Chris Hall grew up in Glenbrook, in the lower Blue Mountains, and started attending Glenbrook Baptist Church in late Primary School. As he grew in his faith he started to hear God’s call on his life to go to Bible College and become a Pastor. Chris has been serving as an Associate Pastor at Merrylands Baptist Church since 2008 and we asked him a couple of questions regarding one of the ways being Mission Shaped is expressed in his ministry.
Where is Merrylands and what are the youth in the area like?
Merrylands is about 30 minutes west of Sydney, on the other side of the M4 from Parramatta, and is a place of great diversity. There is diversity of religion, cultural backgrounds, social-economic status, and family situations. Our youth ministry reflects the great diversity seen in our community. Many of the youth that we minister to do not come from a Christian background, and it is common for youth who have never been in a Church building to come along and get involved in our youth activities.
Why did you start a Drop in Centre?
The drop-in centre was started at the beginning of 2011. Throughout 2010, whist we were running a small, but successful, youth group ministry discipling several of the church youth, we came to a realisation that we weren’t reaching the youth in the community, which was a concern. Therefore we started a process of seeking to discern what God wanted us to do.
Whilst I had been teaching SRE in one of the local High Schools, I had found that inviting them to our youth group wasn’t working. The large cultural and religious background of the youth in the area meant that we needed another way to connect with the youth, without stopping what we were already doing. Eventually we came up with the idea of starting a Friday afternoon drop-in centre.
Many times I asked God, “Is this really what you want us to do?What if no one turns up?” Honestly, I was hoping we had heard wrong, but I always felt God responded immediately by saying to me, “Chris, just trust me.”
What is the aim of the Centre?
The aim of the centre is quite simple – to love the youth, and connect with them.
We connect with the youth, through playing PS3, air hockey, table tennis, through our band nights, the hip hop classes, and so on. The youth begin to realise that we actually love them for who they are, not for how they live their lives, and eventually they allow us to be more involved with their lives.
One of the most important aims of the youth centre is to see the youth come to a saving faith in Christ, and once we have built a relationship with them we are able to then tell them about Christ, and we have seen many of them stay back for youth group, where they know they will read the Bible and hear about Christ.
How have you seen God at work through the Centre?
Our ministry has increased 10-fold, we have seen some come to faith in Christ, we have seen troubled youth completely change their lives as a result of knowing Christ (and one of them is now one of our leaders), we hear of youth who went to Church for the first time EVER as a result of our ministry, people who have opened up the Bible for the first time, who have gone to Youth Group for the first time, even some who have stepped foot inside a Church building for the first time and are surprised that the roof didn’t cave in. God is at work.
What is your hope for the Centre?
Our hope for the centre is simply to reach the youth of Merrylands for Christ. To do this we hope to reach out to more youth in the community, show them love, and to be able to tell them about Christ.
Another hope that I have is that people will look at the Encounter Youth Centre, and seek to find ways that they can creatively reach the youth in their own communities – to think outside the box perhaps. This may be through a youth centre, or maybe by connecting into the local park, running cooking classes, a study lounge, or whatever connects with the youth within their community.
Let us not just keep doing the same old thing because that is what we have always done – let’s ask God, “What do you want us to do?”