Four years ago, St Paul’s was a church with a congregation of 25 in the rural town of Opunake in Taranaki (population 1360). They had no employed minister and no children or families attending their Sunday worship or connected with their church.
The leaders decided that if they were to survive they would need to focus on mission. But where should they start?
The church had heard about Knox Church in Waitara renowned for its mission with children, youth and families, so Ann Smith, parish councillor and lay preacher, approached Jennie McCullough, Children, Youth and Families ministry leader at Knox to ask if she would consider running a holiday club at St Paul’s.
Being someone who is passionate about mission and who loves to share that passion and experience with her young leaders, Jennie immediately agreed. She started preparing some of her teen leaders for their rural mission. Jennie also visited the congregation to talk about the mission and to enlist their help. The people of St Paul’s were very enthusiastic. Soon Jennie had offers of pikelets (from a 91 year old!), containers of home baking, donations of money and lots of commitments to prayer.
The day before the holiday club started only 12 children had registered and the team was feeling downhearted. But Jennie recalls how she opened The Word that morning to see Zechariah 4:10: “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand”. The next day 30 children turned up and the day after that there were 40!
One of the activities for the three-day holiday club was a treasure hunt around the town and beach, and as leaders accompanied children they heard shopkeepers saying how great it was to see kids and teens happy and active rather than roaming the streets with nothing to do. It wasn’t just the parents and kids who were thankful – the St Paul’s helpers were over the moon and asked the Knox team to come again next holidays.
This got Jennie thinking. Rather than just import a team each holidays, how could she work with the elderly congregation to plan and effect a mission plan for their community?
To find out the answer to this question, and more about the amazing transformation at St Paul’s Opunake – including a thriving kids club, an energised congregation that connects with local schools and the wider community, and young people taking up leadership responsibilities in the church – read the full story about their journey. Jill Kayser, Kids Friendly national coach, wrote this article after she went along to one of the Church’s most recent holiday programmes just before the 2017 school year started back up.