The inspiring story of the collaboration between Glen Eden Baptist Church and the community organisation it birthed, VisionWest Community Trust, was told at their Transform18 conference. With Transform20 about to take place on 18th to 19th March 2020, Gary Grut and Lisa Woolley share their heart for churches to be encouraged and resourced to take their own community initiatives to the next level.

What have been some outcomes of the Transform18conference?

Gary: We are fortunate here that God has done something amazing with the church and trust in this space. We have talented people who are working in strategic areas in terms of housing, education, food supply, and all the different areas in which we are working. What was so good coming out of Transform18 was that these key people were able to share their knowledge and the journey we have been on. In the last couple of years, some of those people have come alongside churches that were beginning to explore how to get initiatives off the ground. Things have been igniting in churches—they are starting to buy land, put trusts together. One of these churches will be sharing at Transform20 about how they purchased their first house and are working with a family from their community.

What will Transform20 be about?

Lisa: We are excited about the opportunity to bring together pastors and other people working in the community to ask, “How do we have more impact in our community? How do we, as churches, see more of God’s Kingdom here on earth every day? What is it that your community needs? What is your community saying to you and how can you be part of what is needed there?” Transform20 will be about sharing our stories and learning from each other.

What will be different at this year’s conference?

Lisa: Our keynote speakers this year include Charles Hewlett (national leader of the Baptist Churches of New Zealand), Aimee Mai (CEO of Christians Against Poverty), and Andrew Becroft (the children's commissioner). Fred Astle, who is head of our Māori development, will share our journey of pressing into kaupapa Māori. Even though we are still in the first few years of this journey, we have come so far and learnt so much. We often have other organisations coming to us now, asking, “Can you help us in this space?” I say to anybody that is on that kaupapa Māori journey, come along and hear, learn and share in that story as well.

In the workshops we will discuss what sorts of support and encouragement different groups need to help them grow to the next level, and how we can do that as communities of faith together.

Who will gain the most from attending Transform20?

Gary: The people who would really benefit are change-makers—pastors, elders, people who have a real heart for mission in their local community, and the leaders in that space.

If I was a pastor in a church where we had just begun something, I think I’d want to come to this conference and go, “There are key people here I can get alongside and who have the knowledge to help me go that step further.” That kind of support is hard to access at other times, so this will be the time to do it.

Every church has got a different scenario in terms of the community that God has placed it in. Part of stepping into something like Transform20 is having conversations that will help you to identify the needs in your community and how you can start responding to them.

Lisa: At Transform18 we had senior pastors attending as well as people involved in community ministries. It was a great cross-section of church and community leadership. I think that is what made it work so well, because groups were all talking about the same thing when they went back to their local communities. We would really encourage that real cross-section of the leadership of the church and community ministries to attend.

There are also organisations that want a space where they can grow and be challenged in providing faith‑based community services. There will be people and groups out there who would like to connect, as well, even if they are not attached to a local church but they are doing an awesome job in the community.

You talk about having a passion to grow a movement of churches to reach their communities with transformative, faith-led initiatives. Tell us more.

Gary: Yes, we are passionate about it but we get our passion from God. It’s his passion. For our church, it wasn’t paralysis by analysis; it was like, “Hey, there is a need in our community; let’s go meet it.” Then from there God continued to grow this thing. Imagine if every church in the country significantly engaged in its community. Wow! What could happen in this space? God’s heart is to see people cared for. He has a social justice heart just as he has a salvation heart. It is part of the gospel. If we link all this together it could be amazing.

Lisa: Our goal for Transform20 is to share our story, to learn and hear from others, to see what we can take back to our local church and communities. What we are interested in is how we can work together collaboratively to see more of God’s Kingdom here on earth, whatever that looks like in different communities. Transform20 is a platform for people to come together and to create those connections, share with each other, and see how we can resource each other.

Faith-based, faith-led... is there a difference?

Lisa: Being faith-based is the underpinning premise that you come from; it’s your foundations. At VisionWest we recently changed our language from being a faith-based organisation to being faith-led. What does that mean exactly? Well, if we are considering a new area that we feel called into, it is about how we pray through that, how we hear God’s direction in that. Or if we are sitting with a staff member or whānau who might be going through something, it is about how we bring prayer into that situation and invite God into it.

Gary: It would be easy for a trust of this size to pull away from the church and just become a social justice organisation. But what is that without God? God, church and trust together is a formidable combination. It is about us working together to see a greater vision, to see people in love with Jesus. Faith is at the core and is the thing we must fight for all the time. We just can’t walk away from that. It is so, so important.

To find out more and to register for Transform20, go to


Contributor: Lisa Woolley

Lisa is CEO of VisionWest Community Trust, one of New Zealand’s largest community services providers. With more than 20 years’ experience as an advocate, volunteer, policy advisor, commentator, manager and CEO, she is passionate about community development and addressing social issues. She has a Masters in Social Practice and has been recognised for her leadership with awards locally and internationally.

Contributor: Gary Grut

Gary is the senior pastor of Glen Eden Baptist Church. Gary’s ministry experience commenced in 1987 when he gave his life to the Lord. He has previously served in the role of youth worker at two Auckland churches, associate pastor at Titirangi Baptist Church for 15 years, and then national team leader for Baptist Youth Ministries. Gary is married to Sarah and they have been blessed with four wonderful boys.

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