In 2017 let’s celebrate 200 years of sharing the Bible

Join the Celebration

Church growth stunted by council building restriction

NEWS | Kaley Payne

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

“We’ve got a big problem in our city campus,” Hillsong senior pastor Brian Houston told his Waterloo congregation. “We’ve just got too many people for a little building.”

You wouldn’t think having too many people would be a problem for a church. But for Hillsong’s overflowing city campus, the blessing of a growing congregation is becoming a headache.

According to Houston, who addressed the entire Hillsong membership last month via web video, Hillsong leaders have been looking for extra facilities for the city campus for over a decade, particularly in the industrial area of Alexandria, but have faced “frustration at every turn”.

When, 15 months ago, Hillsong put its fourth development application to the council for a building not far from its city campus in Waterloo, they didn’t hear a peep from the council. Nine months later, without council’s approval, and no indication a decision was pending, Hillsong took the Sydney City Council to the Land and Environment Court.

Last month, Hillsong won. Acting senior commissioner Graham Brown approved the church’s application to overhaul an Alexandria warehouse.

City Campus church services have already begun in the new location.

Parallel to Hillsong’s development application and court case, Sydney City Council have been considering a Local Environment Plan banning places of public worship in industrial areas. The Council says the plan would preserve industrial land for industrial use. But the Australian Christian Lobby’s NSW state director, David Hutt, is sceptical.

According to Mr Hutt, Hillsong’s frustration is shared by many churches in NSW.

“You’ve got lots of neighbours, small streets, less parking, so you get a lot of complaints come through for a development application for a large development in a residential area. Churches have been seeing a need to move to larger landholdings where parking and noise might not be as great a consideration as they might be in residential areas,” Hutt says.

ACL is asking councils across New South Wales to allow growing churches to submit a development application in the larger, industrial areas, and to let the application be assessed on its merit.

“If a church wants to build something completely inappropriate for the area, or that doesn’t suit the traffic patterns for example, the council could still knock their development application back. All we’re pushing for is that churches have the opportunity to submit that application,” Hutt says.

But if Sydney City Council gets its way, industrial areas will soon be off limits to churches. Applications will not be discussed.

While the proposed ban has not been finalised, Mr Hutt says the Council seems “pretty determined to bring in the ban one way or the other”.

A Hillsong spokesperson said, “Hillsong Church celebrated a victory for not only our church community, but for the wider community of those affected by the draft Local Environment Plan proposed by the Sydney City Council.”

Read more about the Land and Environment Court decision here.

Brian Houston has asked the Hillsong congregation to pray the ban is quashed.

“The irony is that they don’t want new churches in residential areas because there’s people, and they don’t want churches in other areas. Think about who helps people, who meets the needs for people and is there for the community.

“I think that generally, not just for our church but for the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, we should really pray for some breakthroughs. It’s not just the Sydney City Council, but other Councils in New South Wales too. Let’s believe for churches everywhere that [the ban] comes to nothing.”

Comments are closed.

Kaley Payne

Kaley is Bible Society Australia's web editor and a journalist with Eternity.