Australia’s population is highly mobile. Between 2006 and 2011, 41.7 percent of the population had moved house. While the majority of people moved locally, three million people were new residents to an area.1 People move house for many reasons. It might be for work, study, as a result of changing relationships or financial situation, or simply to find a more suitable place to live.2
Population mobility presents a number of real challenges for churches. As people continually relocate, church populations can become transient, and it may be difficult for a local church to keep track of its membership. It may experience ebbs and flows in attendance rates that are puzzling. This may be so even in areas with relatively stable populations.
To address this, churches might review their current pastoral support structures, and ask how these respond when people relocate or experience lifestyle changes. It is important that churches have up-to-date information on their church members. Even small changes can help, for example, giving people a simple way to update their contact details. On top of this, small groups and other activities encourage church members to forge relationships with people in the church community. These ongoing relationships help to consolidate a church's pastoral care system, enabling the church to respond quickly when a person is moving out of the area.
Population movement means that even members who are heavily involved in church life will leave the local area. This can create a vacuum where these people have held leadership positions, or had received significant input and training for a specific role. Introducing reproducible models for leadership and ministry may be of value. As people move on, it also creates openings for other church members to be trained, developed, and given a new context to grow.
Churches can help those that are moving out of the area to stay connected to a church community. Amidst the pressures of relocating, finding a new church can seem a burden. This can lead some people to decrease their church attendance or leave church life altogether. If a church knows that one of its members is moving, it can get in touch with churches in that person’s new local area, encouraging a smoother transition into a new church.
For churches to grow, they need to attract newcomers. New residents are often looking to integrate into the local community and to make new friends. Churches can host public events, for instance, picnics, film screenings, concerts and children’s programs. These activities demonstrate to new residents that the church is a social hub in the community that is open to everyone. A church can also target letterbox drops to those parts of the local area with more highly mobile populations, informing new residents about the services and programs that the church offers at different times during the week.
In light of Australia’s mobile population, leaders can consider how their church community reflects the neighbourhood, and whether the church is attracting new residents. If there are particular segments of the local population that are underrepresented, a local church might want to focus its attention on these.
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.