My Ministry: How youth in Australia’s capital created ‘Nativ Co’

A collaboration between Canberra National and South Canberra Adventist churches is setting the course for a bright future in the ACT.

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Some of the youth involved in "Sundown Sessions": Jacob Ratcliffe, Madison Nolan, Sarah Maloney, Mariana de Looper and Michael Nolan.

For Adventist youth and young adults in Australia’s capital, having a unified vision has transformed and expanded their approach to ministry, and taught them many lessons along the way.

“Nativ Co” is the product of a collaboration between Canberra National Seventh-day Adventist Church (CN) and South Canberra Seventh-day Adventist Church (SC). Initially envisioned by CN youth leaders, husband and wife duo Michael and Madison Nolan, seven other youth and young adults joined forces from CN and SC to establish the ministry.

“It’s a collaboration, we joined forces. CN was already running a café every Friday night and SC was coming along, so it felt natural,” explained Mr Nolan.

Coming together with a strategic plan, the leadership team developed a vision and purpose statement and outlined their core values. As a result, the ministries run by Nativ Co have been intentionally designed to reflect its name.

“‘Nativ’ means belonging for us,” said Mr Nolan. “We usually associate the word ‘native’ with the original people of a place, or of the land, or the flora or fauna of a region. In God’s eyes we all belong here, and we all belong to Him. So this is a group where we want people to feel at home.”

Youth members Madison Nolan, Geena Elliot and Jesse Thomson Jones.

Drawing all of the existing ministries run by CN and SC churches under one brand empowered and motivated the leadership team. Rebranding their Friday night café to “Nativ Café”, the team also runs a Nativ Fitness group, socials, community service, a Nativ Creativ program, and an annual week-long program entitled “Sundown Sessions”.

“We had a real drive under the South New South Wales (SNSW) youth department’s purpose and vision to equip and empower and give authority to youth to lead and use their own passions and talents so they can step up, get involved and lead,” said Mr Nolan.

In response, the Nativ Co team dreamed up “Nativ Creativ”, a unique ministry focusing on training young people in creative pursuits like photography, interior design, graphic design, music and event programming. Experienced youth and adults ran workshops to share their expertise, followed by breakaway sessions.

“It’s the kind of thing we would love to see grow, but we only did a few—I guess by mid-year, we all had a lot going on in life,” Mr Nolan explained.

Despite their busyness, the Nativ Co team also managed to put together a week-of-worship style program with a contemporary, community-focused twist in October. “Sundown Sessions”—a culmination of street food, live music, keynote presentations, hot drinks and lawn games—drew around 100-150 people every night to the Mallee Pavillion at the Exhibition Park in Canberra.

“We were able to hire the pavilion [because] there was a real buy-in and commitment from the leaders,” Mr Nolan said. “We were granted money from the local church via tithe reversion where 10 per cent of tithe from the previous year can be used for evangelism.”

Sundown Sessions was held at the Exhibition Park in Canberra (EPIC).

More than 40 volunteers from the church community helped out to make the event a success, with 15 different teams from welcoming to photography, videography, café staff, stage design, programming, music and entertainment, follow-up and advertising.

“We had a huge team of volunteers from church. If you’re not using the church, you’re missing out on a huge bucket of people with a shared vision.”

Reflecting on the success of their ministries this year, Mr Nolan warned that although a lot was achieved, it was easy to get discouraged by ideas and ministries that fall through the cracks.

“Overall, we are really stoked at what we’ve achieved. But although we put a calendar together and tried to space out [six different ministries], it was too much at once. We’ve stuck with the fitness program, the café and Sundown Sessions, but the others didn’t pan out like we wanted.”

For Mr Nolan and the leadership team, the reality of burn-out also impacted their motivation to continue. Moving forward, they’ve learned that rather than spreading the team thinly and trying to juggle many different ministries, it’s better to reduce the number of ministries and really do them well.

Youth participating in Nativ Fitness.

“It’s one thing to find your vision, but that’s the easy part,” Mr Nolan explained. “The harder part is to implement it. If I had the opportunity to do it again, as soon as we have our purpose statement—through prayer and in accordance with God’s leading—I’d print it off and put it all around the church; keep it front and centre. We weren’t utilising our great vision to continually refresh the ministry this year. That’s where real growth can happen.”

On top of reducing the number of ministries and keeping the purpose statement front and centre, Mr Nolan reflected that most growth happens through intentional relationship building, not just good advertising.

“Most of the community that came [to Sundown Sessions] didn’t do so because of the radio ad or Facebook event. Ninety per cent came because one of our church members invited them personally. We had one guy come along—my [wife] Madi’s best friend’s brother—because he was intentionally invited. He was really into fitness and he’s now a leader of Nativ Fitness.”

By making space for everyone to serve, Nativ Co is ensuring that the future of CN and SC churches is a bright one.

“It doesn’t take a Christian to be able to welcome people at the door, and it might be that very thing that opens the doorway to them believing [in Jesus]. Getting people involved really empowers them.”

Heading into 2020, the Nativ Co team are excited for what the future holds for this ministry and challenge other churches to collaborate and carve out their own visions, too.

“We’d love to see this happen in more places than Canberra. If Canberra can do it with only two Adventist churches in it, just imagine what could happen if churches in a place like Sydney or elsewhere got together for the combined purpose of outreach!” Mr Nolan encouraged. “You’d have so many resources, huge things could happen!”

To see what Nativ Co is doing in the Canberra area, you can visit their Facebook page.