15th August, 2012
As London celebrated the end of the Olympic Games, Australian Marty Woods was already thinking about its legacy.
Mr Woods, the European coordinator of Fusion – an Australian-founded youth and community organisation - for the past nine-and-a-half years, has been leading the festivals team of More than Gold, the umbrella organisation resourcing churches for outreach during the Games.
CELEBRATING COMMUNITY: Marty Woods and friend at a community festival
“(T)he level of churches wanting to use the Games for outreach has far exceeded everyone’s expectations… I just want to celebrate the way the church has taken hold of the moment - they’ve really embraced it.”
Marty Woods, head of More than Gold's festivals team
While the rest of his team was out watching the marathon last Sunday – the last day of Games – the 56-year-old was planning a ‘legacy tour’ which involved reconnecting with people in nine regional areas of the UK who’d been involved in running festivals during the Games but were now looking at the next steps of connecting with their communities.
“We’ve never seen such a strong response from the churches,” says Mr Woods of the response from Christians before and during the Olympic Games. “(T)he level of churches wanting to use the Games for outreach has far exceeded everyone’s expectations… I just want to celebrate the way the church has taken hold of the moment - they’ve really embraced it.”
In what was the biggest cross-denominational outreach in the last 40 years in the UK, more than 4,000 churches were involved in using the Games as a means to reach out to their local communities including through the holding of at least 195 community festivals which, supported by training from Fusion Youth and Community UK and partner organisation Share Jesus International, had an estimated attendance of between 400,000 and 500,000 people.
Along with his wife Jenny, Mr Woods, who started working for Fusion in Australia 28 years ago, recently relocated to London from Germany after More than Gold asked him to undertake the job of leading the festivals team for both the Diamond Jubilee and Olympic Games.
He says the number of people attending such events – he cites one at Dagenham in east London which attracted a crowd of 13,000 during the Olympics and several others where the attendees numbered in the thousands - shows the “hunger” people have for community.
“(So) we’ve got to help the church to get out into the community and I think that’s what we’re seeing more than anything, from both the Olympics and obviously the Diamond Jubilee, the sense that people want to celebrate…” he says, adding that people often seemed surprised at what they find when they attend one of the festivals being run by churches.
“I think people were shocked because…it’s Christianity without an agenda. In our festivals we just love people – it’s all part of a process and we‘re just making contact.”
Mr Woods says the approach being taken this time is different to that at past Games where connections were established between churches and those who lived in their localities but not followed through with enough.
At the Sydney Olympics in 2000, for example, as many as 250,000 people attended some 120 church-run festivals.
“But after it, people sort of clapped Fusion and clapped us and said we were great but not a lot happened in terms of ongoing community mission that started from the Olympics,” Mr Woods says. “And so we just realised that we’ve got to work harder and so everybody who's run a festival…we’ve given them really clear next steps.”
This may mean running a ‘sports Alpha’ group, inviting people to a ‘Messy Church’ – a church outreach and planting initiative which originated in the UK in 2004 - or to a youth café or kids club.
“Invite them to the next step, so it’s not just them clapping you... and they all feel good about the church. Well, big deal, you want to move them on...To build community you’ve got to be intentional, it just doesn’t happen.”
As part of the legacy tour, Mr Woods says they will also be looking to identify people to form what he calls ‘Kingdom cells’ in each area.
”People had had a taste of doing mission together but our goal was to have in each community across the UK, working with partnership with all the other organisations – mission groups and denominations, to have a ‘Kingdom cell’…(of) people who have a heart for the community. And our job... is just to support them. They’re just a small group of friends that want to see their community transformed. And that’s the legacy that we want to leave.”
Another aspect Mr Woods says he’s looking forward to continuing is the unity seen among the churches involved in community outreaches during the Games.
“I know in communities where the church was once divided, mission brought them together. I find that so exciting because somehow when you’re doing mission you’re not working out ‘Well, what’s your view on the gift of tongues or infant baptism?’, it’s ‘How do we show Jesus’ love for everyone?’…”
“We want to show people what the Kingdom looks like.”