The One Thing 325: Under the Hood with Captivate Presbyterian Church

Alan Au became the Senior Pastor at Captivate Presbyterian Church in North Ryde, Sydney when it was a church in its infancy. The church had a rocky start after the planter stepped down due to moral failure. Seven years later, the church has been growing and is prepping to start their second service.

  • The complicated history of Captivate Presbyterian Church
  • How Alan equips and gives responsibility to key leaders
  • Developing new young leaders and their leadership pipeline
  • How he's preparing the church for the launch of their second service
  • Reflections on the impact of the Leadership Development Program


Captivate's Leadership Pipeline

Captivate's Discipleship Pathway

Captivate's Org Chart

Captivate's 2nd Service Runway

Captivate Website

Reach Australia Framework ebook

Reach Australia Conference 2024


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The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.

G’day I’m Pete Hughes. Welcome to the One Thing podcast designed to give you one practical tip for gospel centered ministry. Every week, the one things brought to you by reach Australia. We’d love to see thousands of healthy, evangelistic and multiplying churches all over our great country. But we also need to work out is reach Australia actually doing what we want to do in terms of reaching Australia.

If you listen to our other podcast, the Reach Australia podcast, you’ll know I spent a little bit of time asking that question for people around our country, and I’m going to do that a little bit more now. And today I’ve got Alan now in from Captivate, a Presbyterian church in North Ryde. Welcome, Alan.

Good to be here.

Alan How long? How long ago did captivate.

Lance It was, well, this is my seventh year this year.

Well, okay. Now tell us quickly what, what is North Ryde like.

Yeah, well, in the city of Ryan I say, and North Ryan is probably one of the last suburbs that skews slightly older, slightly less culturally diverse. And so it has a lot of history in kind of carrying what Ride used to be like. So we often actually think of our church not so much as a North Ryde kind of church, love people come from the 15 minute radius around around it.

So it’s interesting. We’re trying to reach people in north, right? We want to letterboxes up the houses around us. But yeah, in one sense where we often use the city of right as kind of our little peer. Yeah.

Wait, we’re going to press in a little bit more about what captivates doing and how you guys are going in a moment. But for now, you have press play on another episode of The One Thing. How has it Reached Australia helped to captivate church.

All right, let’s get back to the history. So you guys have been going for seven years. Tell us, why did you start Captivate? What are you trying to do?

Yeah, we started Captivate. It’s a bit of a long story. I’ll try and keep it short, but it came out of a Chinese ethnic church, a bunch of young people who actually came in with a pass. I’m actually not the planting Pastor Pete of Catholic Presbyterian Church, which I didn’t know, you.

Know, that I should do more research.

About. But he’s he’s he’s a really cool story because I don’t You must have listened to the Marshall podcast. Yeah. Yeah. One of the most fascinating things about it was, was the founding myth and that surrounded the plan to this is one thing I really love about what God did some with our church, the guy who actually started Captivate had to step down about five months in because of moral failure.

And as you can imagine, it got this bunch of young 2 somethings. Yeah, you know, there’s about 5 of them. And I actually come out of this Chinese church myself, so I knew a lot of them personally. So they went from being from a high, really excited place to being in one of the hottest places a church, a young church plan five months old could.

Yeah. And so they had about eight months before I joined them after college, where they just were tested and refined on what the gospel meant to them. You know, Did they really believe by keeping the Bibles open, by praying for each other, by deciphering people that God was going to use even a ragtag bunch of people like them, and and God proved to be faithful to them.

And then that really, I think, end up solidifying, you know, if I could call it the origin story, which it’s not about a single person, it’s not even about how awesome the the promo, the socials, the planting process was. It really was, hey, God uses people who keep their Bibles open, get on their knees and pray and keep wanting to make disciples.

And so and that’s what Captivate wanted to be. And it certainly had was tested on that in its early years. And so I actually tell every newcomer that story because it shows them that that’s a part of our DNA. It’s not the glitz and glamor or any any even some of the rest has reached Australia. Stuff we try and do.

It really is as simple as trusting God in the means that He’s given us in the Gospel was given us. So that that’s.

Amazing. So you actually sort of highlight, so to speak, that, that that’s a weak spot. Like that’s not something most churches are going, Oh yeah, here is how we started it. It wasn’t fantastic, but you’ve highlighted that that’s yeah, that’s incredible.

Yeah. And I think it shows anyone who joins us that there’s, there’s a simplicity that we want that you know, you know, we believe church is everybody’s business, you know, and that God uses everyone who joins us to fight for his kingdom. And so, yeah, you know, I think it hopefully gets people right to the core of what we want to be as a church.

So how did you get involved? This wasn’t actually scripted. This is we were planning to talk about, but I’m really interested. So how did you get involved?

Yeah, So I, I had been a part of this, the kind of home church that Captivate had come out of. And so I grew up with a lot of these guys actually did. So my student ministry time was with them, but they said, Look, you just got to get out and try something else. So, you know, I was in Parramatta for a little bit as a student and so I yeah, I got to see a multicultural, really big church.

I loved everything about that. It was incredible. I love the people there and but yeah, because of all that happened, you know, and as a friend I just stayed close and when I finished college they just considered ask me, consider coming back. And you know, I had lots of wonderful mentors around me at that at college at that time.

And I think they all pretty much advised me to not take it just because it was a but it was above my pay grade. Yeah, it’s not something you want to finish college, graduate to go into.

You’re walking into a traumatic church plant. I mean, there’s nothing really good about that. You know, as someone who would advise, I go, No, don’t touch this. But yeah, but you did it.

Yeah, that’s I mean and, and look, you know, it, it took a lot of back and forth praying and, you know, it was I, you know, shout out to my wife he, she, she really, her support meant a lot to me. So we just said look, if we went back and what it looked like was us helping people move on.

Well, and that’s what God had planned for them. That would not be a waste of our first two or three years of of coming out of college. We just I think we just love these people. So. Yeah. Yeah. So that’s a massive sidetrack.

Yeah, that, that’s the way we talk about was about but so okay, let me just try and put one more piece of the puzzle in the place. So how did you get connected to reach Australia? What’s been your connection there? Because you all were the guinea pigs, are you?

Yeah, that’s right. I think I might have been a part of the first city cohort, Right. I I’m being on my own first and maybe I was invited in my second year, but there was a deep awareness within myself that I needed to surround myself with as many helpful voices as many gospel partners as possible. And so when this came up, yeah, I just thought, Hey, this could be a really good thing.

It was, you know, Scott had to pitch it because it was a fairly new thing. And I remember the first cohort, Hey, my son Theodore was was during, I think two months. So my wife was super pregnant. And the rich guys is like, Hey, come in, you know, come to Waterloo and spend a couple of days. And and again, my wife was incredible.

She, you know, released me, supported me to go along that cohort. And it really was life changing, my ministry changing. Yeah. The networks that that has come out of that the relationships, the resources. Yeah.

Look, it sounds like your wife is incredible. I know with my family, whenever I go to somewhere, I. Yeah, my friends are there and I always my, my kids particularly give me these air quotes of dads working and hanging out with his friends. And that’s what he does. And I’m going, No, no, actually, that’s actually a work that’s rare.

But yeah, they’ve they’ve been incredibly patient through all of that. So have they. I think one of the great things I’m hearing about your church is that the DNA really is in God’s word, in prayer, in being in love with the gospel. But have there been some other things that rich Australia has contributed, I guess around the periphery of that, because it’s really got it work growing churches.

But what’s Reach Australia kind of helps you do?

Yeah, I mean one of the things I really love about reaches, it’s it has amps and it doesn’t just give you, um, it gives you clarity about how to direct a lot of that. Yeah. So I think coming out of college as a, as a younger sort of pastor, you know, you’ve got fire in your belly, but I think how reaches really serve me well is giving, hey, how can I steward that.

Well you know, what does it look like to, you know, prep well for the Sunday for the sermons but also thinking about the strategy staff, thinking about how to you know, if I say I believe in the ministry of all believers, and that’s a theological conviction I have, what does it look like to not just say that and to maybe even pray for it, but actually to hold myself to good practices that actually I can just give to that.

So I think a lot of stuff I’ve gotten out of reach is, Hey, here’s a particular tool. He’s a way of doing things. Why don’t you try and think about what that looks like in your context now? I think a challenge I had a lot of time was a lot of churches that I was seeing and talking to.

They were like four or five times, you know, if not ten times, 2 times bigger than my church. And so a lot of time I had to go home and go, Well, what does it look like with my people, where they’re at, what our church is trying to do in our little patch? Yeah, that that sort of oomph that you get from the cohorts, but also the clarity with a lot of how to steward that energy well, I found incredibly helpful.

Now, we are going to put in the show notes on some incredible diagram. M’s channeled his inner frustrated graphic designer. I think because I look fantastic, so make sure you have a look at them in the show notes. But what I what I’ve seen from there is there are some diagrams I recognize from REACH Australia. But you’ve you’ve taken all of that and you’ve made it yours, you’ve made it captivates and that that’s exactly what we want.

Have there been things that you’ve you’ve struggled to implement or things that have the have implemented easier than others in your church?

Yeah, well, let me start with something I’ve struggled because I think you’re exactly right Rich Australia folks don’t just want you to just copy and paste and we know that doesn’t work. You need to go, Hey, how does this actually come through in in my little patch? And I think one of the things I’ve learned is, see, I can’t just whip out even a nice diagram page.

Thanks for the compliment and just go, Hey guys, this is what we’re going do. Now. You actually need to go. What are the convictions that allows this particular way of working to truly come from the ground up? So I could come back from one of my cohorts and go, Hey, we just talked about leadership, pipeline, discipleship, pathway, you know, whatever.

But if our people don’t actually believe that this is a good way of stewarding our hard for seeing people save one for the gospel and mature, and then they’ll always be the guys up the top dragging them through the mud. So I think going, Hey, how can I teach this? You know, I just went to the register like conference.

Well, I just steal as much as I can from, you know, what happens there and go, well, let me let me teach this, you know, so. Right. You know, I don’t know how many times I’ve ripped off Andrew Hood’s talks from the conference and used it at my leaders retreat at the beginning of the year show.

So you’re sorry? Let me just stop you there. So when you say teach it, you’re actually preaching through the principles from the Bible. Is that what you say, what you mean by teaching or what you’re saying? Like, Yeah, tell me what you mean. Well.

Maybe not so much on the Sunday per say. Yeah, but, you know, every meeting we have a, a development moment, you know, where we go through particularly things in the Bible. Yeah. I want to make sure I give lots of good time so that it really is ours. And we’re not just going, we’re doing what Australia says or, or even what the evidence says.

You know, I want to do it because the Bible says it. And we think this is a good way of loving our people and people. We want to reach. So that I think that is the first moment that I went in adapting the material. Actually, this is a hot piece that is required there. And then there’s also the the actual execution of it.

So, you know, Hunter Bible Church does this cool like, you know, I’ll I’ll think about that in like ten years time when, you know, when my church might be getting a I don’t know, but it’s how do I work with for example I think when I first joined the cohorts and my church was 1 people.


And so, yeah, I don’t have lots and lots of people or like I can’t form all these teams and stuff like that. So what does it look like to start that? So for example, I loved a lot of stuff I saw and connecting and membership stuff. I two girls who had a massive notebook full of notes, so I wasn’t going to call this a connecting pathway just yet.

Or form it, but like, hey, here’s two people that are passionate about it. I’m going to start working with them. And we kind of snowballed into a lot of these these things. So yeah, we had to kind of really adapt the execution of it to our size, to where our people were at. Yeah, yeah.

Which look, I think that’s great. That’s exactly what we want to. Outrageous, right? We don’t want the copy and paste, we don’t want sight hear the five things you’ve got to do. But what you’ve actually done is God. And, and the worst thing is I’m so guilty of this. You go to a conference and you see someone you’ve gone.

Yeah, that’s what they want to do. You come back and go, Why are you guys not as excited as me? And it’s like, Oh, that’s right. Because you weren’t at the conference.

So. Exactly.

Exactly. And so you are actually bringing your people with you through the the excitement that you’ve had and you’re bringing them into that point about, yeah, now we can do this. And that’s, that’s brilliant. And now you guys have done a great job of growing. You’re actually you’re running up to a second service, is that right? You’re planning to do a second service.

Have you got a date yet?

Oh, yeah. In the new Year, February 18th is is the launch date for the two services. So we’ve got a bit of a fun way up to that.

Okay, cool. And what have you done in preparation for that second server? Because we want to I mean, this is in some ways this is not just a development thing, is a planting thing as well. So yeah, what have you done to to prepare for it?

I mean, just plug some of the stuff I’ve gone from. Reach. I think a theme and change process has been really helpful, you know, had to lead change. Look, I think some people could probably have done. Yeah. We’ve actually spent this whole year as a church kind of running up to this because for us, I think it takes a because this is our first one.

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It’s taken us a lot to build that conviction, overcome the discomfort, build the kind of gospel urgency we want to sit behind this. I always say, look, one of the reasons we’re doing this because the hole is getting full, that would be the easiest reason I could put in front of you. But the reason I really want is to put that gospel urgency in your heart.

And it’s a thing. And I think a lot of the rage stuff has has helpfully filled that out for us. That runway, you know, a key resource has been just talking to or the people I’ve met through the REACH network. Sure. You know, Tim Clemons, you know Phil Cogan, people who’ve given us incredible advice on how to do this, but also using some of the the planning tools.

You know, Michael Lynn gave me lots of great tips in terms of thinking about how people perceive this thing, my perception of it and the people’s perception of it very different, at least at the beginning. So how do we come to a common ground on that? And even just thinking about our timelines and and, you know, project managing this kind of whole thing?

Yeah, lots of resources that have come through. You know, maybe again, if if my timeline is in the show notes, hopefully you can see a mishmash of both the tools, you know, mapping things out. What are the helpful conversations you can have to win people over to to this idea, but also the theological convictions that, you know, you probably see some of the rich flavor in there.

And I think that’s one of the things I’ve really loved about Reach Australia. It’s not just here’s a book with or the Silver Bullets of How to do things. It really is an integrated, theologically driven, practically effective way of doing it. And look, you know, we’ve had lots of speed bumps along the way, but that’s been super helpful just having that that framework and, and some of that padding in my life.

Yeah, in fact, this week I was, I was having a conversation with someone else and we just we came up with this grid of on one hand it’s great to do innovative new things. And he and I were really keen on that. But if you don’t do that, if you do that without planning, so it sounds like you’ve got all these kind of planning kind of tools there, you just end up with this failure.

Actually, that’s and that’s and we there’s a few things that have fallen into that category, but it are we call that crazy. And then there’s all the stuff where it’s just planning and there’s no innovation. It just becomes continual whatever you’ve done. But that innovation and planning together, powerful, powerful tool.

I always say I want to be carefully courageous. Yeah, yeah, yeah. You know, maybe part of it is my personality, but I want to I want to be looking at the next thing I want to do in a way that is careful in the way I steward the hearts of the people that God entrusted to us as a church and to make the most of the opportunity.

So, yeah, carefully courageous as well.

Always want to see more carefully courageous people out there. Now, one of the things I don’t know whether is true about your reputation at Captivate is that you guys are great at developing new leaders. I know people always want to develop new leaders. What have you done in terms of developing?

Okay, well, if there’s anyone in my church listening to this, you can tell me whether we have. Yeah, look, we have tried really hard to develop leaders. And a key thing that I think I’ve benefited from was going I think most people come out of Bible college and move into a parish or ministry. They go, Well, I want to be in equip, I want to be there.

Ephesians four are kind of laid out, see the body work, and a big part of my job is helping people bring their gifts to bear mature in Christ themselves. We want ministry to actually disciple people. And so my situation was I had a bunch of young adults, young families who were kind of, you know, they had just been refined and tested on the, you know, awesomeness of God and the faithfulness of God.

Yeah. And so we really had to go, well, how am I going to apply that? You know, how am I going to deploy all these wonderful people who want to serve? Our situation was and look, essentially our main ministry was small groups. Boy, our leaders were small group leaders. But the effect that had was our service is had essentially remained untouched.

It’s just kind of template we fill out and planning center. Our mission temperature was close to zero. Now, you know when the last guy is had to step down for for bad reasons then tends to drop the mission temperature a zero. Yeah, we had people visiting, but none of them stayed. You know, everybody had a self awareness that we’re a little bit cliquey and that sort of thing.

So what you had was a really great small group system. People loved being a small group and they loved their leaders because they loved them. But you had this whole entire ecosystem that was part of the ecosystem that was neglected. And so, you know, one of the things we, you know, ripped off from pastoring rich Australia was actually why don’t we resource those people?

And like I said, you know, Hillary and Anita had had a notebook. Sick was just notes of how we could be better at welcoming. You know, Enoch had all these ideas about how to drive and he just needed permission and guidance to actually keep driving that, you know, there was a mission team with people who are just incredible at organizing events and we just need to bolster that with actually how do we make sure we get the nonChristian name and actually do quality follow up.

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So it really was for us seeing that there’s lots of godly people we want to know. And my job was if I didn’t help them step into those areas, then actually I’m the problem. And so thinking about what my role is in equipping them, So what did they need? Well, they need clarity. They need direction. They also need support in training.

So it really made me rethink what my job was. And then I brought the same challenge to my elders and, hey, how can we not just be the guys who are experts at doing whatever we’ve been doing for the last little bit? How can we be equipped is And so we’ve all been on a journey to that. And even some of these names that have job we’ve had to challenge them to again, move from being experts to being equipped is Yeah.

Because that’s a that’s actually a huge step in and of itself is like, go okay this one thing you’re excited so you know, you’ve got those girls, they’re really excited about welcoming, but they now need to step up into a role to help others to welcome. Had that process go.

Yeah, I think there’s two things and it’s essentially replicating what happened with me, each of my leaders. Yeah, yeah. So you you have to bolster that hot piece because the thing that’s going to help us transition to a slightly different way of working is, well, will I do this for the sake of more people being connected and welcomed and settled into church that they keep maturing in Christ?

If I have a real heart for that, I’m ready to do whatever it takes. So I’m can we actually sit down and work out what’s our connecting pathway going to be like? Right. You know, can I actually commit to being, hey, you know, in this way I’m going to have a coffee with them in that first month. Can we make

Actually, I’m leading a bunch of welcome is. So we needed both of those things, which is essentially what happened to me. I think as I was going through your rage stuff and going and replicating that with my ladies going, Hey, let’s feed the heart, let’s feed the convictions so that you will gladly embrace the costs and the sacrifice in moving to because it is I mean, in many instances it is more work.

It is more time from our people. Yeah. And they have to work on that as a family or even as an individual. And sometimes it means actually doing less of the things that they really loved. You know, I don’t get to I loved seeing every new I loved having everyone in my place. But I got actually, I need to make sure it’s no longer just me doing it.

There’s a team of about five of us doing it, you know, that’s that’s the ideal. So yeah, but the way to get there is both. You need the hot piece, but you also need to not just make it up on the spot you need. Hey, let’s, let’s plan it out so we can execute something that we think is worth doing and review it at some point.

Right? Sounds like amazing things are happening. I kept like God is doing some great things. What’s what’s one thing that you’ve learned, particularly over the last seven years of your your role there?

One thing I’ve learned in the last seven years really is having an appetite for learning at every level. I think when we have met with challenges in ministry and there’s so many of them, some of them might be more exciting strategic opportunities. Every person knows. Some of them are difficult. Partial situations, but having a appetite persisting in learning, I think has been key to not necessarily getting everything right, because there’s lots of things that I think if I get another chance to do that, I’ll do it differently.

But it’s helped me go, Hey, I’m all the things I learned in college or things like Let’s start with God, let’s start with the gospel or something. Christ, let’s make sure I spend time to actually reacquaint myself with something I maybe have missed it. Just come back to the Gospel and sit humbly at the feet of Jesus and just learn and let him feed me.

Yeah. And then also learn how to. To do that practically. Yeah. How do I do that? Well, yeah, I don’t know. Like, you know, I need to go ask people, you know, and, and I think one of the wonderful things about being a pilot reach Australia is, is yeah. Receiving a lot of that. I mean even now as I do some coaching in giving you know Jesus says it is better to give than to receive often because you just get so much as a gift like God is just wired us so that when we’re generous, He is so kind to us in, in trying to help some other people walk through this journey.

It yet you also just keep learning. Yeah. So I think that’s hard as as passes because there’s just so many things tugging at us. But one of the things I think I’ve learned over the last seven years is, you know, you never shortchanged it by just making sure you have time to think theologically about whatever issues facing, remembering God’s faithfulness, having that joy so that you’re packed and ready to explore options and to do good research, have good conversations.

I think that’s probably the thing that’s really served me well over the last couple of years, just having that enduring appetite to keep learning.

That’s that’s really that’s sorry, that’s really encouraging for me to hear because, you know, we want to it’s not again it’s not is a bunch of us in a room who’ve got all the right answers. We’re passing it on. It’s actually a network as we help each other and you’re learning from that network. So that that’s been fantastic.

Well, in the toolbox, we’ve got a few things Alan’s made available, some of the diagrams that he works with to communicate with his teams, and we put that there not so that you copy them, but you’ve got an idea of what you might need to develop in your church. We’ll also have a link to the Reach Australia framework if the ebook there, if you’re not sure about some of the things that are being said and also Alan’s mentioned about the development program, we’ll have a link there.

We do have our national conference is currently on sale and Earlybird prices are still available, so get to the website and register and you can always contact us at resources at Reach Australia dot com. Or are you alone? Do you mind if we put in the link to your church there as well in case anyone wants to come and visit.

Of course make sure that we.

Complain about that.

Especially if you want to come enjoying that second service. That’ll be really exciting as well. I’m really excited about seeing more churches being planted. Alan, thank you so much for joining us.

Say, welcome.

I’m Pete Hughes chat soon.