Around nine years ago the team from Church on Vogel in Roslyn, Palmerston North, had a vision to build a community centre and begin connecting with their surrounding community in intentional and meaningful ways.
Roslyn is a high depravation area with incidents of drug abuse, youth crime and domestic violence all prevalent in the community.
Volunteers from the church began working in Roslyn School, the local primary school, helping out with reading. They'd meet up on-to-one with students who needed support in reading, and over time relationships began to develop with the teachers, school leadership, students and their whānau.
"These relationships gave us the opportunity to partner with our local community and ask, 'are there any areas you need help with?'" says Sarah Mitchell, who works as a Community Worker and Programmes Coordinator for Church on Vogel's community trust, The House Next Door.
"The reading support developed into more. Volunteers would come in to do baking, woodwork, and other skills with the kids".
Soon these school connections began to feed into other opportunities.
Kids started to join the youth group, and it grew from 6-8 young people into 30-40 kids from both the church and the community. People began to come along to the church-led playgroup for caregivers and pre-schoolers, now running three times per week with 50+ children and their carers attending each session. The Rally programme also grew, meeting each fortnight.
"Along the way we kept asking the question: 'what can we do to support you?' and the combination of relationship and trust helped us develop programmes that actually serve the community".
For example, the need for kids to have input and supervision after school developed into an after school programme. "We saw the kids were at a loose end and we applied for funding to start up a table tennis club. This grew into a place where volunteers connect and build relationships with kids over board games, cards, basketball and other activities".
"The kids walk down from the school two days a week. We have around 20-35 kids that join us. We'll often do some form of cooking with them, like baking scones, cakes, it's all part of learning life skills together". A holiday programme also runs during the school holidays.
There are some exciting stories of how God has been at work through these relationships:
"One young person we met through maths tutoring at the school became part of our church family. We walked alongside her for several years, through struggles with mental health and other things, and she joined our church community and came to faith, eventually getting baptised".
Relationship is at the heart of what Church on Vogel are seeking to do. It's about relationships within the community, and introducing people to a relationship with Jesus. A year ago, the dream for a community hub was realised, and The House Next Door was opened, using the house next to the church as a space intentionally fitted out to host community ministry activities.
Sarah emphasises that working to build relationships with a local community is about being patient and building momentum, "There are lots of ways to establish connections, finding the right people to do the right things is part of it. Look at who you've got in your church and the gifts God has given them, then create space for them to thrive and go from there".