For many years, Melbourne was considered the world’s most livable city. I arrived in 2005 and every year I’ve seen God’s faithfulness and grace. Our congregation comes from all walks of life: young and old, married and single, academics, professionals, and blue-collar workers. In 2017, by God’s grace, we planted a church up the road next to Australia’s largest university, and we’re praying that we can plant again in five years in another suburb. Melbourne has a population of five million people and there remain many areas where there’s little or no gospel presence.
Over the past two years, we’ve watched our urban capital transform into a ghost town, experiencing population decline for the first time in living memory. Melbourne endured the longest lockdown of any global city throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. During 2020 and 2021, there were 50 Sundays where we couldn’t meet at all as a church, and most other weeks there were restrictions like seating quotas and mask wearing.
We were grateful for Zoom, although it’s no substitute for church, and we were blessed by the multitudinous ways people served and loved each other. We rejoiced in late November when the government removed the tightest restrictions and church finally began to return to normal.
However, within days of regathering, Melbourne entered its third and biggest wave of COVID, and it’s one that continues to have a long tail. For churches, this has meant many members isolating at home because they or their household have contracted COVID. Other folk are cautious and don’t feel comfortable returning to public places yet. All this is to say, for us the pandemic aftershocks are continuing.
We hear that many churches have as much as 50 percent of their congregation away at the moment. With fewer people able to serve and with energy levels low, many people are just trying to place one foot in front of the other, and little more. Our ministry philosophy has always to keep things simple and not to build in too many programs. Thankfully this served us well, although we need to be even more mindful of this than usual.
The last two years have certainly changed the social and economic well-being of our city, but a virus doesn’t alter the human condition. It may expose our dreams and challenge our life assumptions. It has certainly shaken people’s confidence and even changed some behavior, but I’m reminded of how only the gospel of Christ can reach into the heart and revive the soul.
Praying for Revival
As a church, we’ve observed that the habits people held prior to the pandemic (both good and bad habits) are likely to be the ones they return to afterward. Sadly, we’ve seen a few people use the chaos of the last two years as cloud cover as they slip away from the faith. But the pandemic has also caused many to draw closer to Christ and to each other. This has been particularly manifest in the way people are serving one another.
The last two years have certainly changed the social and economic well-being of our city, but a virus doesn’t alter the human condition.
We rejoice over the perseverance of the saints and the eagerness among many to meet and to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24, NIV). We’ve also witnessed our first baptisms of the year and new members joining our church. The pandemic has disrupted many areas of ministry and life, but God remains ever faithful.
Is this a gospel moment that could lead to revival? This is a question many Christians around Australia are asking. In one sense, every day is the time to believe and live out our faith in the Lord Jesus. We are, though, seeing anecdotal evidence in the wider community of people asking the big questions of life. For a city where less than 2 percent of the population belongs to an evangelical church, seeing new gospel opportunities is exciting.
Please join us in asking our heavenly Father to pour out his mercy and grace in Christ Jesus and bring many Melburnians into his kingdom.
Praying Under Pressure
There are also fresh challenges facing Melbourne churches. Under a new Victorian state law, it’s illegal for an individual to use prayers or conversations to “suppress” anyone’s LGBT+ lifestyle. This “suppression” could include praying for celibacy, suggesting that changing one’s sexual orientation or identity isn’t a great idea, or advising someone to stay sexually faithful to their spouse as a matter of holiness.
Churches, like the one I have the privilege of serving, are feeling weak, tired, and under pressure. Yet the gospel isn’t constrained by our capacity, for God’s grace is sufficient and effective.
The gospel isn’t constrained by our capacity, for God’s grace is sufficient and effective.
The pandemic exposed the frailty of life and humbled a proud city. I suspect that our churches too often adopted hubris and a self-sufficient posture, and so it’s no poor thing for us to know weakness and learn to depend on God.
We are looking into 2022, conscious of our limitations and more aware of God’s constancy, and so leaning on him in faith and prayer. It’s a good lesson for us to grasp the truth that God’s “power is made perfect in weakness.” And to be able to say with Paul, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9–10).
Learn how two years of COVID have impacted churches around the globe: China, India, Australia, Ethiopia, Dominican Republic, the United Kingdom.