City on a Hill: keys to thriving after 16 years of church planting

“I wasn’t raised going to church. I didn’t believe in God, didn’t pray, didn’t have a Bible, and I really thought Jesus was nothing more than a swear word for most of my upbringing. Yet, like so many Australians today, I still had questions and was searching for meaning and purpose,” shares Senior Pastor of City on a Hill, Guy Mason.

Guy’s own conversion experience has shaped his belief that Australians today still have questions about the deeper things in life.

“We have a dream and a prayer to see 10 cities reached with the beauty, truth and relevance of Jesus by planting 50 churches,” says Guy.

In turn, this belief has inspired City on Hill’s mission: to know Jesus and make him known. This big vision has fuelled the church since its humble beginnings in 2007, when a small team launched the first public service in a pub in Melbourne’s Docklands. Now, with almost 10 churches under its banner – six in Greater Melbourne, and churches in Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Wollongong – and a dream to plant many more, City on a Hill is still seeking to share the power of the gospel across diverse and bustling Australian cities.

“We are passionate about knowing Jesus and making Jesus known. We have a dream and a prayer to see 10 cities reached with the beauty, truth and relevance of Jesus by planting 50 churches,” says Guy.

However, he clarifies, rather than retreating from contemporary culture, their aim is to be a radiant beacon of hope and a place of transformation within it.

“We don’t just want to create this holy huddle. We want to be a light,” says Guy.

The name of their church, he believes, says so much about what they want to be in the community. “If you think about a city, I think of flying on a plane late at night and it’s total darkness. Until eventually you arrive at your home city and you see light beginning to appear. It tells you you’re home.”

God is good jumper

Source: City on a Hill

The biblical mandate

Guy grounds the vision of City on a Hill in the biblical mandate of Jesus’ great commission in Matthew 28. “Jesus said, ‘I’ll build my church, and the gates of hell should not prevail.’ He’s passionate about the church and he is committed to that,” he says.

He cites the early church’s response to this commission as a model for City on Hill’s ministry: proclaiming the gospel, appointing leaders and establishing communities of faith in various towns. Following this pattern, the church leadership believes church planting to be the most effective way to activate Christians and reach the unreached. City on a Hill aims to empower their churches to be  ‘engine rooms for the gospel’s advancement’ – spaces where the gospel can flourish and transform lives.

“Church planting gives people within the church opportunity to use their gifts, to step out of their comfort zone.”

Guy shares, “If you have a gathering of God’s people around the Word, where the sacrament is shared, the name of Jesus is lifted up, you have a church. That’s a church.”

He highlights the effectiveness of church planting for evangelism, quoting Peter Wagner who says that church planting is “the single most effective evangelistic methodology known under heaven.” Guy says church planting provides a rich opportunity to reach the unreached, mobilise Christians and engage with unbelievers.

“Church planting gives people within the church opportunity to use their gifts, to step out of their comfort zone,” says Guy.

City on a Hill Water Baptisms

City on a Hill water baptisms City on a Hill

Overcoming challenges with gospel confidence

Planting churches comes with its share of challenges. Guy acknowledges that the fundamental issue behind these challenges is sin. He emphasises that leaders must contend with their own flesh, navigate a world hostile to the gospel and face spiritual forces that oppose the cause of Christ.

“There’s a phrase that I’ve found really helpful in talking with other leaders and ministers [about ministry challenges], it’s a sense of what I was called gospel confidence or gospel courage,” says Guy.

God told Moses, “I will be with you,” and Jesus promised his disciples, “I am with you always.”

Drawing from Moses’ transformative encounter with God at the burning bush, Guy explains that gospel confidence stems from being gripped by the glory of God, recognising his mission and stepping out in the confidence that God is with us.

He recalls that God told Moses, “I will be with you,” and Jesus promised his disciples, “I am with you always.” This gospel confidence, says Guy, can anchor leaders and everyday Christians by reminding them that their strength and effectiveness come from God’s presence.

Developing leaders: deep people for a complex world

City on a Hill places a strong emphasis on developing leaders who are not only competent but also deep in their relationship with Jesus. In the Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster says, “The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.”

“The world needs more people who are not deep in the world or even deep in themselves. They’re deep in Jesus. That’s a big emphasis for us. A focus on discipleship that’s ground up,” says Guy.

City on a Hill focuses on creating a culture of discipleship, where people are growing in Christlikeness and the fruit of the Spirit. The church also believes in giving leaders opportunities to serve and lead early on, providing them with supervision, teamwork and opportunities to learn and grow.

The role of technology and social media

City on a Hill was planted in the same year that the iPhone was invented, so they have always had the desire to leverage and redeem technology for the gospel.

“When it comes to technology, I think we need to disciple people about what it means to be a Christian in a digital age,” says Guy.

He notes that so much discipleship is already happening on TikTok and other social media, asking, “Who’s going to disciple your kids or who’s going to disciple your church? Will you leave it to the world or will the church enter that space?”

City on a Hill engaged with technology from the early days, using podcasts and then video for teaching and sharing. Even after Covid lockdowns, a lot of people continue to join their online services.

“I get emails from people who tune in online, and we hope to be able to connect them with a local church. We’ve also been running Alpha online and put a lot of investment there,” says Guy.

City on a Hill service.

Lives transformed, community impact

For City on a Hill, seeing the light of the gospel at work looks like seeing people come into a relationship with God, community being formed, people being activated in their gifts, serving the poor and reaching out to the lonely. Guy emphasises the importance of community and meaningful relationships: “In cities like Melbourne, I’m sure it’s true of a lot of cities, there’s an epidemic of loneliness and isolation. And we know that God’s made us for community and deep and meaningful relationships,” he says.

Across the churches in the movement, there are multiple expressions of community and worship. From meeting in a movie theatre, to gathering outdoors, the church is connecting with diverse groups of people, helping them know Jesus and making him known.

“When I joined this small Bible study, like nine or so people, I would never have imagined that we would see so many people come to know Jesus and enter the waters of baptism. We have so much to give thanks to God for,” says Guy.

The annual City on a Hill Conference begins on 25 May 2023, in Southbank Melbourne. The conference seeks to be a blessing to Christian leaders and believers alike, providing a much-needed source of encouragement and strength in these challenging times. This year’s keynote speakers include Matt Chandler, Guy Mason and Luke Nelson. For more information about the conference and to register, visit the City on a Hill Conference page.