CityLife is a multi-site church in Melbourne, Australia. Beginning in 1967 as a small group, the church has kept its singular focus on group life. “Nothing competes with our LifeGroups,” explains Daljit Gill, Associate Minister and Small Groups Director. The message is clear: every member of CityLife should attend a weekend service and be connected to a LifeGroup. Today, CityLife has 520 LifeGroups and 9,800 church members that meet at 4 different locations each week.
Gill can’t hold up this vision on his own. Mark Conner, the Senior Minister, assists in casting vision for groups. He even leads a group himself to show how much he values them. For Conner, “LifeGroups are the very heart of the church.” Group life is so important that it’s a key part of their new member education. The course, called LifeTrax, has four tracks and includes a series on church life, especially the importance of and vision behind LifeGroups. They are so important, in fact, that in order to be a Partner (member) of the church, individuals must be faithfully attending a LifeGroup.
To continue putting this vision in front of the church, Gill constantly reminds people of the LifeGroup vision, values, and purpose during weekend services. He and the rest of the senior leadership team guard the church calendar so that people aren’t overwhelmed with events and meetings.
Gill also sets clear goals each year and regularly monitors them. He enjoys stats and numbers, and it shows. “You’ve got to inspect what you expect,” he reiterated. This includes new groups, new leaders, the number of people in each group, the number of groups that have a co-leader or apprentice, and more. His careful tracking allowed him to quickly tell me that 92 percent of the people who attend weekend services are connected into groups. Clearly, the value of LifeGroups is getting through to the church.
The 48-Hour Rule
Connecting thousands of people into groups is no small task. “We have 3,000 to 4,000 visitors to CityLife each year,” Gill shared. “About 1,500 visitors actually fill out a card.” When the cards come into the office, they’re immediately put into the in-house database. Each new person is assigned to a pastor—young adults are sent to the young adult pastor, adults are sent to the relevant multi-site pastor. By Monday morning, the pastors can log in to see all the new visitors from the weekend services. They’re expected to call new people by Tuesday morning, attempting to connect within 48 hours.
“We make an immediate connection, and this is very important. Many visitors come and say, ‘We’ve been to many other churches, but no one ever called us.’ Or, ‘They called us after a year.’ So I’m meticulous about it,” Gill explained.
Obviously, not everyone is connected with right away, so pastors make notes in the database about their attempts. They make a note about how they’ve tried contacting someone, when they’ll try again, and when they do make contact. If the pastors haven’t made any calls by the weekend and there are no notes in the system, Gill connects with them. Fortunately, though, he explained that this rarely happens.
The goal of connecting with visitors within 48 hours is to welcome them warmly, ask them about their experience at the church, and talk about what they’re looking for. “If they’re looking for a home church, straight away we tell them about LifeGroups,” says Gill—and most people sign up on the spot. Group leaders are then contacted so they can invite the new people personally.
Once new people are attending regularly and are part of a LifeGroup, they’re invited to fill out the church’s Contact Information Form which makes them an official attender and moves them toward the LifeTrax. “We don’t consider them assimilated until we get the Contact Information Form,” Gill shared. This keeps the motivation high to keep up with new people to ensure they’re eventually assimilated.
All Are Valued
The focus on relationships and groups is clear in every aspect of the church, including their team leadership structure. "There’s not just one personality, which is important,” Gill explained, especially to appeal to their multicultural context. As we continue to grapple with how to do multicultural ministry effectively here in the United States, it’s helpful to hear stories from churches like CityLife.
Melbourne is incredibly diverse, pulling people from Europe, Asia, South America, Africa, and the Middle East, and CityLife has people from 110 different nations. “Mark Connor is an outstanding man, and he embraces every nationality, all cultures, and that has flowed all the way down.” Gill went on to explain that in any given LifeGroup, you’ll find six to seven nationalities represented. He laughed as he recalled small-group dinners with a variety of cultural recipes.
The church hasn’t experienced any conflict as the cultures have come together, and a big part of that is having a diverse staff team leading the church. Gill was the first Asian staff member when he was hired. Originally from Malaysia with an Indian heritage, Gill immediately changed the face of the staff. Today their staff team includes people from China, India, New Zealand, South Africa, Russia, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and the Philippines—just to name a few.
For CityLife, gathering people together in community isn’t simply a stated value—it informs every aspect of church life. And their goal of connecting with visitors within 48 hours is key to communicating the value of community from the very beginning. It’s no wonder they’ve been able to bring together such a diverse congregation: they clearly value people from the first time they attend.
—Amy Jackson is managing editor of SmallGroups.com.