NCLS Research

Media Release: Church attenders increasingly open to new approaches

The majority of Anglican and Protestant attenders see a need for new ways of doing church and think established patterns of church are not sufficient to connect with the wider Australian community.

Australian church attenders also appear to have increasing openness to new possibilities, with more congregations in all denominations ready to try something different.

NCLS Research yesterday released further results of its analysis of the attitudes and actions of church attenders to church innovation

In its June 2010 newsletter it reports that more than seven out of ten (72%) attenders agreed or strongly agreed that “we need to develop new ways of doing church to reach non-church goers”.

A targeted survey of Anglican and Protestant attenders within the 2006 National Church Life Survey found that half (50%) agreed or strongly agreed that their non-church going friends viewed the Church as irrelevant.

It also identified a degree of personal ambivalence: 37% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “While I remain a committed person of faith, I feel disgruntled with the established Church”. Most were neutral or unsure (49%), while only 15% disagreed.

There was widespread agreement that traditional established models of church life must change to better connect with the wider Australian community (66% strongly agreed or agree, only 11% disagreed).

The NCLS Research report shows that the majority of church attenders not only understand the need to innovate, but claim to be motivated to support initiatives.

A longitudinal study showed a significant decline in the perceived degree of mistrust of initiatives in the 15 years between 1991 and 2006. Further, between 2001 and 2006, every major denomination recorded an increase in the proportion who agreed that their congregation was always ready to try something new.

Given widespread indicators of social change that have affected religious vitality — a decline in Christian religious affiliation, a decline in church attendance, the absence of younger generations in many mainstream denominations — NCLS reports have identified the need for revitalisation and innovation in church life.

NCLS Research Director Dr Ruth Powell said, “Over the next few decades, many churches will face the loss of a sector of committed and loyal attenders who carry knowledge and experience. The implications are far-reaching and churches will need to prepare for a shift in constituency.

“While the Christian message remains unchanged, an openness to change and a spirit of innovation are part of what is needed to reverse these trends.”

Imaginative and flexible innovation is one of the nine Core Qualities of vital churches identified by NCLS Research: healthy and effective churches are open and willing to try new things.

“Research shows that churches where attenders said that there was a willingness to try new things also tend to have higher levels of both belonging and growth in faith,” Dr Powell said.

Openness to change also is closely accompanied by a perception that the church is strongly focused on serving the wider community. “This probably reflects what many churches have found to be a driving force for change: the need to adapt to and connect with the wider community.”

Innovation is not simply limited to existing churches. A range of new forms of church have developed alongside more conventional forms. When asked how familiar they were with concepts such as “the emerging church” or “emerging missional church” or “fresh expressions of church”, some 8% were very familiar, 24% were somewhat familiar, 40% were not very familiar and 28% were not familiar at all.

Dr Powell said following trends in openness to innovation, measuring attitudes and gathering stories, would be a key agenda of the 2011 National Church Life Survey.

For more information, contact Dr Ruth Powell, 02 8267 4394.

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