Australia

Will the National Church LIfe Survey help us confront the brutal facts?

201112170847.jpg Jim Collins said, the difference between Good and Great is how you confront the brutal facts. You can't confront them if you don't know them.

Every five years the National Church Life Survey (NCLS) conducts a survey into church life and mission in Australia. Previously they have done some great work tracking the effectiveness of church planting.

The latest NCLS findings are due out soon. I'll read them with interest.

Here's my wish list for the NCLS or any research into church life and mission health and progress:

1. Generational growth

Most surveys focus on single local churches. Are they growing or declining? What's the age range of attenders? Who has come to faith?

Mildly interesting stuff.

What would get me on the edge of my seat are some questions like these:

Has this church started a new church in the last twelve months?

Have any of the new churches started new churches?

I'm not concerned if the church has a membership of five for five thousand—I want to know where are the churches with children, grand children and great grandchildren. Show me some four generation churches and I'll be happy.

2. Variations within the same denominations

The NCLS provides figures on the various denominations—Anglican, Baptist, Uniting etc. They tell us something, but not a lot.

Show me the difference in vitality and growth between say the Sydney Anglicans, who are evangelicals, and the Perth Anglicans who are not. Are the Sydney Anglicans multiplying churches or just planting them? Why?

Let's compare the evangelical St Matthew's Anglican church with the rest of the Perth diocese. What's the difference and why?

What about the Baptists in NSW who are evangelical, who have a strategy to plant churches, and have committed good leaders to pursue it? Let's compare their progress with say, the Baptists in Victoria, my home state.

A few years ago the BUV had just two churches that had planted churches in the previous five years, Crossway, my home church and Lilydale Baptist, which has fallen on hard times.

These variations have more to do with orthodoxy of belief and effectiveness of practice rather than geography.

3. The ratio that counts

I'd like to know what the ratio of churches is to the growing Australian population.

In 1991, using NCLS figures, I estimated it was one church to very 1561 people. In 2001 it was one to every 1800 people. I've not been able to get the figures from the NCLS for 2006, I suspect was around one to 2000 people. Where are we now?

Church leaders in Australia are flying blind on one of the most important indicators of progress in our mission.

4. The Pentecostals

Since 1977 the Australian Christian Churches have been one of the fastest growing movements in the land.

Two years ago I suggested the rate of ACC growth may be slowing. The ACC has been moving to a model of consolidation around successful multisite churches, rather than continuing an aggressive church planting strategy.

I'd like to be wrong, but since my prediction ACC figures have become hard to come by. That normally points to a plateau or decline.

5. The emerging-missional communities

For years we've had the critique. We've had the claims that, while the existing church can only reach 9% of the population in Australia, the emerging-missional communities are going after the 91%.

So how are they doing? Are they seeing new disciples, new groups forming, new churches started of any shape or form? Are they multiplying disciples and communities? Or are they lost in a missional fog? Show me the people.

6. The exceptions

Will the survey show us the unexpected outcomes—good or bad? What churches and denominations are collapsing?

I don't think the Uniting Church counts it's people any more. I don't think it wants to face just how bad things are.

What churches or movements are seeing unexpected progress. What new groups are out connecting with people, sharing the gospel, making disciples, and multiplying communities of Jesus' followers?

Perhaps I expect too much from the NCLS and participating churches. Then again, how carefully do you track your money? Do you know your financial status? Do you have a budget? Do warning bells ring and red lights flash when you're dangerously close of bankruptcy? So, if it's important to track financial key indicators, why not key indicators for the progress of the gospel?

World without limits

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It's only a matter of time before Australia embraces same sex marriage, with the support and advocacy of progressive Australian clergy.

So what's next? We all know it won't stop at same-sex unions.

So who's up for group marriage?

For weeks, Sydneysiders and Melburnians who believe menages-a-trois and other polyamorous relationships can be just as committed, loving and valid as marriage between a man and a woman, slaved away together to earn their place in the sun. They drew up plans, sawed wood, hammered nails.

Finally, in early March, it was ready: the first float celebrating polyamory to join the colourful flotilla in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

Here's some background to the movement for "poly pride." They even have their own "community."

The polyamorous community in Australia is a broad church, with the slogan of its very active website being "ethical non-monogamy".

It is increasingly prominent, with organised groups in most capital cities that hold regular discussion sessions and social nights.

Polyamorists generally distinguish themselves from the monogamous gay community, and from those seeking kinky casual sex. Some also see themselves as different from heterosexual polygamists where the "hinge" member has sexual relations with the two of the opposite sex, but the two of the same sex do not have sex with each other.

Rather they may form, in polyamorist lingo, a "polyfidelist triad" in which there is an equilateral triangle of sexual activity.

Group marriage is not without it's trials and tribulations.

A recent Australian legal case involved a man whose wife had left him for another man and a woman, and taken the children. When the trio set up house together, mingled their respective offspring, and shared the same bedroom, the jilted husband applied to the court seeking an urgent order that the children be removed from the "immoral" household.

But magistrate Philip Burchardt rejected the application, saying the threesome seemed to be "thoroughly decent and honest people" and "I do not regard the relationship . . . as being damaging to the children."

What's next after group marriage?

Melbourne-born Peter Singer is a world-renown ethicist, philosopher, and professor at Princeton University. In 2005 he was one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the world.

What does this great man advocate?

Singer argues that "mutually satisfying activities" of a sexual nature can occur between humans and animals.

I have a question for those progressive clergy and theologians who have rejected the plain teaching of Jesus. You have rejected the prophets, and apostles. You have rejected 2,000 years of church teaching.

How will you stand against the very forces you have allowed to be unleashed?

UPDATE: Three weeks ago Sydney’s City Hub reported on the establishment of the Polyamory Action Lobby, or PAL…

51% empty or 49% full?

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Researchers asked 1094 Australians who do not regard themselves as Christians:

How open are you to changing your religious worldview?

A majority of 51% are not open at all.

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So you can agonize over how to change the 51% who are resistant, or you can change your perspective and ask,

How do we connect with the 49% who are at least partially open?

An even better question is,

How do we connect with the 17% who are extremely, significantly or somewhat open?

Are we washing our hands of the 51%? No way. We're just following the example of Jesus and the early church by looking for receptive people who become the bridges to reaching less responsive people in their world.

What is the most compelling reason for someone in the 51% coming to Christ? The witness of a friend or family member from the 49% who has been recently converted.

Ask my dad, he was a 51 percenter.

The faith and unbelief of Australians

A clip from the launch of the report into what Australians think about Christianity.

Peter Jensen has some good insights:

"The situation now is not as bad as it was in the first century!"

"I'm very much a believer in the strength of the gospel, the transforming power of the gospel and the God who is the great Evangelist. So I'm not at all discouraged by these figures, but I am in formed by them and helped by them as I think of how to translate the faith in a way that will be heard."

What (1,094) Australians think about Christianity

Australian_Communities_Report_2011.jpg Olive Tree Media have released a report on what Australians really think of Christian faith, Christians and the Church. No surprises. 1in 2 Australians do not identify with a religion 40% Consider themselves as Christian, identifying as Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant or Evangelical 31% Do not identify with any religion or spiritual belief 19% Spiritual, not religious

Australian population growing at double the world average

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Australia's population is growing at double the world average.

Underpinned by an economy that weathered the global financial crisis, Australia grew by 451,900 people in the year to last September, taking it beyond the 22 million mark, Australian Bureau of Statistics figures reveal.

That is an increase of 451,900 people during the year, keeping the growth rate high at 2.1 per cent — almost twice the world average of 1.1 per cent, and higher than China, the US, Canada, Indonesia and most other nations.

The majority of the growth, 66 per cent, was due to overseas migration, with the remainder, 34 per cent, due to there being more births than deaths.

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Just to keep up with this population growth Australia needs 451 churches (of any shape and size) every year. One church for every one thousand new Australians.

Instead we're closing churches at an alarming rate.

To turn our decline around, we need 10,000 new churches today to lift the current ratio of one church to 2,000 people, to one church to 1,000 people.

If we keep doing what we have been doing, will we catch up?