Colin Gruetzmacher’s story

Stunning coastal scenery, a burgeoning hospitality scene, spanking new homes—sounds like a sweet spot in which to plant a church, and it is. But the rapidly growing Bay of Plenty suburb of Papamoa lacks much in the way of community structure and organisations. And therein lay the first challenge for Golden Sands Baptist Church.  

“We recognise that loneliness is like an epidemic in our area,” says Golden Sands’ pastor and Carey Pastoral Leadership graduate Colin Gruetzmacher. “It is an upper middle class area where people are working two jobs to afford the mortgage. They don’t have any friendships or relationships because they moved away from them to come down here.  

“Frankly this is a huge challenge. How do you maintain a sense of culture and vision when you have a bunch of new people who don’t know where you’ve been but want to get involved?”  

Golden Sands Baptist Church was planted in 2018. It started off with 150 people then levelled to a core group of 60. Today the church circle is pushing 180. One of their biggest efforts has been trying to create relationships around people. About 20 special interest groups have been formed. Called Connect groups, they meet each term and cover everything from serious Bible study to recreational shooting on a farm. 

Colin says he and the elders have focused on doing the basics well and asking the question, ‘What has sustained the church for 2,000 years?’  

“It’s about engaging and connecting in worship to God, forming them in discipleship, engaging in God’s mission in our neighbourhood, and doing all of that in a covenanted community. So it’s not anything fancy; we’ve just tried focusing on those four things: worship, discipleship, mission and community, and then trying to find creative ways to witness to the gospel in our area.”  

Colin says one of the crazier decisions he made was to walk the church through the book of Revelation for nine months, chapter by chapter, verse by verse.  

“As a new church, how you interpret Scripture is such a huge question for church life. What lens are you going to look at Scripture through? How are you going to interpret it in your modern-day context? And there really isn’t any other book in the Bible that forces a congregation to deal with that question better than Revelation.  

“It has amazing text that confronts our love for empire, for comfort and for just kind of cruising in the systems of this world. It presents this counter-cultural vision of what it means to live in exile and to look for the New Jerusalem, as opposed to living comfortably in ‘Babylon’.  

“In an area that is predominantly upper- and middle-class Pākehā, where their world view is very individualistic, I’ve found Baptist theology and Baptist narrative really helpful in presenting an alternative way of being church,” says Colin. 

He points to spending time as a church community discussing ways in which they could help those struggling during the COVID lockdown, as a creative way of living this out. The discussion resulted in a specific COVID relief fund being set up.  

The church now also has a huge emphasis on building up youth work in the local high school, has run an Alpha course, and is setting up relationship, parenting and grief courses—all birthed from that discussion.  

“We started with the ethos of ‘leaving Babylon’ and now it’s about translating to new people those forms of discipleship that lead toward service and community building, versus a consumeristic mindset towards church.”