the budget of $230,000 over 3 years

  • To apply for the grant for 50% funding through City to City


Be part of the conversation


There are clearly many things to consider and discuss in this process. I invite you to read and watch the material on thebillabong.org.au/churchplanting as this may answer some of your questions, and then join us over lunch on Sunday 18th September where we will work through as many questions and considerations as we possibly can. I would also love to chat to you after church one Sunday or meet up for a coffee.


Thank you for your prayers, especially for Cameron and Anneliis, and for engaging in this journey. It’s no small venture, but one I feel God is clearly leading us on as we seek to become A Thriving Family, Transforming our Communities with Jesus.


Grace and Peace


Luke



Attachment: Draft Budget


The image below displays a draft 3 year budget for the church plant with expected costs (left bar) and sources of income (right bar) for the 3 years.


This budget assumes:

  • A 3 day per week lay pastor initially, with the possibility of increased staffing towards the end of the 3 years.

  • Less rental costs (of a community facility for worship and activities) in 2023 due to the minimum 6 month period of team building and planning where no facility hire will be required

  • Greater equipment costs initially, with less in years 2 and 3

  • More training costs (for the leaders) in the early years


The budget will inevitably be modified as the ‘shape’ of the church plant becomes clearer, but gives us a starting point should we apply for a 50% funding grant through City to City.

A 2 minute invitation to come on this journey with us

A message from 12th June 2022 about our vision to church plant

What are we really talking about here? (June 2022)

In both the church family lunch recording and the sermon "The Land" (above) Luke covered some points clarifying what we are and aren't talking about when we say we're exploring church planting. Here's a quick summary:

  1. We’re not talking about buying land and building a building.

We would love the Uniting Church to invest in land south of Canning Vale so that in the future, more venue to be used for Kingdom work can be established. But that's not the first step. This isn't about a building, this is about establishing new communities of people to reach local areas with the good news of Jesus.

  1. We’re not talking about a carbon copy of The Billabong congregation in Canning Vale

A church plant is shaped around the people it is trying to reach with the gospel. So the new worshipping community will look different to The Billabong in Canning Vale. Once we decide on leadership and location, a team will 'research' the area and shape the church plant around the needs, passions and demographics of the local area.

  1. The plant would be part of The Billabong family

A decision to establish an autonomous congregation with it's own governance, eldership, finances etc. could come later. But in the interim, it makes the most sense that this be a "location" or "campus" of The Billabong family, with the leaders working closely together and the two communities having "family gatherings" from time to time.

  1. It may start small

We’re not expecting a full 50% of The Billabong congregation to up and move to the new church plant. It might be 20 or 30 people including kids. Maybe more, maybe less.

  1. It won’t start this year

Even if committed to proceed, appointing a leader and investing resources later this year, a minimum 6 month period of developing a team, praying, preparing, getting training for the leader (this is usually called “launch phase”) is required. So Easter next year is the earliest we’d see the first weekend service and “official launch”.

  1. We can't and won't proceed without identifying a leader

Launch phase can't begin if there's no key leader to encourage people to come and work with to research, pray, plan and prepare. This is an essential step and current point of much prayer and discernment.

  1. Finally, we're unlikely to employ someone from outside The Billabong to come and lead the church plant

The leadership team feel that identifying and sending a leader or a couple from within The Billabong, who carry our DNA, align with the vision and mission of this church, is so important. This must be someone who is called, has the right character, and is willing to be trained and equipped for the task. While not impossible, it would be tough to find someone from outside who gels so well with The Billabong that they are the right person/couple for the job.

Hopefully this helps in clarifying a few things. Again, please take time to watch the videos above, and share any questions you have via the google form. Thanks!

Reflections on a week of praying for local suburbs (April 2022)

During Holy Week, some of us gathered on zoom each morning at 7am to pray. Part of our prayer focus each morning was on suburbs around the region where The Billabong is located. As we are currently on a journey of discovering whether God is leading us to expand our ministry through ‘church planting’ - starting a new worshipping community - it’s important that we pray for the areas we could be led to plant into. There’s been a strong sense for me that the suburbs south of Canning Vale where new housing developments are still happening are where the Holy Spirit is leading us. But that’s a very big area! How far south? More towards Cockburn, or Byford? Where there’s already well established communities, or where houses are yet to be built?


NOTE: If you haven’t yet read the letter to our church family “an invitation to prayer and conversation”, please read that first!


Rather than doing “zoom prayer” from home last week, I figured I would head down to whatever suburb we were praying for each morning. It’s such a rich experience - driving through a suburb for no other reason that to pray for this land and ask God what he’s doing and saying. You notice things you’d never notice if you were just going to meet up with someone or head to a shop. You notice the structures, landmarks, ‘monuments’ built into the area when it was established. You notice some of the values of local community, based on signage and shopfronts. You notice the strengths and the opportunities.

One thing in particular that really struck me a few years ago is the lack of any churches, almost. Last year I met with the leaders of Carey Baptist Church to hear their experience of ministry in the Harrisdale area. They “bookend” the Harrisdale/Piara Waters area with their Harrisdale and Forrestdale school/church campuses. As far as I know, there may also be a few small single-ethnic churches who meet in local schools. But that’s it. Canning Vale, on the other hand, is home to 15 churches. At least those are the ones I know by name, and know who the Pastors are. A quick google search reveals a few more…

God has a history of “going ahead” of his people. He prepares the land, even as he prepares the hearts of his people to “possess” the land. I think the process of praying for, and praying on the land he may be calling us to “inhabit” is a transformative process. As I drove around Harrisdale, Banjup, Treeby and Piara Waters last week, and prayed with brothers and sisters in Christ while sitting in local cafes, I felt the Lord saying again “I’m at work here”. The question for me is “where and how does God want us to join him in that work?”


I hope you’ll join us in the coming months as we set aside times to pray in these areas. In the meantime, here’s a few of my reflections from the 7am prayer sessions last week…


Harrisdale

Prayed this morning for Carey Baptist Church and College and their ministry to the suburb of Harrisdale. Although their ministry focus is to the thousands of people connected to their school community (plus cafe, ‘Jump’ etc.) they are the only ‘visible’ church in this area which is now very well populated (between 10 and 15 thousand people). Thank you God for their important work in this region. They’re not a huge church, but have a huge mission field right on their doorstep!

Along with the many community facilities in Harrisdale, there are several public schools both primary and high - and big ones! For a suburb that was official established only 15 years ago, there are a LOT of people who will grow up here, go through school here and build significant memories here. Lord, please establish your kingdom here and establish many more churches alongside Carey to reach this suburb!


Banjup (and surrounding)

Had a coffee at “Banjup Local”, a cafe/bakery/kids play area with animals near the corner of Warton Road and Armadale Road. Banjup is mostly rural residential or “lifestyle” properties. Sitting and looking out over the farmland (with an emu or two nearby) is a nice change from the dense housing areas just a few minutes north. The “Banjup Residents Group” has clearly fought hard to try and maintain this lifestyle (their website mentions pushing back against things like rising council rates). Although people are more spread out here, Banjup, Forrestdale and suburbs further south are still home to a significant number of people, and land is plentiful. It would be ideal for churches to invest in some of this land, if God would open that door!


Treeby

I’m amazed at how much this area has changed in the last 12-18 months. It seems like yesterday I drove to John and Lyn Whaley’s house (they moved here a few years ago) and there was lots of housing, but not much else. Now there’s a MASSIVE school, community/sports centre, and more shops to be built soon. The suburb is right next to the Cockburn industrial area, but it doesn’t feel like it. To me it’s like a “village” - it’s own not-so-little community with a hub of activity right at the centre (cafe, childcare, community centre, school, more shops coming soon). Just down the road is a community garden, and these interesting little play or exercise areas, with hills with steps (for exercise?) where you can walk up and look over the suburbs. Great places to pray over the suburb!

After prayer meeting there were a bunch of engineers/surveyors/city council people at the community centre (to be opened mid this year) discussing the finishing touches of the development (I guess). I had a quick peek through the windows of the various rooms of the community centre - what an amazing facility! Perfect for church gatherings!


Piara Waters

Had to get my coffee from Macca’s this morning - no good cafes in the suburb! Went and did zoom prayer at one of the local community centers. I’m always amazed when I come to this area how well designed these facilities are - and how many there are! Almost all of them are connected to a primary school (I’ve lost count of how many schools there are now. Is that another one going up a few hundred metres off Warton Road? Or a High School?!) All these community centers have playgrounds, and most of them are near an oval and are home to a sporting club. There’s always someone walking their dog, sitting near the money bars while on a work call or sipping on a takeaway while the kids play.

We found ourselves praying for unity in the local church, noting that any effort to plant churches in this area would need to come from the combined work, prayers and discernment of the churches in more established areas like Canning Vale. One of my friends who pastors a church Southern River lives in Piara Waters and longs for churches to be established here. Lord, would you unite and mobilize your church to be a missionary people into new and still developing suburbs like Piara Waters.


An invitation to prayer and conversation (March 2022)

Dear church family,


In the late 1990’s the Uniting Church in WA identified Canning Vale, a developing suburb at the time, as a strategic place to start a new “faith community”. Land was purchased and a leader identified (Mark Illingworth), and in February 2000, the church plant that would become known as The Billabong was born. Mark’s “congregation” was his wife Deb and 3 kids Anneliis, Rebekah and Zac. It was no easy task ahead of them, but with a focus on bringing the good news of Jesus to the people of this area, they began to see people come to faith and the congregation slowly grow. Over time, other churches added their support, releasing members to commit to The Billabong. Today, more than 20 years later, we are beneficiaries of the faithful, tiresome work of these “church planters”.


Over the last 3 years the leadership team has sought to recapture the heartbeat of this church that existed from the beginning, by finding new language for our mission, vision and values. Many years of struggle, setbacks and sacrifice during a building program made us a little weary. And while our core mission remained, it had become a little fuzzy. We hope that this is now becoming more clear again: we exist to be disciples who make disciples.


Not only was this the heartbeat of Mark and Deb Illingworth in those early years of The Billabong, it is also the purpose of any healthy church plant. New churches are started for a variety of reasons. But successful, God honouring church plants exist not to attract Christians from other churches, but to reach communities with the gospel and make new disciples. Praise God that Mark and Deb Illingworth understood this and lived it out faithfully! While they didn’t have a core team or any substantial training to begin with, God equipped them to succeed.


Because church plants are focussed on reaching the people of a local community and not on maintaining a building, set of ministries, and so on, they are one of the most effective ways to make new disciples. Also, despite the sacrifices involved for existing churches who resource and release people to plant a new church, church plants can help renew and revitalise older churches. They help equip more leaders and create opportunities for members to find and use their gifting. Church planting can prevent established churches from unintentionally settling into a kind of “maintenance mode” which distracts them from the great commission.


For these reasons and more, we want to invite you into a period of intentional conversation and prayer over the next 4-6 months, as we explore the possibility of The Billabong planting a church - a new worshipping community in another location.


A decision to church plant is no small thing, and we recognise that it will take time, prayer, conversation and learning together as a family. We will need to explore the “WHY” and really understand the purpose of undertaking such a venture.


To begin, we invite you to read this article by Tim Keller. We then plan to hold a series of open conversations, including opportunities to hear from church planters in Perth and representatives from organisations who train church planters, as well as dedicated times of prayer and intercession. The first of these conversations will be scheduled for some time in April and we invite anyone who is interested to come along.


Over the course of these 4-6 months, we will, as the Lord leads us, explore: what a church plant could look like and what resources it would need, where it would be and who would be the key “leader in training” for this venture. Then, if God seems to be saying “yes”, and if we have identified a leader and location (eg. suburb/region), this would lead to a proposal being brought to the congregation to commission the leader identified and approve a financial plan to fund the first phase (including use of our “expanding ministry fund” which currently holds $75,000). On the other hand, if further conversation and discernment is required, or if an alternate goal for ministry expansion has emerged, we would bring this to the congregation.


This time of conversation and prayer would not involve deciding the nitty gritty of what the church plant will look like, for example:

  • Choosing what ministries to launch

  • The exact venue that will be used and when gatherings would happen

  • Appointing a core team or members who would form the new church

  • In depth training for the leader and team

  • Hosting gatherings in the local areas and getting to know the community


These steps would all come after The Billabong makes a decision to proceed.


That being said, following much prayer and conversation about this, the leadership team does feel that the following is a starting point for us to discuss and pray about. We see a possibility for:


  • A new congregation South East of Canning Vale in a developing suburb, somewhere that does not have many churches and is where many of our members currently reside (or are not far from).

  • Has its own Sunday morning Celebrations, groups and mid-week ministries

  • Operates in a hired venue for at least the first few years

  • Starts off with a minimum of 25 committed people when it launches


So, in summary:


We want to invite you into this exploration phase where we will have conversations and times of intentional prayer about:

  • Why (or why not) we should plant a new church in a nearby suburb in the near future

  • What church planting is all about, what it takes, what it could look like for us and what resources will be required initially and in the long term

  • Who God might be calling to be “leader in training” to lead this church plant

  • Where (suburb/region) God might be calling us to church plant

  • Leading to a point in 4-6 months time (at the earliest) when we would propose a financial plan and leader for commissioning to The Billabong congregation.


We’d love you to join us at our AGM on 27th March as we talk a little more about this, and in particular, in April for our first time(s) of prayer and conversation.


Maybe you’re wondering what the journey might look like after this phase. Firstly, a leader would need time for substantial training in church planting, a core team of leaders would be developed, more prayer and exploration of possibilities, identification of a venue, then eventually the commencement of some ministry activities and community focussed events. All before a new congregation is officially “launched”. This is at least a 6 month process, usually more. So, we don’t see a new church plant being launched any earlier than term 1 of 2023.


And for those who are wondering “what’s the long term hope here?” Ultimately, a vibrant, sustainable congregation whose story is something like ours - the story of a handful of people stepping out in faith to bring the gospel to a local community and a generation later, many, many lives have been blessed and God has been glorified.


Fear or Faith?


This past long weekend, the leadership team spent significant time praying about this venture and talking about the journey ahead. At one point, we went around the room and shared our fears - the things that worry us about what could happen if we were to proceed with a church plant. These fears included:


  • A fear that The Billabong will lose many of its key leaders and members and struggle to fulfil its mission as a result

  • That we won’t understand the needs of the local community we plant into

  • That members of The Billabong will feel pushed or pressured into being involved in the church plant (or the added responsibilities that emerge in Canning Vale)

  • That Covid-19 will affect our resources and ability to do this in the near future

  • That we won’t have the money to fund such a venture

  • That we proceed too quickly, without sufficient “buy in” from enough people

  • That we aren’t sufficiently equipped to reach evangelistically into a new local community in this way

  • That this distracts us from other key priorities in this season and our ministry suffers as a result

  • That people will leave our church because they don’t agree with this direction

  • That there is too much “red tape” that the Uniting Church will put in the way of this


We know you’ll share many of these fears, and may have others to add to the list. These are part of the reason why we want to invite you into conversation with us over the next 4-6 months. Many are legitimate concerns we need to weigh up and explore.


But we also want to invite you to ask whether at least some of these fears can be laid before God who is our provider, protector, deliverer and leader. Rarely does God ask us to do something that is comfortable or guarantees success. Many times over the life of The Billabong we have had to take steps of faith, not knowing what the future holds. But time and time again, God has proven himself faithful.


In 2019 a committee of the Uniting Church WA Synod decided to wipe our $2.4 million debt. Soon afterwards, David de Kock (General Secretary at the time) shared a sermon at The Billabong and challenged us with these words:


“(Those who forgave your debt) are trusting that you, the people of this congregation, will take that gift and use your new debtless freedom to multiply for the Kingdom of God, just as each Christian freed from the burden of sin can go out and make disciples.” (You can watch this video to hear David share a little more about our debt being forgiven)


What could God do if we took what we’ve been blessed with, placed it all at his feet, and stepped out in faith again to do whatever he asks of us?


We hope you’ll come on the journey with us!


Grace and Peace


The Billabong Leadership Team

March 2022

Pizza & Prayer # 1 - Piara Waters

On Saturday 7th May we gathered for our first "Pizza and Prayer" at Rossiter Pavillion, Piara Waters

Piara Waters is a rapidly growing area with a population of around 15,000. There are several primary schools and a new high school being built. Standing on the oval where hundreds of people were gathering to play soccer on Saturday evening, we prayed for the schools, residents, community activities and government initiatives that happen here. It was a great first prayer meeting as we pray for these suburbs south of Canning Vale and seek God's direction in this journey!

Pizza & Prayer # 2 - Treeby

On Thursday 19th May we gathered for our second "Pizza and Prayer" at Amethyst Park, Treeby.

Treeby was established only 6 years ago, but already has a primary school, community and sports centre (opening soon) and is home to thousands of people with new estates being built as we speak. We prayed near and on top of a hill where you can look out over the whole suburb - a beautiful sight as storm clouds gathered at sunset. We prayed that God would continue to show us where He wants us to base a new worshipping community, whether here, further east, or further south. There are a few churches on the edge of the suburb (in the industrial area) and others nearby in more established areas like Cockburn. Most importantly, we prayed that whatever God's plans are for us, that he establish His kingdom and grow His church in this area.