6 December 2022

Craigieburn church plant takes a holistic approach to community engagement

Reverend Akhil Gardner and Bishop Kate Prowd at the opening of Redemption Church in 2019. Image: Supplied.

Kirralee Nicolle

6 June 2022

Craigieburn is where “church plants go to die”. Redemption Church has been an exception.

It began in February 2019 with less than 20 congregants meeting in a community facility.

At the time senior pastor Reverend Akhil Gardner was just 30 years old.

He said the process of pastoring a church plant grew him up very fast, as he had to adjust his expectations of what was possible.

“It is a hard area,” he said.

“We are praying that God would change the story by doing something new.”

Akhil said they had seen several baptisms and new converts, including a family which had formerly held to a Muslim faith.

“There are signs of life happening,” he said.

“There are new people attending on Sundays, people enquiring [from] cultural Christian backgrounds [and] there are so many people coming to weeknight dinners.”

When Akhil left his last position at All Saints Anglican in Greensborough and ventured west, he was warned that the area was an impossible one for new churches.

But rather than imposing a certain style, Akhil’s tactic has been to try to understand the needs of the area and respond to them.

The church began a men’s mental health check-in program during COVID-19 lockdowns which served both church members and men in the wider community.

Akhil said that after the first lockdown, the church recognised that particularly men were needing the opportunity to talk about how they felt.

They organised one-on-one walks with men to ask them how they were going and offer support.

One of the men who participated in the program went on to become a Christian.

The church also sought to cater to the demographic of the area by establishing a mums and bubs program, Tiny Tots Sing and Play.

The median age in Craigieburn is 30, according to 2016 Census data, so the Redemption Church team knew that families would be a key focus area.

“It is really easy to connect with mums and bubs,” Akhil said.

The northern suburb demographic is also very sports-oriented, and this is something Akhil has chosen to work alongside rather than compete with on a Sunday morning.

He scheduled Sunday services for 4pm instead of during the morning to cater to those playing sports.

Akhil said that with a multicultural congregation, he found that liturgy and creeds offered an accessible way to engage those whose first language was not English, as it was a predictable format.

Four years on, he now has 40 attendees on Sundays. There is a youth group, and the church is looking to establish a student leadership training program for those in year 11 and 12.

Akhil said that as the church continues to establish itself in the Craigieburn area, he wants to see more people engaged both in mid-week programs and Sunday services.

“At the end of the day, we are on about making disciples,” he said.

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