Author Archive

Pointers June 2020

Monday, July 6th, 2020

Inside this issue:

Australians’ Changing Religious Practices
Ten years ago, the Christian Research Association reported on results from the 2009 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes and noted that the number of Australians attending religious services was in decline. Comparison of similar survey data between 1993 and 2009 showed that the proportion of Australians attending a service of worship monthly or more often decreased from 23 per cent to 16 per cent, whilst occasional attendance dropped from 42 per cent to 36 per cent (Pickering, 2010, pp. 6–9). While the March 2020 edition of Pointers revealed Australia’s changing religious and spiritual profile (Hughes, 2020, pp. 1–6), further analysis of recently released data from the 2018 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes shows further decline in the attendance patterns of Australians.

Australia Reimagined: A Book for our Times
Hugh Mackay published Australia Reimagined in 2018. It describes the social challenges that Australia faces and how these might  be overcome to build a better society. I found that much in the book rings even more true in the midst of the COVID­19 pandemic than when it was written. It describes both the social nature of the crisis that we are going through and the possibilities as we re­build our society. How could it be so prophetic? Because COVID­19 has exaggerated so many aspects of Australian society.

Australians’ Confidence in Churches andReligious Organisations
While numerous factors have been identified as having an impact on the religious attitudes and practices of Australians (Hughes, 2010; Hughes, 2012), one significant factor, which can take an inordinate length of time to develop but erode rather rapidly, is the level of confidence in churches and religious institutions. There has been ongoing decline in the confidence levels of Australians towards religious institutions over the last few decades. However, is such change unique or has there also been a decline in the confidence levels in other institutions, such as politics, business and industry, or education?

Profiling the Catholic Community in Australia: Using Census data for Church Planning A Brief Review of the 2016 Social Profiles
The National Centre for Pastoral Research (NCPR), the research agency of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, has recently published over 1,300 profiles on the Catholic Community in Australia based on data from the 2016 Census. The Parish Social Profiles and the Diocesan Social Profiles are 32 page reports containing tables, graphs and commentary on customised Census data on the 1,297 geographical parishes and 28 geographical dioceses in Australia.

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Pointers March 2020

Friday, March 27th, 2020

Inside this issue:

Australia’s Changing Religious and Social Profile

Results from the 2018 Survey of Australian Social Attitudes have just been released by the Australian Social Data Archives giving us the latest comprehensive picture of religion and spirituality in Australia. The survey was conducted by the Australian National University.

Journal of Contemporary Ministry

As part of its role in conducting and distributing research into church life and ministry, the Christian Research Association is taking ownership of The Journal of Contemporary Ministry.

A Study of Family Violence Safety Notices and Intervention Orders

Four years ago, the Royal Commission into Family Violence handed down its final report after 13 months of proceedings. Since that time, shocking stories of family violence continue to proliferate in the media. While many denominational and church organisations are at the fore-front of tackling what many have described as an ‘epidemic’ in Australian society, there are also many individuals who play a significant role in addressing family violence at a personal level.

The Christian Research Association Human Research Ethics Committee

All research in Australia which involves contact with people or with people’s data (such as their health records) requires approval from a properly constituted ethics committee.

Professor David Martin

In 1992, David Martin spent some time in Australia as the St Paul’s College Visiting Scholar (Hughes 1992). During that time, he and his wife, Berenice, stayed in our home. I remember David being a quiet person and a very competent and cautious scholar.


We welcome Pastor Scott Pilgrim to the Board of The Christian Research Association.

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The Axial Age And Religion In Australia Today

Tuesday, January 7th, 2020

In my book, Charting the Trends in Australian
Religion: 30 Years in the Christian Research
Association (Hughes, 2016), I suggested that
we may be moving into a second axial age.
In an interview following the release of the
book, I was asked what I meant by that. I
had in mind the huge change in the nature
of faith in Australia that has occurred since
the 1960s: from something that is dominated
by religious institutions to a much more
personal spirituality, owned and developed by
individuals. However, the question motivated
me to look more closely at the development
and nature of the Axial Age and what might be
corresponding changes today. One of the books
that proved very helpful in those reflections was
the collection of essays edited by Robert Bellah
and Hans Joas (2012), The Axial Age and Its
Consequences. I have referred to many of the
essays in this monograph.

Philip Hughes 2019

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Pointers December 2019

Thursday, December 19th, 2019

Inside this issue:

Gen Y and the Church

Mark Bohr is a Doctor of Ministry candidate at Alphacrusis College. In this article he shares some of the findings of his research and offers some suggestions as to how churches can engage with the Gen Y cohort.

Dig Deep: Sport. Faith. Life. Report on the Second Global Congress on Sport and Christianity

The Second Global Congress on Sport and Christianity was held in the city of Grand Rapids, in the US state of Michigan, from 23-27 October 2019. The Congress brought together over 300 people from 20 different countries. The event followed on from the Inaugural Congress held in the city of York, England, in 2016, which provided the foundation for this cross-disciplinary and cross-professional gathering.

Annual Finance Report 2018 – 2019

Putting Sport on the Local Churchs’ Ministry Agenda: The Possibilities of Sports Chaplaincy in Local Church Ministry

Just a few decades ago many Christian churches in Australia had strong connections with sport. Churches entered teams in local sporting associations, developed their own clubs or established facilities on church property for church and community activities (Reid, 2014, pp. 1–2). It was common for a tennis court to complement the church buildings on a church property. Many young people played netball or cricket for church-based clubs or leagues… However, the reality in many Australian churches nowadays presents a tension between sporting activities and worship services (Reid, 2014, p. 2), mainly due to the competing demands for the Sunday activity.

Chair’s Report 2019

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Pointers September 2019

Friday, September 27th, 2019

Inside this issue:

Contemporary Political Challenges for Religion in Australia
As religion first emerged in human society, it was usually indistinguishable from politics. Tribal leaders declared themselves as having spiritual powers… The religious sources of traditions and ethical principles are being judged in the light of contemporary ethics based on reason and experience, and religions are having to defend themselves. That is now happening in Australia.

Funding the honorary chaplain: Exploring the possibilities of public funding for sports chaplaincy in Australia
It has been argued that Australians regard sport as sacred to their way of life, offering an alternative ‘religion’ which provides identity, meaning and belonging. Some Christian churches have recognised this importance and have shaped their ministries accordingly (Reid, 2014). One such ministry linking the church with sport is that of sports chaplaincy.

Report on the 35th Conference of the International Society for the Sociology of Religion
The ISSR Conference, usually hosted in European countries, is one of two truly international conferences dedicated to the sociology of religion… According to organisers, the 2019 ISSR Conference hosted 500 delegates over the course of four days… The theme of the conference was ‘The Politics of Religion and Spirituality’.

The Indian Diaspora: Hindus and Sikhs in Australia Second Edition
On 25th July 2019, the second edition of The Indian Diaspora: Hindus and Sikhs in Australia was launched by Prof. Bhajan Grewal and Prof. Marika Vicziany at the Australia India Institute, Melbourne University.

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Spiritual But Not Religious – Excerpt

Tuesday, September 17th, 2019

The two biggest changes in the religious profile of Australia over the past fifty years are firstly the movement of people into the ‘no religion’ category. The second movement has been the growth of people who describe themselves as  ‘spiritual but not religious’.

– Philip Hughes, ‘Spiritual but not Religious’, Pointers, June 2019

Pointers June 2019

Saturday, June 29th, 2019

Inside this issue:

Spiritual but not Religious
The two biggest changes in the religious profile of Australia over the past fifty years are firstly the movement of people into the ‘no religion’ category. The second movement has been the growth of people who describe themselves as ‘spiritual but not religious’.

Estimating Homelessness
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), on Tuesday 9 August 2016 there were around 116,400 people who were defined as ‘homeless’ in Australia (ABS, 2018). This reflects a 13.7 per cent increase in the number of homeless people since the previous Census estimate in 2011.

Plenary Council 2020 – The Times They Are A­-Changin’
The Catholic Church in Australia is in a period of  significant change, impacted not only by the changing context of Australian society, but  specifically by the effects wrought by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (Coleridge, 2016, 348). The Church as a whole is being challenged to change its ways and the people who make up the Church are in equal parts hopeful, hurting and confused as they navigate the process of doing so.

Changes Across the Globe
Peter Brierley, the former director of the Christian Research Association in the UK, has summarised some of the major religious trends in his newsletter, FutureFirst. The material is based on the Global Christian Database  developed at Gordon­-Conwell University and materials gathered by Operation World.

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Pointers March 2019

Monday, April 1st, 2019

Inside this issue:

Denominationalism Today
More Christian denominations exist today in Australia, despite the efforts to put aside differences and bring Christians together. Some attend one community for a Bible study, another for an action group, a third for worship service. Also there are those that have little regard for the old divisions and choose to call themselves ‘Christian, nfd’ (not further defined). Philip Hughes explores these interesting trends.

Reimagining a More Compassionate, Less Anxious Society: A community conversation with Hugh Mackay

Stephen Reid outlines a public conversation with Hugh Mackay where he lists a number of ‘gloomy’ characteristics which he believes paint a picture of the current situation in Australian society. He is, however, optimistic about Australia’s future. Mackay listed some factors which have led to a socially fragmented society. 

In Memorium: Rev Dr John Francis Bodycomb
In the last edition of Pointers, Philip Hughes reviewed John Bodycomb’s book, Two Elephants in the Room: Evolving Christianity and Leadership. John was ordained into the Congregational Church. He had a number of appointments in churches in Australia, New Zealand and the USA.

Changes in the Religious Identification of Children between 2006 and 2016
Between the 2006 and 2011 Censuses, the number of children being identified with a Christian denomination (by a parent or guardian) rose by around 40,000 people, from 2.292 million to 2.332 million. Stephen delves into the statistics behind changes in religious identification of children. He also notes that immigration is contributing significantly to the growth of non-Christian religious groups in Australia.


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Pointers December 2018

Wednesday, December 19th, 2018

Inside this issue:

Volunteering and Change in Religious Involvement
Readers of Pointers may remember assisting us in the development of the survey for the Study of the Economic Impact of Religion on Society (SEIROS) in 2015. The survey was conducted in 2016, and some initial analysis was undertaken by the Christian Research Association. The survey data was then given to Deloitte Economics who prepared a report, which was released in May 2018. Deloitte Economics decided that they would focus only on those people who reported that they did not attend a religious group when growing up, but did attend when they were adults, that is, on religious converts. As a consequence of this focus, Philip Hughes has done more analysis on religious conversion and volunteering.

Unpaid Work in Australia
Unpaid or voluntary work fulfils many important functions for individuals and society. Voluntary work can provide meaning for individuals, can open up opportunities for community participation, and can assist with general wellbeing and health of the contributor as well as the recipient. Unpaid work also contributes to the national economy in often unrecognised and unmeasured ways.

A Review and Reflection of Two Elephants in the Room: Evolving Christianity and Leadership
John Bodycomb has been a minister in the Uniting Church for more than fifty years. He developed Christian Education programs in South Australia, taught in the United Faculty of Theology in Melbourne, was chaplain at The University of Melbourne, and has ministered in many Uniting Churches. One of the fathers of the application of sociological thinking to ministry, he has never been one to shy away from challenging questions. His latest book is no exception and addresses very important questions for all those involved in Christian ministry: is there a future for organised Christianity, and for professional leadership within it?

Book review: God Is Good For You: A Defence of Christianity in Troubled Times
God is good for you, argues Greg Sheridan, and his book with that title is good for you, too. The author is the Foreign Editor of The Australian newspaper, and all his journalistic skill and experience is on display in this easy-to-read but insightful and challenging book.

Changes to the Board of CRA
At the Annual General Meeting of the Christian Research Association in November, there were some significant changes in personnel. Although two long-serving members finished up, the future of the association remains bright with experienced members stepping into new roles, and new members coming onto the Board.

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Pointers September 2018

Friday, October 5th, 2018

Inside this issue:

Enhancing Forgiveness Outcomes: A Unique Approach
Forgiveness is an important touchstone for all Christians. At once we recognise it as central to Christ’s salvific mission (Matthew 26:28); link it to the work of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38); and, by inference, consider it vital in the life of the Church (Romans 12:9-21). However the practical realities of forgiving, or being forgiven, are both complex and subtle. Moreover, as both pastors and mental health professionals know, if forgiveness is got wrong resentment flourishes. For this reason practitioners should approach forgiveness with a clear methodology and achievable goals – not as an exploration of what might be possible. To this end the current paper will show readers how a simple
mathematical model can structure ‘forgiveness work’ and be used to identify appropriate goals (Chiera & Edwards, 2018). Implications and relevant pastoral examples will be provided.

Report on the 2018 Australian Population Association Conference
The Australian Population Association (APA) Conference, usually held every two years, draws together population experts, practitioners, policy makers, researchers and students from across Australia and beyond to explore important contemporary demographic and related issues relevant to Australia.

In memoriam – Dr Gerald Rose

Some notes on Graham Rossiter
Life to the Full: The changing landscape of contemporary spirituality: Implications for Catholic school Religious Education,
Kensington, NSW: Agora for Spiritual, Moral and Religious Education, 2018, ISBN: 978-0-9808681-5-9.

Professor Graham Rossiter is well known among those involved in Catholic Education in Australia. He has been teaching religious education for many years at Australian Catholic University (Sydney) and has written a number of substantial books. Among those books is the mammoth manual Reasons for Living: Education and Young People’s Search for Meaning, Identity and Spirituality: A Handbook (Crawford, M, and G Rossiter. Melbourne: ACER, 2006). Professor Rossiter has just released another book in which he summarises the major themes of his work on religious education. While the book is written for Catholic educators, it has broader implications for all educators in contemporary Western cultures. In many respects, his work parallels my own in Educating for Purposeful Living in a Post-traditional Age and Rossiter generously notes those parallels throughout his book.

CRA Staff and Approved Researchers

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