By Stephen Cauchi
5 March 2022
We all know Australian churches send missionaries out to the world – but what’s less well known is that the world sends missionaries here. American the Reverend Steve Mayo and his wife Sue are an example of this.
Mr Mayo came to Australia 24 years ago to plant churches. He is now a director for the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism, and a minister at Calvary Baptist Church on the NSW Central Coast.
The Mayos were drawn to Australia by the sense of great need for church planters here.
But, Mr Mayo said missionaries’ motives for wanting to come to Australia could differ.
He said missionaries from Asia, Africa and Latin America often came to Australia to reach their own people.
Mr Mayo said missionary activity was especially important in those communities given Christianity might be suppressed in their home countries.
Describing his own work, Mr Mayo said he preferred to use the term “church planter”. But he said he was technically a missionary, in that he was supported by other churches to church plant without expense to the new congregation.
Mr Mayo’s interest in Australia was first awakened as a student at Cornerstone University, Michigan. There he met a classmate from Melbourne, who made him aware of the opportunities for church planting in Australia.
He spent 14 years as a pastor in America, before travelling to Australia in 1995.
This trip took him and his wife to Sydney, where they attended a couple of church plants.
“We were already thinking the Lord was directing us to church planting and we assumed we’d just do that in the US,” Mr Mayo said.
“Bit after attending those two church plants here, then essentially hearing from them that they needed some help, we decided ‘Why not? We’ll go to Australia and plant churches’.”
Mr Mayo said the great need for church planters and pastors in Australia was the main reason he came to the country.
He said it was a striking contrast to the United States, where when he resigned from his last position, more than 100 people applied to take on the role.
In Australia, Mr and Mrs Mayo found many churches too small to afford a pastor.
“There’s no shortage of leadership in the US – a glut of guys who wanted to be pastors, who had the academic credentials to be pastors,” Mr Mayo said.
“Why should we stay in America where there’s all these people that want my job when we could go to Australia where, at least in our theological circles, there’s a shortage of leadership?”
Mr Mayo said the number of Christians in Australia – including evangelical Christians – was declining, meaning overseas help was appreciated.
“The response I’ve received personally here is entirely welcoming,” he said.
“We’re trying to reach the lost, and the more that are trying to do that the better.”
Mr Mayo worked at a church in the Erskine Park, Sydney, for 12 years and then moved to Padstow, near Bankstown.
For the past 10 years, Mr Mayo has been Association of Baptists for World Evangelism director for the Asia-Pacific, leading church planting teams in Mongolia, Japan, South-East Asia, Papua New Guinea and Australia.
For the past seven years, he has juggled that responsibility with preaching at the Calvary Baptist Church, Wamberal, on the New South Wales Central Coast. It’s a 75-minute commute from his Sydney home.
Mr Mayo said the church had been without a pastor for years before he joined them.
“They were just limping along with maybe 10 people on a Sunday at best,” he said.
“I had my Sundays open and offered to come up and preach. They took us up on that seven years ago.”
Mr Mayo said his job at Calvery was only temporary. Hopefully within the next two years they would be able to call another pastor, he said.
“We’re doing that until they get built up enough and they can call a pastor. Then I can move on to helping another church plant.”