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‘Bapta-costals’: new breeds of Baptists

NEWS | Rob Ward
Eternity #68 April 2016

Victoria has more going for it than football and trams; it is the home of large and vigorous Baptist churches.

Crossway Baptist with 7,000 attenders meets at Burwood East, New Hope with 3,000 attenders had its main campus at nearby Blackburn, and Barrabool in Geelong is roughly the same size. (These are Eternity estimates from attending these churches.) Crossway is Melbourne’s second largest church after Citylife which is non-denominational.

There are about 230 other Baptist churches in Melbourne, making up a diverse tribe of about 30,000 people.

At one end there are the ‘Baptacostal’ churches, such as Crossway where Pastor Dale Stephenson freely accepts the Baptacostal title, seeing people using spiritual gifts not only inside the church but also in everyday life as a key to sharing the life of Jesus.

Crossway is continuing to experience growth, not only at its home base but also in an exciting cutting edge initiative, “Church Online” with almost 3,000 people ‘attending’ virtually each week.

At the other end, there are the more liberal churches such as the much smaller South Yarra Community Baptist Church led by Nathan Nettleton, one of a number who have adopted an approach on such issues as same-sex marriage which is at odds with the mainstream Baptist position. South Yarra for instance has a more liturgical/sacramental style when compared to Crossway, which is more of a charismatic/Hillsong worship style service.

In the middle is the traditional conservative Baptist church, still singing one or two hymns and preaching that is more expository than simple story-telling, often smaller but still attracting families.  One such church in Melbourne’s outer east has grown to nearly 500 in recent years, and has a wide demographic.

Mentone Baptist, led by Murray Campbell is a “big E” evangelical church, one of about ten in a slowly growing conservative wing.

Last year the issue of same sex marriage was put to a vote. The Baptist Union voted to endorse traditional marriage by a two thirds vote.

Apart from the sense of mission, usually spelled with a capital “M”, two other common denominators were evident. One was community engagement. Every church was enmeshed in the local community, soup kitchens, school programs, counselling services; you name it the church was there. New Hope, led by Alan Demond is a great example of this. The second was a sense of tension about identity.  A concern about where leaders, the next generation of leaders, were coming from.  Given the breadth of the Baptist movement and its capacity to hold such diversity, this was mentioned a number of times. Not with a sense of panic, but that it was something to watch, important if Baptists were to remain true to mission.

Daniel Bullock, Director of Mission & Ministries at the Baptist Union of Victoria (BUV) says the family is doing well.  In this role since 2012, Daniel has accepted responsibility for what might be considered a ‘renewal’ within the family, a program called “Innovate” which is designed to help the church refocus on mission.

Bullock responded to the question as to what he would count as a “job well done”, with a number of key markers, but the one that impressed most was this one: Seeing the Church reach out to those outside. To reach people we have never reached before, we need to do things we have never done before.

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