Employment patterns in Australia are changing. Some of these changes can impact local churches.
In the last few decades, the healthcare, service and retail sectors have grown to become Australia’s major hiring industries. The healthcare and social assistance sector alone employs 1.4 million people.1 These jobs often require non-standard working hours, including evenings and weekends. As a result, many of the people employed in these fields may not be able to commit to a regular Sunday morning church service. Local churches might consider offering alternative service times, for instance on Sunday evenings or during the week.
More women are participating in the workforce today than previously. Thirty-five years ago, just under 40 percent of women aged 15 years and over were employed in Australia, compared to three quarters of men. Today, more than half of women are employed, alongside two thirds of men.2 This trend is echoed in the proportion of mothers who are working. In 1991, 55 percent of mothers were employed, which has increased to 65 percent by 2011.3 Churches that have previously depended on midweek volunteers might need to find alternative contexts for people to be involved, particularly as fewer women are available to volunteer than in generations past. This includes mothers of young children who are now entering employment in greater numbers.
Many people work long hours. For example, 18% of employees reported in 2010 that they usually worked at least 50 hours a week.4 Although women are more commonly in part-time employment than men, women are three times more likely than men to carry out 15 hours or more of unpaid domestic work each week (11% of men versus 33% of women).5 These commitments create added pressures. People are spending more of their waking lives at work, so it is more important than ever that churches find ways to support working people in their community.
The church has long provided a context for belonging, identity and common purpose. Churches might consider the ways in which they can continue to foster a sense of collective identity and belonging for working people. This includes presenting a Christian understanding of the value and purpose of work, particularly for those who are not involved directly in ministry. Initiatives like these help people to see the relevance of their personal faith and how it relates to work.
Churches are hubs of social capital that encourage people to bond and bridge relationships with others in the community. As every job has its own challenges and opportunities, churches can be places for people to make contact with other Christians working in similar areas. A local church can further support these networks with socials, talks and meetings that are tailored for people in various industries.
Churches that understand how employment patterns are changing in their own communities can be front-footed in responding to them. In doing so, local churches can demonstrate the value of people’s work and its connection to their faith, while also attending to the practical needs of working people.
NCLS Research has recently released a new profile of local communities as part of their 2014 Community Connections resources for local churches. Based on national census information, the profiles are uniquely tailored to each individual church within Australia and contain valuable information that can help churches understand their communities and respond to current trends.
See more about NCLS Community Connections Packs)
See Comparing Church and Community: A demographic profile.
NCLS Occasional Paper 19.