Pointers 31-2 June 2021

Friday, July 2nd, 2021

Inside this issue:

World­wide Patterns in Attendance at Religious Services
The 2018 International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) data on religion has just been released. Around 40 countries took part, surveying their adult populations on what religion meant to them. Australia was one of those countries. Most of the questions asked in 2018 were also asked by the International Social Survey Programme in 2009. Comparison of the responses in 2009 and 2018 provides an indication of trends.

University Chaplaincy during a Pandemic: Review of UK Research
A recently published report on research in the UK has revealed the important role of university chaplains in providing pastoral care and support to students in challenging times. One of the major challenges confronting chaplains is the mental health crisis among students. A November 2020 survey of UK university students revealed that just over half of all participants said their mental health was worse than it was before the pandemic. A further finding showed that only 29 per cent of those had sought any help…

Impacts of COVID­19 on Australian Households: Results of the ABS Household Impacts Survey
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has just released findings from a survey which provide insights into the prevalence and nature of impacts of COVID­19 on households. These most recent findings are from a survey conducted of those aged 18 years and over during April 2021 via online and telephone interviews, and follow on from similar surveys carried out during 2020 and earlier in 2021.

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Pointers 31-1 March 2021

Friday, April 9th, 2021

Inside this issue:

Australians’ Attitudes to Other Religions
There is a general assumption in many places that people of different religions cannot get along with each other (Kraft, 2006). After all, they are competitors, offering quite different conceptions of the world in which we live. There is no way around the fact that Muslims generally believe that Jesus did not die on the cross, and thus did not experience resurrection, while those beliefs are central in the Christian faith, for example. Yet, if multi­faith societies are going to work, people of different faiths must live alongside each other. The 2018 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes provides much information about the attitudes that Australians have about people of different religious backgrounds. The same questions were asked in 2009, giving us a picture of the trends that are occurring.

Book Review – Pub Theology: Where Potato Wedges and a Beer are a Eucharistic Experience
One of the great challenges for all forms of practical theology is how one brings together aspects of life and themes of faith into one narrative. Our thinking and experiencing of faith is often siloed, held in quite different compartments from our thinking about our work and other aspects of everyday life. In this book, the authors bring those diverse strains of life together.

Getting ahead in life: What do Australians see as important?
Data from the 2019 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes (AuSSA) was recently released to the public. The AuSSA focuses on a special topic each year, and the topic for the 2019 edition was ‘Social Inequality’. Whilst the specific questions in the survey were centred around inequality, social security and income levels, there were the usual additional demographic questions, including religious affiliation. Inclusion of such variables allow us to compare differences in the views of people of different sexes, from different ethnic backgrounds or of various religions.

Update on the Journal of Contemporary Ministry

Marriage in the UK and Australia
A recent article in Future First, a bi-monthly bulletin published by Peter Brierley, the former director of the Christian Research Association UK, provides a fascinating insight into the changes that have taken place in relation to marriage in the UK since the 1940s. It also prompts us to reflect upon similarities and differences to changes which have occurred in Australian society.

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Pointers 30-4 December 2020

Monday, December 14th, 2020

Inside this issue:

Australians’ Attitudes to Relationships, Sexuality and Human Life
The attitudes of Australians to relationships, sexuality and human life differs widely between various religious and non-religious groups in the population. For many, religious beliefs are about values, morals and relationships, and the intersection of all three characteristics affect their everyday decisions and lifestyles. That is, their religious beliefs become the basis for making ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ choices in life. For some, decisions are made on the basis of an understanding or interpretation of their religious Scriptures. For others, the teachings of their religious organisations become the foundations for what is right or wrong. And for many others, a combination of Scriptural teachings, adherence to religious organisational doctrines, as well as following one’s ‘conscious’ in matters of morality, become the basis for decision-making. The 2018 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes asked a number of questions about Australians’ attitudes to sexuality, relationships and human life. Analysis of the data has revealed some important findings and some fascinating trends.

Charting the Faith of Australians: Thirty Years of Pointers
With the December 2020 edition, Pointers completes thirty years of production. During that time, around 120 issues have been published and around 500 articles have been produced. Pointers is neither a newsletter nor a fully-fledged journal. It falls between the two, which has sometimes produced some confusion over its status. However, I believe it has fulfilled a valuable role for the Australian churches and church-related organisations.

Building Community
Life has been changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Between March and October 2020, much Australian community life was suspended, particularly in Victoria, with four months of hard lock-down. There have been hard borders between most states. Many people have not been able to meet even close members of their families face-to-face let alone their friends. People were told to work from home if they could. Many industries and businesses closed and hundreds of thousands lost their jobs. Throughout much of Australia, there were limits on the numbers of people who could meet in religious communities, and many have had no face-to-face meetings for eight months.

World Christian Encyclopedia (3rd edition) Released
The third edition of the World Christian Encyclopedia was launched in March 2020. It is a huge volume with articles covering Christianity in every part of the globe.

Church Online
In October 2020, Dr Peter Brierley, former director of the Christian Research Association of the UK, reported some research in the UK about church online. It was the result of just 180 responses from one Anglican diocese in the UK, but it gives some clues as to what information might be sought and how people might feel.


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Pointers September 2020

Tuesday, September 29th, 2020

Inside this issue:

Is the Church Liquifying?
The most popular metaphor of what is happening to religious faith in contemporary Western societies is that of secularisation. It is a metaphor of the replacement of religious thinking by scientific thinking. While many scholars have suggested their own versions of secularisation, there is widespread doubt about the value of that metaphor. Another metaphor has been suggested by the British-Polish social theorist, Zygmunt Bauman: the liquifying of modernity. Perhaps his image is that of a huge, solid iceberg, very solid and stable, which begins to melt as it is surrounded by warm currents of water. The iceberg breaks apart. Small sections of ice continue to float. But some of the ice melts entirely into the water which surrounds it.

Listening to the Homeless: Social Housing in the Corner Inlet area of Victoria
In 2019, the Christian Research Association was contracted by the Foster Conference of the St Vincent de Paul Society to investigate people’s attitudes and experiences of homelessness in the Corner Inlet area, a location in the South Gippsland region, approximately 200 kilometres south-east of Melbourne. The project aimed to understand more about the circumstances leading to homelessness, the challenges individuals faced in such situations, the support structures needed to assist, and to determine the extent to which there may be a need for additional social housing in the area.

The Carmel Framework: Engaging Religious Education Students with Truth
I have been teaching secondary school Religious Education (RE) for 27 years, and engagement has been a dominant issue over that time. The big question in conferences, workshops, forums or staff meetings is: how do we get students to engage with this subject? I need to clarify what I mean by engagement. There have been numerous resources to assist staff to engage students at an entertainment level, such as games and quizzes, which support topics within most curriculums. The real challenge, however, is to engage students at a much deeper level; that is, at a life and faith level.


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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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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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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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