July 10, 2013

Church Planting in the 10th Most Expensive City

…in the world that is, not just Australia.

Perth universities may just scrape into the top 100 tertiary institutions, but the city itself is, as far as cost of living is concerned, number 10 with a bullet. We first noticed the huge hike in prices when we returned from living in Sheffield in the north of England just over six years ago.  Everything had gone through the roof.  And there we were thinking that the UK was expensive, until, after 12 months living there we realised that is wasn’t too bad once you got out of the South and out of London in particular.

So what does the high price-tag mean for someone looking to plant a church in Perth?  Here are just a few observations:

1. Expect to be a Bi-Vocational Planter. Put simply, funding is tight. I hear Eastern Staters talk longingly about the wages boom in Perth, and at some level they are right, wages are good, if you are in certain sectors.  But high wages don’t translate to high levels of disposable income in the world’s 10th most expensive city.  Don’t assume you can plant a church among young urbanites with good educations and jobs and expect them to be funding it 100 per cent in no time.  Outrageous rental prices and high mortgages mean that many people find themselves sailing close to the financial edge. If you didn’t buy a house before 2007 then in all likelihood you have missed the boat – or perhaps you may have to live on a boat.  Plus, with a poor public transport system, two cars are the order of the day in Perth. And did I mention the fuel prices? Highest in the country (along with the coffee – Addicted Ed).

If you don’t want to work a second job while you plant, then in all likelihood, don’t plant.My observation is that church planting is generally a young person’s game.  Church financing, however, is a baby-boomers’ game.  You will need to find some older ministry champions; empty nesters who can join you and take the sting out of the bills. If your plant flourishes you may find you can move away from bi-vocational, but don’t expect it to happen quickly.

2. Expect Many People to Be Time-Poor. Perth people are time poor.  I’m not just talking about the Christians, I’m talking about everybody (your church does want to reach everybody, doesn’t it, not just the Christians, right? – Ed). There are few family households in Perth in which both partners are not working at some level, to pay bills, school fees etc. Maybe not both full-time, but then, who says looking after kids as well doesn’t make it more than full-time?  If you are going to reach Perth people then you need to know that they work hard, and in their spare time they play hard.  The long, languid holiday is a thing of the past.  Short, sharp overseas breaks are the order of the day, before families plunge back into the chaos and iCals. My observation is that it is hard enough to get Christians to lock in slabs of time for church events, given the pace of life.  If that is so, then there is little chance that hurried and harried non-Christians are going to stop long enough to give you a hearing, unless you find a way to tailor your outreach to their busy schedules.

One solution to that, of course, is to try to plant a church among people who are time-rich.  That would mean planting among those who the boom has passed by; people who have fallen through the cracks; mentally ill people stuck out in the soulless back blocks of the eastern suburbs; the unemployed, uneducated and unlikeable. Because, believe it or not, the world’s 10th most expensive city, isn’t slowing down to let them get off. The cost of petrol is not lower for them (fortunately a car is probably out of their price range – Wry Ed), they won’t be buying the best – or many – groceries, and they will be paying obscenely high rent for a air-conditioner-less dog box that freezes in winter and boils in summer.

Which brings us back to the first issue – bi-vocational ministry.  If you plant among the time-rich in Perth, expect to be bi-vocational for pretty much the duration of your church plant. Who would do such a thing? Well, I guess anyone who takes Jesus’s words in Matthew 19 seriously, that they will receive a hundred times as much as they’ve left behind, along with eternal life.

Expect People Not to See Their Need of Jesus: Perth is heaven (or hell, depending on your perspective) on a stick.  Clean, gleaming, sunny and riddled with beaches, boats and booze. The balmy, outdoors lifestyle just keeps the angst at bay long enough for death to come as something of a surprise. No wars, no extreme gang violence, no health epidemics, no philosophical angst (after all, Kirkegaard was probably a gloomy Dane because he lived in gloomy Denmark). Perth people generally see no need of a Saviour, because they have plenty of saviours.  Not that the pursuit of pleasure fulfils everyone, but when the pursuit is so one sided, when the chase is a bit of a non-event,  there is little thought given to the deeper things of life.  And this is not simply the case for the fabulously wealthy who are part of the knowledge economy.  A trades person in Perth is paid well, far better than their counterparts in the UK.  The new private schools springing up all over the city are not being populated simply by the children of the tertiary-educated, but the children of hard-working tradespeople.  Put simply there are less crisis points in life for many people in Perth, on the surface at least.

That last caveat is telling. Perth is very much a surface city.  It is hard to get beneath the marble kitchen-bench-top-veneer of peoples’ lives and see what is really going on.  As we know, money is a good mask.  It keeps people at bay, and problems privatised, far longer than no money, or little money, does.  Planting a church in Perth is not for the faint-hearted because it seems that Christians have so little to offer the population.  The oft-times macho culture of Perth is compounded by a high level of self-sufficiency.  It will take time, effort and prayer to see fruit.

Perhaps again that drives us back to thinking about planting in the less-salubrious suburbs, and among those who are not the middle-class, decently educated people that evangelicalism seems to be drawn towards.  And that in turn drives us to have to think hard about how we have to readjust our expectations of how we can reach such people, how confronting their problems and brokenness might be, and how, as time-rich people, they may suck up a lot of our time – the bi-vocational, busy and distracted church planter that we are.

Yes, Perth may be the 10th most expensive city in the world to live in, but the cost of planting a church may be even higher than that. Anyone up for it?

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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