City Life Church’s senior pastor Mark Conner tells City News about his home church.
When he just started out in his ministry, it never crossed Mark Conner’s mind that he would inherit his father’s role of senior pastor in CityLife Church. His father is the noted preacher Kevin Conner and the church was formerly known as Waverley Christian Fellowship. He was happy being a musician in the church and would have happily done it for the rest of his life. A few years later, he was asked to lead the youth congregation and when he hit his 30s, he obeyed the call to serve his home church as the senior leader. Today, CityLife is recognised as the largest church in Melbourne.
This year marks Conner’s 20th year as the senior pastor of City Life Church, Australia. Taking up four campuses across Melbourne, Australia—Knox, Casey, Manningham and Whittlesea— CityLife holds 10 weekend services each week–eight in English, one in Mandarin and one in Cantonese. The church has a diverse culture with members from 105 nationalities, out of which up to 45 percent hail from Asia.
In a recent interview, Conner shared with City News the happenings in CityLife Church and his journey growing up as a pastor’s kid.
What are the latest happenings at City Life Church?
Our current three-year vision is to see 10,000 stories of transformation by 2016. A story could be someone committing their lives to Christ, [or it] could be a church being planted, [or it] could be a client in the community receiving counseling. We are just praying for stories of transformation.
We launched a USD$11 million building project in February called “The Story Building Project”. We have a saying: “Buildings don’t change people’s lives but what happens in them can and does.” Stories take place in environments, so we are adding in a new community center, foyer, café, and also upgrading the children church (in the Knox campus).
CityLife Church has four campuses, why is it so and how does it work?
Melbourne is a very spread-out city. We realize we want to reach out to people quite a distance from us and to have a congregation nearer to them would be a strategic move. We started the Casey and Manningham campuses because we have a few hundred people there who were travelling to us each week at Knox. We started a campus there with a few hundred core and they have grown. The fourth campus in Whittlesea happened in November last year when the pastor of that church (Open House Christian Fellowship) turned 71 and wanted to retire. He didn’t have anyone to take over the church and asked if we want to adopt them as a congregation. We did and that became our fourth campus in November last year.
I do move around but I mainly (preach) at the campus in Knox. We use a teaching model where any weekend it’s a similar theme but we have a variety of teachers (teaching on the theme). For example, this weekend we are starting a new model call “Jesus is…” and we have four different speakers speaking. Occasionally, like on a vision weekend, we will use a DVD and show that in all the other places but we only do that a couple of times a year.
If we have guest speaker, he won’t be able to speak in all the meetings, so we will do a recording as well.
CityLife Church has a large Asian congregation. How did it happen?
Melbourne is very cosmopolitan and there are many nationalities. (The Asian congregation) actually started when the church was quite small. An Aussie young adult brought an Asian student (from Monash University) to church for the first time and they welcomed him; the church was only 150 back then. He came back the next week and he brought a friend.
Back in those days, a lot of students were studying aboard in Melbourne and had no families here. A family in our church would adopt an Asian student and after church on Sunday, they will bring them home for lunch; so we have this adoption system and we just became known as a church that welcomed Asian students. Some of the Asian students became Permanent Residents, got married, had children (and stayed on in CityLife Church). It all started with an act of hospitality.
Now we find that when most people walk into a room, they look around and wonder if there is anyone like them–if a mother with a baby walks into the room and there are no babies, she feels a little out of place; when an Asian walks in, he will be looking out for other Asians. That’s why we find that a lot of diversity in our church helps to reach out to different people. If an Egyptian walks into the church, I’ll introduce him to an Egyptian couple in our church–it’s like Velcro, they suddenly get connected. We find that having different races is actually a good stimulation for people to come to church.
Growing up as a pastor’s kid, what made you want to join the ministry as well?
A lot of preacher’s kids don’t survive and some don’t even have faith. My parents were always the same on the stage and off the stage, so there was integrity and that impacted me. Secondly, my parents never pressured me to be in the ministry. In fact, my dad will say to my sister and I, “If you can get out of the church ministry, get out of it; but if God has called you, you can’t get out of it.” It’s interesting that we are both pastors now.
Thirdly, they never expected us to be perfect. Sometimes when a group of kids is messing around, the Conner kids will be there–because I stood out being tall and red-haired, they often picked on me–and my dad would say, “Mark’s just a normal boy like everybody else, I’ll talk to him”, but they didn’t let people put unrealistic expectations on us. There was protection from them.
Fourthly, they made ministry fun. We got to travel; we got to meet people that other people won’t get to meet. So those things helped us come through the fish bowl environment of being a pastor’s kid. For me it was a journey; I didn’t start out wanting to be a pastor, I started out as a musician, then we led youth for a while. For me it was a gradual unfolding.