As 1998 went on we began to realise that for some reason we were on a roll…
The 70 or 80 Sunday night regulars at the start of the year grew to 130 by December and we had a vibe on Sunday nights that I had never experienced in church before. It was a high energy, vibrant space and the word was getting around both the local school (and other churches) that it was the place to be.
The crew who co-ordinated Sunday nights were doing an excellent job. The music was loud and raw and the atmosphere was such that if you stuffed things it up it didn’t matter a whole heap. Around this time I discovered I had a gift in script writing and we began to add dramas to our services. The young people loved them and I would often write a series of scripts so they would have to come back next week to find out ‘what happens next’.
It was the year Tabor college began their Year in the Son program and we supplied all 3 students! We started an internship program and these guys slotted into that. Suddenly this messy, chaotic youth ministry that began with a ‘let’s have a go’ attitude was exploding and we had to think about how to manage it. It was a new stage of growth.
Jeff & Mark Russell arrived in late May and hit the ground running. Mark’s flight got in at 11.00pm and after we got home I spent until 1.00am briefing him on what he was to do while in Perth. The following day he rolled up to our first all night prayer meeting – literally – all night – and one of the most memorable parts of our time at LBC. The following day we welcomed Mark & Jeff, I preached an evangelistic message and around 20 young people responded. We’d seen people respond before but there was definitely some new energy around this time.
It was incredibly exciting to be right in the thick of it. I remember Mark preaching a sermon during his stay that was entitled ‘For a time such as this’, a message that captured the mood of this wild period. He and Jeff had been sent to this church for a special time. These guys stayed and did some great work following up young people, developing new inititaives and helping some of our new Christians find their feet.
Occasionally I would feel God leading me to preach evangelistically and almost without fail a few new faces would be added to the kingdom. We baptised around 30 young people that year regularly holding baptismal parties in the church building complete with party poppers, streamers and loud raucous mates in attendance. On baptism nights it wasn’t uncommon to pack over 200 people into the building with a grand final type atmosphere pretty normal.
Around the local high school young people were sharing their faith and holding prayer meetings. These guys were going at it with all the passion and idealism of youth and it was making an impact!
As the numbers grew there was of course a need for structure and organisation to care for the new Christians. We somehow generated 30 small groups that year using anyone who was willing to lead and most young people slotted into those groups.
Other activities began to emerge. Adventure camps, misson trips and boxercise were among them. Suddenly we were more than a bunch of young people having a party. We had to become organised and efficient and we had to start putting processes in place to make sure we would keep things going. We established a ‘dream team’ of all the ‘ideas people’ who met regularly to imagine what the future could hold.
By the end of 1998 the growth was still going and we were wondering ‘where to next’? People often asked me ‘where do you think this is all headed?’ and I would tell them ‘I don’t know… I am making it up as I go. I just know that we are doing what we set out to do and there seems to be some sense of God at work that I have never encountered before’. I was going with the flow and hoping for the best!
On one level it was an amazing time as we tried to keep pace with this youth ministry that seemed to have a life of its own. However in that period of my life I was a highly driven workaholic, a trait that resulted in several conversations with Danelle essentially along the lines of ‘slow down or kiss me goodbye’. I didn’t hear her the first 3 times, but by the fourth she made it clear that if I wanted to be married to ministry then she wasn’t sticking around.
I didn’t really know how to slow down, but I did the best I could. I knew she was deadly serious and it scared me. I was out of control with work. It was the place I was getting heaps of kudos so I didn’t want to let that go. We seemed to get thru it, but I don’t remember how.
As 1999 started Jeff Russell returned for another 6 month stint and then later that year we added 3 youth staff to our team to help cope with the workload. As well as the 3 part timers we had 5 or 6 interns and a whole bunch of volunteers.
Over the first half of 1999 the evening services continued to expand and in June of that year we decided to divide the Sunday night gig in two and run a young adults service at 5.00pm and a high schoolers service at 7.30pm. The young adults was a little more laid back and the high school was a punk/grunge style of music. The high schoolers were led by a band of dedicated young guys who were great musos but who somehow seemed to lose the volume control on their amps! We told them we wanted it loud, and they obviously heard us because it was deafening. We had balloons bursting from the noise, neighbours complaining and even high schoolers walking out because they couldn’t handle it.
We had figured that if one service could handle 250 people then dividing it in two would allow for 500 young people. At our current rate of growth we were going to need the space so the two service option seemed the only way to go.
We ran those two services for 6 months before as a youth staff we stopped, looked at each other and said ‘enough!’ In making the shift we lost the vibe of the big gig and subsequently lost many of those who loved the party atmosphere. One service was casual and laid back while the other was like a rock concert on steroids. The middle ground that had been our bread and butter was no more and people didn’t know where they belonged.
One of the top values we functioned with as a youth ministry was that of taking risks. ‘If you’re not making any mistakes its probably because you’re not trying anything new’ was one of my favourite sayings, but risks didn’t always pay off. We knew this was a risk and we were happy to take it, but we paid dearly for it.
As the year ended we pulled the crew back together, but something had changed. The energy that the group had propelling it along had diminished. Some of the new Christians had ‘changed their minds’ and there was tension between some of us in leadership that added to the confused and awkward dynamic.
We had a solid core of young people, but we knew something was different. We had come to expect growth as normal and we weren’t ready for things to take a downward curve. It was disorienting and disturbing.
What were we doing wrong?
What could we do to re-ignite the energy we had?
As I look back now I can see that for a short window of time we were blessed with an incredible experience of God at work. It was one of those rare ‘spontaneous combustion seasons’ where the Holy Spirit seemed to be at work in that hills community and I’m not sure we could have stopped him if we had wanted to.
But when the music stopped and the energy dipped we felt it. We longed for those times to return, but they never did quite like that.
The next two years were a different phase again…