One of the privileges of travel is the opportunity to come across fresh ideas. Sometimes the island mentality takes hold of us Brits and we think that unless something was made in Britain then it isn't worth trying.
The good news is that God isn't bound by our parochial thinking and there are some excellent ideas from Australia that are worth the rest of us knowing about. So here are five innovative approaches to mission that I came across down under.
1. The Node
The Gold Coast of Australia is seeing unprecedented housing development. Hundreds of new houses are being constructed as more and more Australians are drawn to the golden beaches, the slower pace of life and the cheaper real estate costs. But many housing developers are struggling to find ways to create community space and services in these growing housing estates.
One innovative Baptist church called CrossLife, under the leadership of senior pastor Matthew Hunt, made an approach to a large developer to create a community 'node' to be run and managed by the church for the good of the community.
The financial model that made this possible revolved around a childcare facility that could serve around 75 children daily. The revenue from that would fund the management of the node and would provide funds to develop a community hub that could be used as a Sunday worship space. There would also be income from leasing out an area for a café and a convenience store.
I had the privilege of eating lunch in the idyllic setting of a lake view complete with modern art sculptures and a beautiful wooden boardwalk. There is now a thriving community node here with a growing church at the heart of it. It has been so successful that the project has been nominated for a design award and may provide the blueprint for a church-planting scheme across the region.
With the chronic housing shortage in the UK and the promise of many thousands of new homes across the nation, this model may prove a useful one for us too.
2. The Mooring
Southport Church in the Gold Coast had its building bought up by the government to make room for a new hospital. The church was relocated near to the hospital and it saw this as an opportunity to serve the patients with pastoral work and chaplaincy.
One need that became apparent was for affordable accommodation for people who needed somewhere to stay to be close to chronically sick patients in the hospital. The project has negotiated accommodation at reasonable rates in comfortable motels a short distance from the hospital. Recently it's also rented a three-bedroom unit for a year and fully furnished it. Families can stay there on a donation basis.
The Moorings team are willing to meet families when they arrive in the area, help them settle in, find their way around and provide some meals for them while they are staying in the area. The aim of the project is to help minimise some of the external pressures on families in these circumstances. If the family chooses, the team will search out and connect with the appropriate help for them when they return to their homes. This radical form of hospitality has opened many doors of service for the church into their community.
3. The Shed
Across Australia there is a growing men's movement that seeks to help blokes find community through making things. Community Sheds have been set up by local secular organisers to give men the opportunity to spend time together, building, fixing and renovating things shoulder to shoulder.
Some churches have set up their own versions of the shed movement. For example, a group in Perth has taken that idea and adapted it for relational youth ministry. It orders in kits and moulds and runs a six-week skateboard making project meeting up for a few hours each week.
It is in the context of moulding, sanding and varnishing maplewood long boards that conversations about life and God take place.
It struck me as a great model – passing on constructive skills, building relationships and sharing the gospel over a number of weeks. After six weeks there's a natural exit point but there is also the opportunity to take on a bigger project.
4. The Reconciler
Racial tension is sadly becoming a growing phenomenon in Australia, as it is in the US and in some parts of Britain. One former semi-professional Australian rules football player has started a ministry seeking to help young people think through issues of race and equality.
Scott Darlow visits 100 schools a year with a combination of music, comedy and straight talking. Darlow is open about how his Christian faith motivates him to seek reconciliation between different ethnic groups.
I haven't come across a similar ministry in the UK and wonder whether alongside excellent initiatives such as Romance Academy this might be a valuable service that Christians can offer to our local schools. You can read more about Scott's story here.
5. The App
Many of us find it difficult to share our faith online. The Australian wing of the Christian mission CV has created an app called YesHeIs to help us become more effective at doing this. Download the app and you will receive regular updates of media content that would be good to share with your friends. Some of the content is curated but a lot of it has been made locally and so features stories and testimony all with the appropriate accents. The team that run the app told me that although some people might find it hard to share the content directly on their Twitter feed or Facebook wall, the most effective way to use this material is in by direct messaging. This allows friends some privacy to explore the material but also the opportunity to follow up with questions and comments.
One of the most popular pieces of content they have created was a short video made for Valentine's day called "What is Love?"
Dr Krish Kandiah is founder and director of Home for Good.