Congregational Life

The City is my Parish? : Understanding the Hillsong Model

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

Among Pentecostal churches, Hillsong is the most widely known in Australia and internationally. The weekly attendance at its Sydney services alone is more than 20,000, making it the largest megachurch in Australia. There are some parallels in the Hillsong development to the growth of Methodism in the 18th century, and the Salvation Army in the late 19th century. Hillsong has remained highly focussed on having one or a few centres for worship in each major city rather than having many centres throughout suburban, regional and rural areas.

What do people think of now when they hear the word Hillsong? Probably, most people think of music. The Hillsong name was formally chosen in 1999 to reflect this way of branding the movement. Hillsong titles are used in churches throughout Australia and the world. The services allow for a variety of reflection, from full-on rock style, to general contemporary and also opportunity for milder and quieter reflection. Music has been the key to Hillsong’s development with the congregational music of Hillsong Live and the Hillsong United band.

Church members are encouraged to be volunteers, and do so enthusiastically, especially in relation to the services at the two main campuses in Sydney. Volunteers are encouraged to help at one service and attend another for worship. Volunteers also help with the range of Hillsong social and community services and events and ministries.

Church news at services and the use of video and music in all areas of the life of the church highlight the contemporary nature and their multimedia focus. Hillsong has its own television channel. Websites and music are all linked so they can draw and build on each facet of the organisation. They reflect the convergence of technology that is moving rapidly now where the TV will be the web, and iTunes and apps will be accessible in all ways. Live streaming was begun for selected Hillsong Conference material this year. Hillsong has a well-developed programme for children and youth, with different groups ensuring good age-appropriate learning and activities. It is also clear that Hillsong provides good facilities for families in terms of bathroom amenities and access arrangements. All the family can be at a service time, though in different parts of the facility, coming together to perhaps have meals or times with other families afterwards.

It appears to me that Hillsong has been taking more moderate Protestant theological positions than in the past, positions that would be acceptable to people from different denominations. They have been trying to make their presentation of faith understandable to those with little or no church contact or understanding of ecstatic gifts. The main campuses now hold special services and times for healing during the year. In ordinary services, people are invited to fill in cards for special prayer and healing before-hand and the cards are ‘offered to God’.

It will remain to be seen whether Hillsong Church will witness significant growth in future years. One form of growth may be as a broad umbrella-type organisation providing resources to and networking a wide range of larger and smaller churches in Australia.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 22, No. 3, Pages 12-16

The Church and Family Life in Australia

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

The following paper was delivered by Stephen Reid at the 6th International Lausanne Researchers Conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in April 2011. Whilst the paper looked at family life in the Australian context, comparisons to other countries was possible through analysis of data from the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) and the World Values Surveys (WVS).

Australia has seen significant changes in family life over the last few decades. The composition of family households is changing steadily, as are many of the issues facing families. In Australia in 2006, family households made up 71.7 per cent of the 7.1 million households, down from 73 per cent ten years earlier. As the following table shows, the proportion of households comprising of couples with children continued to decline from 36.6 per cent in 1996, to 34.3 per cent in 2001, and then down to 32.8 per cent in 2006. By contrast, lone person households rose from 22.8 per cent to 24.4 per cent during that same period.

In Australia, while church attenders generally have more conservative attitudes on certain issues than those who don’t attend, church attenders vary considerably in their attitudes. There can also be huge differences in the attitudes of people within denominations, particularly the larger denominations, such as Catholic or Anglican. In society, the ideals of family life, marriage and relationships, and the reality of life can be quite different. There are some indicators showing that the basic structures of community life in Australia are not always functioning well.

Another indicator that the basic units of social life are often not experienced as satisfactory is the issue of loneliness. For many people, living alone is a lifestyle choice. But for many others living by themselves means loneliness. Many people who live alone would prefer to spend less time alone. In a 2006 time use survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 37 per cent of 25-44 year olds living alone said they would prefer less time by themselves. For those aged 65 or older living alone, one-quarter said they would prefer less time alone.

Certainly the church has made a significant contribution to family life in a number of ways, including:

  • family-friendly focus of events and worship,
  • children-oriented ministries,
  • marriage seen as a sacrament, binding for life,
  • lower rates of divorce among attenders,
  • provision of rites of passages

While churches may have contributed to lower rates of divorce, there has been a cost. People who are separated or divorced often feel their situation is not acceptable to a church and it is common for people to cease attending church at the time of separation.

In the past parents have looked towards the church in assisting them to instil values and beliefs in their children. Perhaps more than ever the church has an important role in promoting values. The competing demands placed upon families today are very different from what they were just a few decades ago. Social networking, global mass media, work/family balance, and technology have all contributed to the changing face of what is family. Change will continue. Families come in all shapes and sizes – even within the church.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 21, No. 2, Pages 9-11

Youth Ministry

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

A recent book from the USA, Almost Christian: What the Faith of our Teenagers is Telling the American Church, is built on the observation most American young people who are engaged in religion are ‘luke-warm’ about it. They see God as wanting people to be good, nice and fair to each other, but God is not involved in their lives, except to help them serve problems. The author, Kenda Dean, argues that young people are reflecting the attitudes in their families and in their churches. She suggests that young people are not articulate and passionate about the Christian faith because they have not heard a high level of articulation or experienced a high level of passion in their homes or in their churches.

However, Dean does not take into account the research which indicates that young people do not simply copy what they hear and see. They develop it in their own way, to meet their needs and to fit into the picture they have of what life is all about – a picture which is described in the ‘midi-narrative’ of young people. Dean’s suggestions for youth ministry should be taken seriously. Certainly, the faith of parents and church can have a significant impact. It is important to ask if young people have opportunities to express faith, not just verbally but through engagement in projects and mission? Are there opportunities for learning and deepening their sense of what the Christian life is about? Are they engaged to contemplate the deep questions of life? One of the key questions for youth ministry is the extent to which we help young people to find answers … and the extent we focus on those processes which encourage the asking of questions.

For a full review of Kenda Dean’s book, Almost Christian, see: https://www.cra.org.au/products-page/pointers/pointers-vol-23-1-for-downloading/

Church Attendance Among Australian Teenagers

Monday, March 4th, 2013

Getting accurate information about the church attendance patterns of Australian teenagers is very difficult. We do know that, if both parents attend church, 52 per cent of their teenage children attended. If just the mother attends, 20 per cent of the teenage children attended, and 6 per cent attend if just the father attends. However, about 22 per cent of young people who go to church schools attend even though neither parent attends.

National surveys indicate that about 15 per cent of all parents attend a church monthly or more often. Our estimation that around 10 per cent of all Australian young people in secondary school attend. However, better information is needed to confirm this figure.

For a discussion of the problems in getting accurate information, see Pointers Vol.23, no.1. To purchase the downloadable edition, go to: https://www.cra.org.au/products-page/pointers/pointers-vol-23-1-for-downloading/

Australia And Canada Compared

Monday, March 4th, 2013

Both Canada and Australia are major destinations for people wanting to migrate. The top three countries from which migrants are entering Canada are China, India and the Philippines. These are also major sources of immigrants to Australia – although Australia adds the United Kingdom and New Zealand to that list. As in Australia, the migrants to Canada are having a large impact on the Christian churches there.

As in Australia, Canadian churches are also finding it difficult to connect with younger people. The Canadian research, Reginald Bibby, notes that therehave been significant changes in attitudes to religion over recent years. He argues that the response to this must be ‘better ministry’: addressing spiritual, personal and relational interests and needs.  He believes that ‘better ministry’ may well be able to touch the many people who are in ‘the ambivalent middle’: who identify with a Christian denomination but who are not active.

For more details on the comparisons and Bibby’s summary of the implications, see Pointers Vol.23, no.1 (March 2013). Click here to purchase the version for downloading:  https://www.cra.org.au/products-page/pointers/pointers-vol-23-1-for-downloading/

Missing Christians

Monday, March 4th, 2013
According to the Censuses, the number of Australians identifying with a Christian denomination increased from 12.76 million to 13.15 million between 2001 and 2011. Over that period, 766,758 migrants had arrived in Australia who identified with a Christian denomination in that same decade. With these migrants, there should be at least 13.5 million Christians in Australia instead of 13.15 million.
Indeed, we can go further that that. The Census also tells us that 1,390,104 children were born over the decade from 2001 and 2011 who were identified with a Christian denomination in the 2011 Census. Adding the children born and the migrants to the 2001 Christian population gives us almost 15 million people – 1.8 million more than the 13.15 million the Census counted in 2011.
We estimate that, of the 1.8 million people ‘missing’, it is likely that close to 1 million have died. We also estimate that at least 200,000 were overseas at the time of the Census – either having emigrated out of Australia, or on holiday. However, there remain between 500,000 and 600,000 people missing. Further analysis shows that most of these people were aged between 10 and 34.
We estimate that 525,000 people who identified with a Christian denomination in 2001 ticked the ‘no religion’ box on the Census in 2011. The growth in the number of Christians in Australia is occurring largely because of migration. It is masking the significant outflow of Australians to ‘no religion’.
For the details of this analysis, see Pointers Vol.23, no.1 (March 2013).

Religion Around Australia

Thursday, September 6th, 2012
The population of Australia increased at a faster rate between 2006 and 2011 than in the previous five years: by 8.3 per cent compared with 5.8 per cent. However, the growth in population varied significantly from one part of Australia to another. This variation in growth has had a significant impact on the religious change in each State.

the population of Australia increased at a faster rate between 2006 and 2011 than in the previous five years: by 8.3 per cent compared with 5.8 per cent. However, the growth in population varied significantly from one part of Australia to another. This variation in growth has had a significant impact on the religious change in each State. Here are some details of the two fastest growing States: Western Australia and Queensland.

Western Australia

The population of Western Australia grew by 14.7 per cent between 2006 and 2011.  Because of the overall growth in population, the number of Christians also grew in Western Australia more rapidly than in any other part of the country, with a growth of 12 per cent. Among the fastest growing groups were:

  • 37% among Pentecostals,
  • 28% among Baptists,
  • 27% among Seventh-day Adventists.
The Catholics, Anglicans and Lutherans also grew faster in Western Australia than in any other State:
  • 14% growth in Catholics,
  • 11% growth in Lutherans,
  • 9% growth in Eastern Orthodox
  • 5% growth in Anglicans.
Other religions also grew rapidly, especially Hinduism which grew by 158 per cent.
Queensland
Queensland saw the second highest growth in population with an increase of 11 per cent in the five years from 2006 to 2011.
Queensland has long had higher proportions of people identifying with Christian denominations than have the other States. In particular, larger proportions of Baptists, Pentecostals and Seventh-day Adventists live in Queensland than in any other State. However, growth rates were not as high in these denominations as in Western Australia. Between 2006 and 2011, Pentecostals, for example, grew by only 7 per cent. Baptists and Seventh-day Adventists grew by 17 per cent, Catholics by 10 per cent and Anglicans by 2 per cent.
For more details of the variation around the States, see https://www.cra.org.au/products-page/pointers/pointers-vol-22-3-for-downloading/

The City Is My Parish: Understanding The Hillsong Model

Sunday, September 2nd, 2012
Among Pentecostal churches, Hillsong* is the most widely known in Australia and internationally. The weekly attendance at its Sydney services alone is more than 20,000, making it the largest mega-church in Australia.
There are some parallels in the Hillsong development to the growth of Methodism in the 18th century, and the Salvation Army in the late 19th century. The parents of the senior pastor, Brian Houston, were, in fact, Salvation Army officers in New Zealand. Hillsong has inherited some of its patterns of leadership and organisational discipline. Also, like these former movements, Hillsong focuses on city areas, works on establishing and developing groups and networks, and uses contemporary means of communication in that process.

Among Pentecostal churches, Hillsong* is the most widely known in Australia and internationally. The weekly attendance at its Sydney services alone is more than 20,000, making it the largest mega-church in Australia. There are some parallels in the Hillsong development to the growth of Methodism in the 18th century, and the Salvation Army in the late 19th century. The parents of the senior pastor, Brian Houston, were, in fact, Salvation Army officers in New Zealand. Hillsong has inherited some of its patterns of leadership and organisational discipline. Also, like these former movements, Hillsong focuses on city areas, works on establishing and developing groups and networks, and uses contemporary means of communication in that process.

Hillsong has moved from a Sydney focus to a world focus. The world is clearly noted in Hillsong’s Vision Statement:

“To reach and influence the world by building a large Christ-centred, Bible-based church, changing mindsets and empowering people to lead and impact in every sphere of life.”

It is doing this through its music, entrepreneurial leadership, volunteer base, extensive use of technology, extension services and groups, social justice focus and broadening theology.

It is also seeking to realise its vision through the Hillsong Conference through which it is connecting with a multitude of local churches of many denominations. Once church members looked to their denomination for support and resources. Now they consider inter-denominational connections and, in particular, the mega-church for large inspirational events.  The growth in independent churches and churches linked to umbrella groups also feeds into the need to connect with something larger than one’s own sphere, and Hillsong Conference and various networks are building on that development.

While the growth in numbers in Pentecostal churches has slowed to a little less than the population growth rate across Australia, it remains to be seen whether Hillsong will see significant growth in future years. One form of growth may be as a broad umbrella-type organisation providing resources to and networking a wide range of larger and smaller churches in Australia.
For further analysis of the ‘Hillsong Model’, see Pointers vol.22-3.
Peter Bentley

Effective Youth Ministry

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

Over the last decade or more, a project entitled ‘Exemplary Youth Ministry’ has been in progress in the United States. Results from the study were published in 2010 in The Spirit and Culture of Youth Ministry: Leading Congregations toward Exemplary Youth Ministry.

The study involved surveys in 131 churches and three-day visits to 21 churches across 7 denominations.

The researchers found 4 characteristics in those churches which were outstanding in the vitality of the faith of their young people.

1. Youth ministry was thoroughly integrated into the life of the church as a whole. One of the signs of this was the existence of strong relationships between people of different generations. These churches were good at involving people of all age groups in the worship and other activities of the church.

2. Youth ministry was characterised by the formation of a caring environment and authentic relationships in which young people felt they were respected and in which they developed a sense of belonging. The programs were well-planned and creatively employed a variety of activities appropriate to the ministry’s mission and content.

3. These exemplary churches provided strong support for the practice of faith within families. The researchers found that young people with a vital faith mostly lived in families where there was a high degree of family harmony, expressed in the interest parents showed in their children and in the fact that the families did things together.

4. The leaders of the local church were good role models, reflecting their faith in the ways they lived. They related well to young people and provided strong support for the youth ministry.

The CRA is interested in conducting a similar study in Australia to explore further what makes effective youth ministry here.

For further details of this study see: https://www.cra.org.au/products-page/pointers/pointers-vol-22-2-for-downloading/.

The Spirituality Of The Church

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

Shaping the Spirituality of the Church

Day 4 of the Roundtable on ‘Shaping Australia’s Spirituality’ focussed on the spirituality of the Church. It was chaired by Pastor Rob Steed.

Rev Dr Philip Hughes began with the fact that there had been a significant decline in attendance in churches over the last generation with just 15 per cent of Australians now attending a church within a given month. The churches of list engagement with:

  • 90% of younger people;
  • 90% of business people;
  • 90% of people who work more with their hands than with their minds; and
  • 90% of second generation immigrants.

The problem is not largely the rejection of faith, but:

  • cultural expressions within the church reflecting the 19th century;
  • lack of affirmation of the workplace and business values;
  • high demands for literacy in expression;
  • strong connections with ethnic cultures;
  • not holistic in relation to life; and
  • often seen as irrelevant to life and society.

Churches are build around organisations and require much effort in maintenance. They are often build on local communities which are largely irrelevant, and their activities centre on the repetition of tradition rather than addressing contemporary life and society. They are often more focussed on self-maintenance and mutual support than changing the community, society and the world.

The new forms of God’s activity include the faithfulness, goodwill and sacrificial service of many people. Much happens in small and informal groups of people. There needs to be a change from organisation to movement. This will involve the formation of task groups rather than organisations, and the development of networks rather than formal associations.

Churches need to focus on relationships rather than structures, about living in families in our fragmented communities, in the pluralistic, globalised society. It is about living justly and with care and compassion. The primary challenge of faith is ‘to love God and our neighbour’.

Dr Ruth Powell (NCLS Research) noted the evidence for ongoing erosion of beliefs and practices associated with Christianity. She noted that there is a large ‘messy middle’ of people who are neither religious nor non-religious, neither theists nor atheists. Yet, for four in ten Australians say that religious faith or spirituality is important in shaping their life’s decisions.

Dr Darren Cronshaw argued for a ‘church revolution’. He told of his experience of emerging and experiential churches. He spoke of networks which nurture the spirit, rather than being static organisations. He spoke of churches which allowed people to explore faith rather than requiring a certain level of belief.

Dr Cronshaw argued that there were two areas in which the emerging churches had a little more to learn:

  1. Effective evangelism. While over time, the service component of these communities increased, the faith-sharing decreased.
  2. Many of these churches had experienced high levels of change but many were not good at the on-going processing of change.

Dr Bob Dixon (Catholic Pastoral Research Office) spoke of the massive growth in Catholic population since 1950. One of the strengths of the Catholic Church is its ethnic diversity. However, 86% of all Catholics do not attend Mass on a typical Sunday.

In interviews with people who no longer attended church, it was found that many felt that the church had become irrelevant to daily life. Some were concerned about the abuse in the church. Some had experienced some conflict. Yet, for most of them, spirituality continued to be see seen as an important component in their lives. The research found that if people felt that they would be welcomed, some would return to the church.

For an audio file of these presentations, right-click here and save the mp3 file to your computer.

For more details of the research, see Philip Hughes, Shaping Australia’s Spirituality: A Review of Christian Ministry in the Australian Context, (Mosaic Press, Melbourne, 2010).

The following people were involved in discussion of the research and the presentation of their own observations of the development of church life and the training of people for ministry.

  • Rev Dr Bruce Kaye (Anglican Church)
  • Pastor Rob Steed (Seventh-day Adventist Church)
  • Rev Tim Hein (Uniting Church)
  • Rev Dr Brendon Roach (Principal, Harvest Bible College)

For an audio file of these reflections and observations, right-click here and save the mp3 file to your computer.