Each Sabbath at Nhill Seventh-day Adventist Church, you’ll find kids laughing, playing and sharing games, and you’ll be invited to stay and share a meal with everyone.
But only three years ago, the small country church was on the verge of closing. The church, located 80 km from the South Australia–Victorian border was struggling financially, with only a handful of members in attendance. “Nhill church was blinking on the radar to just close it.”
Karen Rowe shares that she arrived in the town about 16 years ago. “When I moved here and started going to that church, there were probably three people there, and it was like that for a long time.”
Karen attended Horsham Seventh-day Adventist Church for a while; there were young families and opportunities for youth programs. “But when I had my family, I felt God impressing me to go back to Nhill. So I went back to Nhill, and lo and behold there’s some families here with little kids.”
The township of Nhill is largely a rural farming community. There’s also a local factory, and it’s home to the Australian Pinball Museum. About 2400 residents live in the town according to the 2021 census.
There are no Scouts clubs nearby, and Christianity is the largest broad group religious group reported overall (61.4%), making it a great place to start a Pathfinder and Adventurer Club.
Karen shares how the parents at Nhill felt impressed to start a program for the kids at the church:
“We’re there anyway. And the kids are just playing together. So we’ve been talking a lot about, maybe we should do some Bible studies with the kids too. We usually take them all to the park and let them play together while we’re chatting.”
“Nhill church has always been a very small church, but in the last probably three years, all these kids have appeared.” She shares how they’ve had a number of new families come through, and how “every Sabbath, we usually hang around and have a meal, or fellowship together.”
Of their 31 weekly attendees, 17 are children between the ages of 0–12; in other words; 55% of the church is made up of young children. In the Nhill township, children in this age bracket correspond to only about 15% of the total population.
When the team settled on starting a Pathfinder and Adventurer Club, there was just one problem: no one had any experience with these clubs.
“I’m thinking, ‘Dear God, you need to send someone to help because I don’t know this program.’ I’m learning as much as I can to try and get it going.”
About this time, Jane and Ronald Mukosera arrived. Living in Bordertown, they began attending church in Nhill, and they and their children had gone through the Adventurer and Pathfinder programs back in South Africa. “They’ve just been a wealth of knowledge… we’ve been having a lot of fun getting a program together for the kids.”
Karen also shares that Sean and Cara Berkeley (their Pathfinder District Directors) came up for a visit and “gave us so much information and really encouraged us to just start… and that was just another God-send.”
Phil Hyland, Youth Director in Victoria, shares that the priorities that have fueled Nhill Church’s growth are aligned with the Growing Young principles described by the Fuller Youth Insititute.
“Essentially through the Growing Young principles of focusing on children and family and youth, that has brought energy and life and vitality – just like the Growing Young principles say it will. That doesn’t necessarily bring numerical growth initially. But through that very generation of new life and energy – that’s going to eventually come anyway.”
The Growing Young strategy is a research-based framework that aims to help churches engage and empower youth within their congregations. It provides churches with practical guidance and principles to create a thriving environment that keeps young people engaged in their communities as they enter young adulthood.
Since the pandemic, club ministries are on the rise in Victoria. When Nhill Church registered their clubs, it marked the sixth new Adventurer Club and the fourth new Pathfinder Club set to start in Victoria in 2023.
If the Nhill Adventurer and Pathfinder community is any guide, children and young families are the future of the local church, and can revitalise a community in only a matter of years. As Phil shares, “youth and children and family are essentially the lifeblood of a local church. They bring energy, life and vitality, and relevance.”