In August 2004, a group of 10 people from St Thomas' North Sydney gathered together to dream and scheme, pray and plan for a next church plant somewhere on the Lower North Shore.
I often used to run past the little church in Kirribilli and it was like the Lord laid on my heart his plans for this church building. This could be a place where Jesus could be made known! So in a meeting in October 2004, the Rector of St John's Kirribilli graciously gave us permission to start an evening service in the buiding we now call Church by the Bridge.
The core team of 10 started with a blank sheet of paper - we planned and we prayed for what church should look like. And we really identified 3 main aims:
- to be a community - that is a church family where we 'do life together' - sharing our burdens and our joys in Jesus.
- to be part of our local community - being a light for Christ in the community of Kirribilli, seeking opportunity to present Jesus through word and deed.
- to be a church which combined faithful and relevant BIble teaching, with great worship music - allowing people to express their love for Jesus through whatever personality God has given them.
After a few months of praying, preparation, publicity and perspiration, Church by the Bridge started on Sunday 6 February 2005 at '6 for 6.15pm' with 42 people gathering to worship God. In the early months we saw much growth - with a number of people coming to know Jesus and put their faith in him for the first time. It really was a remarkable time of seeing new life in Jesus.
We preached, prayed, walked the streets, shared our faith, did life together - such wonderful memories. After a year, God had grown his church from those initial 10 people to over 120 people - and the church building was starting to feel full! So we made the decision to run a duplicate service - at 5pm, with same music, same sermon, same structure.
During that time, there was a definite shift with the marrieds migrating to 5pm and the singles migrating to 6.30pm! Since my understanding of the Bible is that church is a 'family' of all ages - I tapped a few people on the shoulder to switch services, to make them more mixed demographically.
Towards the end of 2006, Ernest Chau, the Rector of St John's, was appointed as Rector of Artarmon, taking the morning Cantonese congregation with him. I was approached by Bishop Glenn Davies (North Sydney Regional Bishop) to become Rector of St John's Kirribilli. It was at this stage we severed our ties with St Thomas'. I appointed Mark Smith as my Assistant Pastor, and Bec Cooper served 2 days a week as administrator. During 2007, we revamped the 9.30am service, introduced a Kids Church, sought to combine good liturgy with a contemporary style service, and continued our passion to 'be a light for Christ in the community'. With a clear commitment to prayer, preaching, godly living, God continued to grow his church in Kirribilli.
Kirribilli is a wonderfully diverse suburb - with some of the richest and poorest people living side by side. At this stage, the majority of church was in the 25-39 year old demographic - young professionals, high income earners, single or married no kids! With a desire to reach families, we started 'Playtime' - a playgroup for 0-5s and their parents/carers. With a concern for the residents of Greenway (housing commission) we started Community Lunch - a free lunch for all. We continued to be deliberate in our evangelism, and worked really hard on our welcoming, being aware that 'first impressions count'. Yet again, God was kind to us and all our congregations grew during 2007 - with lots of people coming to know Jesus for the first time.
One of the aims of Church by the Bridge has always been to be a church with excellent music, where people can express their love for Jesus through their own personality. Some choose to do that through outward expressions like raising of hands, others choose to do that more inwardly and reserved. No-one should be coerced to worship in any one particular way.
This focus on excellent worship music, combined with faithful, expository, relevant Bible teaching, as well as opportunity for congregational sharing through open-mic, saw a large number of what I would call 'disillusioned pentecostals' joining our church, looking for more indepth bible teaching as well as good music. With this in mind, we began our 'Saturday night' service in 2008. Two connect groups were invited to make the transition from Sunday to Saturday night - and we started with a very small gathering. Amazingly, locals came, people were converted, many loved the more relaxed style of service - and Saturday night proved to be a very popular time for people to come to church.
At around the same time, we were conscious that all our services were contemporary in style and we did not offer a more traditional liturgical service for those in our community who were more comfortable with that style. So in March 2009, we started our 8am 'Classic Anglican Service' with prayer book, organ and hymns. Whilst slower in growth, this 8am family is a wonderfully warm, close fellowship.
As church grew, we added more pastoral staff - a women's pastor (Steph Menear), a community pastor (Hayley Neal), a worship pastor (Cedric Tang - now replaced by Dan op de Veigh), a Communications Pastor (Steve Kryger) and an administrator (Robyn Greenaway). And more and more 'ministries' began - men's, women's, mission, Carols under the Bridge, I Heart Kirribilli, book club, politics groups, prayer groups, etc.
Connect Groups (small group bible studies) have always been at the core of our church - the opportunity for groups of 10-12 people to gather around the word and share their lives and prayers. These became much more congregationally based - in order to assist with relationship building - and more groups began to follow the sermon series in their groups. Alongside Connect Groups, we've always run a course for people to investigate the claims of Jesus - either Simply Christianity or Christianity Explored. As people have come to know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, we've had the privilege of baptising them (usually in the harbour, down at Blues Point).
One of the common trends we observed was a 'large front door, large back door' - so lots of new people would join our church, and lots of people would 'disappear' (either realising this church wasn't for them, or moving suburbs or moving country!). So in early 2010 we started the Belonging Course - this is a 3 week course aimed at introducing the new people to our history, our mission, our core values, our different ministries, as well as explaining the expectations of belonging to church by the bridge. This has really helped link people into church much more quickly - and helped people discern whether this church is for them.
In March 2011 we planted our first 'off site' campus - a congregation that meets at Lavender Bay. This really did break all the rules of church planting! I called for people to gather who might be interested in starting a church plant - 30 people came along. We prayed, planned and perspired! We had no 'pastor' and one exisiting musician - but we had a venue (Christ Church), people, Bibles, prayer - so we started a new gathering! Again, the Lord answered our prayers and that congregation is thriving - with a new mission area (McMahons Point, Lavender Bay) to seek to be a presence for Jesus in.
In 2012, we underwent a significant building project - seeking to restore and enhance the heritage building that we call Church by the Bridge. The generosity of the saints - both in terms of finance and time and talents - was extraordinary. We continued to run Christiantiy Explored, Made Fair Markets, Carols, I Heart Kirribilli - all to reach out to those who do not yet know Jesus. We launched School of Theology - for those seeking to dig deeper into the Scriptures. We continued to pursue excellence in our gatherings - working hard at welcoming, service structure, music, prayer, preaching. We continued to be committed to global mission - with 12 mission partners and 25% of our budget going to mission (local and global). And we continued to 'do life together'.
Looking back over the years - God's kindness and grace has been extraordinarily evident. Seeing people come to faith, seeing people grow in their faith, seeing people share burdens and joys. We've preached through over two thirds of the Bible, as well as addressing topical issues. And we have sought to be a church that 'lives for Jesus and loves like Jesus'.
Please do pray that God would continue to grow his church here in Kirribilli and beyond. We have a vision for more 'off site' campus churches - under the banner of Church by the Bridge. We have a vision of more opportunities to sit under the Word and grow in our love for Jesus. We have a vision of more opportunities to reach the lost. But most importantly we have a vision of a church that continues to honour Jesus - our Lord, our Saviour, our King, our friend.