1 The Australian Church is Being Transformed: 20 years of research reveals changing trends in Australian church life Dr Ruth Powell Director, NCLS Research Australia May 2015, Malaysia Powell, R. (2015). The Australian Church is Being Transformed: Seminar at Lausanne International Researchers' Network, Malaysia, May NCLS Research Report. NCLS Research: Sydney.
2 Overview Part 1: Overview of context and history Australian context NCLS origins and missional framework Part 2: The NCLS methodology A quantitative survey with outcomes for all participants I.e. resources provided for local and denominational churches Part 3: NCLS Research agenda Academic and church audiences Types of research projects: NCLS, joint, commissioned projects Examples of research themes Model for church vitality Discussion
3 Part 1: An overview of history and context
4 Snapshot of Australia A big country A small population who live on the coastlines -23 million Projected to double in size in next 50 years
5 Changes in Australian religious landscape In the last few decades there has been a decline in: Religious affiliation (yet 61% identify as Christian in census) Religious beliefs (yet 69% still believe in God) Figure: Religious affiliation of Australians:1901 to % 90% 80% 70% 60% 50% 40% Not Stated* No Religion Other Religions Christian Religious practice (15% of Australians go to church at least monthly. 30% 20% 10% 0% Source: National Census of Population and Housing, Australian Bureau of Statistics. NB: 2014 NCLS
6 Percentage of Australian population Changes in Australian local churches Signs of both challenge and opportunity: - Growing disengagement with religion - Numbers in church attendance declining - Younger generations missing Figure: Frequent (monthly) church attendance in Australia: 1950 to Year Yet, also growth among Pentecostal movements A widespread desire to plant new churches
7 Changes in Australian local churches Pentecostalism is now mainstream They are the second largest group of attenders after Catholics Uniting/Pres byterian 10% Baptist/ Church of Christ 9% Anglican 11% Other Protestant 12% Pentecostal 12% Catholic 46% NB. It is expected that Pentecostal attenders now make up an even larger proportion of all church attenders. Updating estimates of church attendance is in progress. Source: 2001 National Church Life Survey estimates of attendance NCLS Research
8 Changes in perspective Churches recognise that their mission context had changed. New understandings emerging. e.g. - mission had come home, in our own backyard - Overseas mission seen more in term of partnership - Missio Dei It is God s mission and God s Spirit is active - The congregation is a key for mission
9 Built on a history of collaboration Australian churches decided to invest in mission research They decided they could do more together than separately. Sponsors Uniting Mission & Education, Uniting Church NSW/ACT Anglicare Sydney Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Australian Catholic University More than 22 denominations and movements including: Anglican Apostolic Australian Christian Churches (AOG) Baptist Brethren Catholic Christian Missionary Alliance C3 Churches (Christian City Church) COC Australia Congregational CRC Churches International Church of the Nazarene Churches of Christ Four Square Gospel Lutheran International Pentecostal Holiness Movement Presbyterian Christian Reformed Churches Salvation Army Seventh-day Adventist Uniting Church Vineyard Fellowship Worldwide Church of God and Independent congregations, House churches and other Christian communities.
10 What partners want Churches want information about The changing national social context The local context for mission The health and vitality of their denominations (with comparisons to others where possible) The health of their local churches The effectiveness and wellbeing of their local church leaders Churches want resources to help local churches to build their capacity in mission Universities want a credible research basis in order to conduct a wide range of studies of individuals, congregations and denominations
11 Sample publications
12 Goals of NCLS Research In summary, NCLS Research emerged out of Australian churches response to a changing context. 20+ years on, the key goals remain the same: 1. To conduct research on community spirituality and wellbeing and the place of the church 2. To resource the local churches to participate in God s mission
13 International Church Life Surveys The Australian model has been replicated in other countries Australia (NCLS) 1991, 1996, 2001, 2006, 2011 South Africa (DRC) 2006, 2010, 2014 Netherlands (pilot) ? New Zealand (CLS-NZ) 1997, 2001 and 2008 USA (US-CLS) 2001, ? England (CLS-UK) 2001
14 Part 2: About National Church Life Surveys
15 National Church Life Surveys Goal: To identify signs of hope for the Church in Australia and to present research and analysis so as to nurture life in both the leadership and the congregations across Australia. Nation-wide ecumenical venture: 23 denominations The largest nationwide survey after the ABS National Census Five waves: 1991, 1996, 2001, 2006 and Happens every five years at the same time as the National Census Over 4500 local churches and around individuals from 23 denominations took part in 2011 In eight languages: English, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Tongan, Italian, Arabic and Dinka (Sudanese)
16 Types of Surveys in a National Church Life Survey Each church completed three main types of paper surveys: Attender Surveys: These surveys contained questions about adult attenders characteristics and their views about their church. In 2001 and 2011, there was also a Child Attender Survey for younger attenders aged under 15 years. Operations Survey: This survey was completed by a congregational leader and was designed to collect factual information about each church s life and activities. Leaders Survey: These surveys were available for all leaders, clergy and lay. They contained questions about personal background, job role, attitudes and more.
17 How does a Church Life Survey work?
18 Diverse participants receive output Goal of NCLS: To link research outcomes with planning resources Framework of church vitality developed - 12 measures of health Tailored reports called Church Life Profiles: identify greatest strengths, show change over time, compare to other groups. Plus resources to help churches plan After 2011 NCLS: Reports were sent to local churches, 90+ church regions, 20+ denominations
19 Other key resources: To understand context Project: To resource all local churches with information about their local community Aim: to help a church in its mission and ministry to the local area 2014 NCLS Research
20 NCLS Research Agenda (a few examples) Possible studies can be studies of individuals, studies of organisations or longitudinal studies. Below are areas of interest for NCLS Research. Who goes to church Demographics eg age, education, ethnicity Psychological type, Psychological wellbeing, leadership strengths, character traits/strengths Church vitality innovation in church life multicultural issues in church life Effective leadership What are the characteristics of effective leaders? Sustainable leadership How do leaders thrive, not just survive?
21 NCLS model of church health and vitality
22 NCLS Models of Church Vitality Christians understand themselves to be called into a relationship with God, with others in the church and with the wider community.
23 NCLS Nine Core Qualities of Church Life Church Life Surveys include many measures for each of 9 Core Quality dimensions, plus attendance measures Internal Core Qualities The inner life of the community of faith Inspirational Core Qualities Relate to leadership and direction Outward Core Qualities How churches focus beyond themselves
24 Relationship with God 84% of church attenders say God is an important reality in their lives The most important reality 54% More important than almost anything else 30%
25 % Attender beliefs about Jesus: 2001 to 2011 % % Attenders strength of belief has softened over time. Ie. Less likely to strongly agree Do you agree or disagree with the following statements? Jesus Christ was both fully God Jesus was born of a virgin and fully human Jesus resurrection from the dead was an actual historical event Strongly agree Agree Neutral or unsure Disagree Strongly agree Agree Neutral or unsure Disagree Strongly disagree Strongly agree Agree Neutral or unsure Disagree Strongly disagree
26 VITAL FAITH COMMUNITIES Alive and Growing Faith In vital faith communities people say they have been helped to grow in their own faith In the previous year 45% of attenders experienced much growth in faith and 41% some growth The role of local churches increased from 2001 to 2011
27 Relationship with each other
28 Inflows to churches Signs of greater mobility and integration between churches. A third of all attenders have joined their current church in the past 5 years 10% changed denominations (switcher). A Protestant pattern: 17% switched
29 VITAL FAITH COMMUNITIES Vital and Nurturing Worship In vital faith communities people describe the worship as vital and nurturing In vital faith communities people have a sense of belonging
30 Relationships in the wider community
31 About local church activities Ninety five percent of churches provide social services to the wider community. Emergency relief/material assistance (e. g. food, clothes for the needy) is most common. Two thirds offer some form of social, recreation or leisure activities. Nearly all local churches are involved in community events, such as community fairs. Some 86% of churches allow their property to be used by groups in the wider community Most churches have a specific commitment to people in developing countries Two thirds of churches recycle, and a third purchase environmentally friendly consumables Six out of ten churches provide Sunday Schools and half provide youth groups Most churches (75%) have major physical facilities for people with disabilities.
32 Vital faith communities focus beyond themselves in word and deed Action as individuals: 48% of attenders are volunteers (vs 38% of Australians) Action as churches: Church-based service/action has increased (19% in 2001 to 25% in 2011). Word: Attenders are more at ease talking about faith to others (65% in 2001 to 69% in 2011) but it does not translate to inviting to church.
33 Attitudes of attenders re Christianity and public policy An integration of private and public 80% of attenders (and 87% of leaders) agreed that Christians should work to create a more just society. There was strong support from church attenders that Christians should be involved in public policy issues with: 80% support for Christian public comment and 75% support for Christian advocacy. 81% believed that Christians have a responsibility to be active about environmental issues.
34 VITAL FAITH COMMUNITIES Clear and owned vision Vital faith communities have a clear and owned vision Vital faith communities are innovative open to new possibilities
35 Core Qualities: a way to measure health An Alive and Growing Faith Your faith commitment? Relationship with God? Private devotional practices? Growth in faith? Vital and Nurturing Worship Services bring to you an experience of God? Growth in relationship with God? Helpful preaching? Strong and Growing Belonging Your sense of belonging in this church? Levels of friendliness? Levels of conflict? Your level of participation in the life of this church? Clear and Owned Vision A vision that is shared? Goals that are real and achievable? Leadership looking to the future? Inspiring and Empowering Leadership Leadership inspiring and empowering? Leadership communicates clearly? Leadership focuses on the wider community? Imaginative and Flexible Innovation Leadership encourages innovation? Congregation open to try new things? Openness to different worship style? Practical and Diverse Service Involved in the church s welfare programs? Involved in community service organisations? Helping others informally? Willing and Effective Faith-sharing Involved in the church s evangelistic programs? Share faith with others? Invite others to church? Discuss faith matters at home? Intentional and Welcoming Inclusion How are new arrivals welcomed? How are those drifting away followed-up? CHURCH HEALTH
36 Core Qualities: a way to measure health Each Core Quality is valuable in its own right We suggest that most church leaders would agree that an increase in any of the Core Qualities would be a desirable outcome. Does my church help people grow in their faith? Does it foster a strong sense of community? Even if a church community feels that it knows itself well, these simple indicators touch on issues that are not often directly addressed in the regular flow of church life. Strong Core Qualities are related to outcomes, such as church growth, newcomers or retaining youth Core Qualities are related to each other
37 Influence of Theological Tradition on Church Health Theological tradition does indeed play a role in the outcomes of church vitality. However the Core Qualities play a role in church vitality over and above such influences. Churches can benefit from the influences of Core Qualities regardless of their background, denomination or tradition.
38 The impact of context Local community context does have an impact on church growth and decline, but the internal life of the church still makes a difference.
39 1991 to 2016: 25 years of research partnership with more than 20 denominations and movements
40 Discussion and Questions
41 Dr Ruth Powell NCLS Research ncls.org.au Citation: Powell, R. (2015). The Australian Church is Being Transformed: Seminar at Lausanne International Researchers' Network, Malaysia, May NCLS Research Report. NCLS Research: Sydney.
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