Research Materials

A range of articles on many topics related to religious faith and church life in Australia are to be found below. You may search these articles for a particular topic using the search facility in the left-hand column

* Australian Culture and Society
* Congregational Life
* Religion Internationally
* Clergy and Theological Education
* Ethical Issues
* School and Education
* Social Capital
* Spirituality
* Rural Church Life
* The Church Serving the Community

Educating for Purposeful Living

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017

This text represents the culmination of decades of Dr Hughes’ commitment, research, exploration and deeply held belief that young people need a sense of purpose if they are to lead lives of dignity and meaning. As schools and  educators grapple with how to better support young people, this advice is a valuable guide, provocation and context for action.
– Elisabeth Lenders, Principal, Kingswood College, Box Hill.

At a time when the value of religion and religious education is increasingly questioned in Australia, Philip Hughes’ new book takes a fresh and different approach to religious education and how schools can contribute positively to the future lives of their students. After examining the evidence about the effectiveness of existing approaches and strategies, he proposes what might be a more realistic, creative and fruitful path for schools to take in helping students develop purpose in life. I found this a stimulating discussion.

– Dr Jon Newton, Dean of Research and Postgraduate Studies, Harvest Bible College.

Philip Hughes has once again demonstrated his mastery of the field of religious education across a range of Christian faith traditions. In this book, he draws on his vast experience of survey and interview research with many thousands of students from Catholic, Independent and other schools around Australia to propose a very thoughtful and comprehensive approach to education that assists young people to develop a sense of purpose in life. In what Pope Francis has called a change of era, and not simply an era of change, all faith-based schools, indeed, all teachers in those schools, will do well to avail themselves of Dr Hughes’ wisdom and insight.

– Dr Bob Dixon, Retired Director, Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Pastoral Research Office

Dr Philip Hughes has spent most of his life in research on the spiritual and religious dimensions of culture and their expression in both religious organisations and schools. For 31 years, he was the senior research officer of the Christian Research Association. He also worked for 11 years at Edith Cowan University, and is an honorary Research Fellow with the University of Divinity and the Catholic Pastoral Research Office. He is now the chief supervisor for post-graduate research at Harvest Bible College. For 30 years, he has served on school councils, and for 10 years chaired the Council of Kingswood College, Box Hill. Philip Hughes has written more than 60 books and hundreds of articles.

To purchase your copy click here

Children’s Prayer – A Multi-faith Perspective

Friday, May 6th, 2016

This book provides strong arguments for giving prayer a central place in the education and nurture of children. It is based on research in Australian Catholic, parent-controlled Christian, Independent, Jewish, Muslim and government schools. The author demonstrates focused attention and care in the data collection from the words of children and their drawings of people praying. She takes us through her thorough processes of analysis and synthesis.

The research shows that prayer is valued by all children, whether they come from a religious background or not. For some children it is a way of associating with their communities and traditions of faith. For others, prayer is practised in an individualistic manner.

Prayer is a way to perceive and respond to the experiences of life. It can help in dealing with the challenging emotional states of anxiety, loneliness, fear, anger and guilt. It can give hope for the future. It provides a way of seeking help for others, as well as expressing praise and thanksgiving.

Vivienne Mountain has a background in teaching and in clinical counselling. She lectures in Spirituality and Ministry with Children at Stirling Theological College, University of Divinity, Australia. She has published three books as well as contributing chapters to a number of others and articles for national and international journals.

Vivienne Mountain PhD, MA (Theology), MA (Creative arts therapy), MA ( Philosophy and religion), B Ed, B Th.

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A Vision for effective Youth Ministry

Monday, January 25th, 2016

Many young Australians are struggling with issues of mental health, anxiety about the future, and addictions to drugs. Behind these struggles are often questions of what life is all about. Youth ministry is more important today than at any time in recent history. Yet, many churches are finding it difficult to connect with youth beyond those whose families are involved in the church.

This book has arisen out of Australian research into youth ministry, from visiting youth groups and talking with youth leaders and the youth themselves. It offers a vision for the development of youth ministry, recognising the diversity of youth and the backgrounds from which they come.

It explores how to build a youth ministry team and the qualities needed in the team. It discusses issues of training, payment, and support for youth leaders and building bridges with parents, church and school.

What are the factors which will really make a difference in developing youth ministry? Based on research, our conclusions are:

  • The vision for developing the spirit of young people

  • The commitment of the whole church to youth ministry

  • The youth ministry team with strong relationships with God, each other, the youth, parents, the church and the wider society;

  • A diversity of activities: both age-specific and intergenerational for fun, friends, inquiry and developing the spirit.

The Authors:

Rev Dr Philip Hughes has had pastoral experience in inner city, suburban and rural churches, and has been the senior research officer of the Christian Research Association since 1985. He has two adult children and one grandchild.

Stephen Reid has worked for the Christian Research Association since 2007 and has one teenage child and two younger children.

Margaret Fraser has worked for the Christian Research Association since 2011. She has two children who are completing university and two who are teenagers.

All three authors were involved in interviews with youth, youth leaders, clergy and parents for this study.

To Purchase – click here

Children and the Church

Thursday, November 13th, 2014

Another great publication from the Christian Research Association.

Child cover

Children and the Church – Vivienne Mountain

Was launched by

Dr Rachael Kohn – ABC Presenter “The Spirit of Things”

Rachel Kohn

on 20th November 2014

Purchase your copy now: click here

Latest Release

Sunday, October 19th, 2014

Re-Imagining Church:
Positive Ministry Responses to the Age of Experience

Many church leaders are confused. Patterns of ministry which worked so well in the past are no longer effective. Churches which grew rapidly have ceased to grow. The culture of the Western world has changed. At its heart is a change in the nature of authority: from tradition and reason to the authority of personal experience.
This book explores the changes in culture and church life. Rev Dr Philip Hughes, the senior research officer of the Christian Research Association outlines the problem the churches are facing. Rev Gary Bouma, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Monash University, and an Anglican Priest, charts the origins of the problem.
The large part of the book is the work of Rev Dr Gerald Rose, a senior minister in the Churches of Christ in Victoria, Australia. Through careful observation and detailed interviews of ministers, he describes a range of ministry responses to the changing culture. He explores, not one solution, but many: the ministry of intentional mission, of the charismatic movement, of ministry based in relationships, and of ministry rooted in classical spirituality.
This is a book which should be read by church leaders, ministers and pastors of all denominations. It provides great insight into the nature of contemporary culture and outlines positive pathways for ministry in the Western context.

Click here to purchase your copy.

Talks from CRA Book Launch posted online

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Earlier this year, the CRA held a book launch at Tabor College for our latest project, “Life, Ethics and Faith in Australian Society: Facts and Figures” by Philip Hughes and Lachlan Fraser. Labor Leader in the Victorian Legislative Council John Lenders, was invited to speak at the launch, discussing his experiences with faith in relation to politics and its influence on how decisions are made. Philip Hughes also provided a response, focusing more on how faith shapes Australian society as a whole and the statistics that reflect this.

Both talks were filmed and have now been posted online. Please enjoy.

John Lenders – The Influence of Faith on Decision Making in Politics PART 1

John Lenders – The Influence of Faith on Decision Making in Politics PART 2

Philip Hughes – The Impact of Faith in Australian Society

Examination of Growth in the Church of England in Britain

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

The Church of England recently commissioned a major research program looking at church growth in its churches throughout Britain. The research asked where the church is growing, and why some churches grow while others decline. A series of reports was released and are available on the Internet at http://www.churchgrowthresearch.org.uk. This article is based on the summary report and the page numbers refer to pages in that report.

The report begins by noting that there are several dimensions to growth including the following:

  • the holiness, transformation and commitment of members and churches (growth in depth of faith);
  • the number of disciples of Jesus Christ (growth in numbers);
  • the fruit of social righteousness and a transformed society (growth in the outworking of discipleship).

However, while growth in depth of faith and in the outworking of discipleship is mentioned, the major focus is on numerical growth.

The report emphasised that there was no single recipe for growth. Rather, there was a number of ingredients which were linked to growth such as: Context, leadership, a clear mission and purpose, self-reflection, willingness to change and adapt, active engagement of children and teenagers, and many more.

A number of churches had developed teams of people to plant new churches. In most cases, a larger church provided some financial and other resources with the expectation that the new church would become self-supporting within three to five years. The research identified several models of church planting. However, it noted that such planting activities commonly involved entrepreneurial and innovative approaches. It was important that they were relational and incarnational, welcoming, and involved families. Most plants focussed on local people, volunteering, attempting to be a healing presence, and used small groups in the growth.

Overall weekly attendance in 42 cathedrals across Britain grew by 35 per cent between 2002 and 2012. In particular, there was a doubling of the numbers of week-day attenders. It was suggested by the cathedral deans that growth was associated with the quality of worship, music, preaching, the hospitable and friendly atmosphere, exploring new patterns of service, spiritual openness and emphasis on families and young people (pp.21-22). It is notable that in a study of the attenders of four cathedrals, just half of the worshippers were regular in their involvement. It would appear that increasing numbers of people were dropping in occasionally.

There are also many factors that contribute to the decline of churches, such as: Failure to retain younger generations, amalgamation of congregations, burdensome buildings, stagnation, inappropriate leadership and unwillingness in congregations to change.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 24, No. 2, Pages 9-11

Church and Sport: Churches Connecting with Local Communities through Sport

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

Several decades ago, sport and the church existed side-by-side within many local communities. In fact, in many places, local churches took an active role in developing sporting activities or collaborating with local sporting clubs. Many churches entered sporting clubs in local cricket or netball competitions. In some instances a league or an association was formed to cater for church clubs which had numerous young people ready and willing to participate. For example, a junior football league was formed more than 50 years ago in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne to allow children from local Catholic primary schools the opportunity to compete against each other on a Saturday morning, leaving Sundays free for church and family commitments. In many places, tennis courts were constructed on the same property when a new church was built, then subsequently a tennis club formed.

Community expectations, even of those who had no interest in church or religion, saw Saturday as the day for playing sport while Sunday was the day for church, rest and family. But society has changed. Sunday is no longer reserved for church, rest and family. Most sporting venues are used all weekend. Arguably, within the last generation sport has encroached more and more into the time-space of local church, although how much effect, if any, it has actually had on church attendance is contentious (Powell, 2002).

However, there are some churches which have recognised the potential of sport to connect with people in the local community. Lighthouse Church in Wollongong has a number of activities using sport to link with the local community, such as a charity cycling event and regular walking groups. Citipointe Church in Brisbane includes a skateboarding facility, known as the ‘God Bowl’. State Youth Games is a weekend of sports and activities for young people organised by Youth Vision, the youth ministry arm of the Churches of Christ in Australia, although young people from other denominations also participate.

Church attenders are, in fact, more involved in sport and physical activities than those who never attend a church. While the difference is not great, it is statistically significant. Examining the data for different age groups, one finds that among younger people aged between 18 and 29, there is no difference at all in the engagement in sport between those who attend a church frequently and those who never attend. However, the difference becomes apparent among older age groups. Among those aged between 30 and 54, 57 per cent of church attenders are active in sport and physical activities compared with 50 per cent of those who never attend. People aged 55 and over are a little more active in such activities (59% of church attenders compared with 55% of non-attenders).

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 24, No. 2, Pages 1-4

Which churches use email?

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

There have been extraordinary technological advances in the ways that people communicate with each other. Are there some churches that are more likely to embrace these trends and use new electronic methods to communicate with attenders?

In the 2006 National Church Life Survey churches were asked about their email and internet use. Some 56 per cent of Australian churches that took part in the 2006 NCLS said that they use electronic mail (e-mail) or the internet to communicate with attenders. A sample of churches was used for a study of those churches which take advantage of this technology.

In the general community, younger people tend to adopt technology more quickly than older people. This is also true in churches: those with younger age profiles were more likely to use email. As the average age of congregation attenders increases, so there is an increase in the likelihood that congregations use email and the internet.

In general, those with higher levels of education are more likely to use technology. Again, this pattern was found within the churches. The education levels of attenders made a significant difference. The higher the proportion of attenders with bachelor’s degrees in a congregation, the more likely the congregation will use email and the internet.

Suburban churches were most likely to use technology, followed by urban areas and lastly, rural congregations. However, the actual age of the congregation (years since it was formed) and the age of the building had very little effect on email usage.

In conclusion, because e-mail usage is linked mostly to the age and education of attenders, any congregation can adapt to the new technological if its attenders wish to use it.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 20, No. 1, Page 15

Counselling and the Church

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

The client-based approach to counselling which emerged in the 1960s and 1970s was something of a threat to traditional religious establishments. It suggested that people would come to wholeness through inner reflection and self-direction rather than through the teaching of an external body. The tension between these two approaches was particularly strong in the Catholic Church, and is well illustrated in Opening Up: a History of the Institute of Counselling by David Bollen.

In the Catholic church of the 1960s, the understanding of human nature as revealed by psychology and psychotherapy had little place. Bollen notes that suggestions were made for a course on human counselling be held at St Patrick’s College, Manly, “ to lead seminarians to understanding human nature, its growth and development”. While the written response from the College was equivocal, in practice nothing happened. Faith and priesthood were primarily about dogma and liturgy. Bollen notes that, “in retrospect it is clear [in the training for priesthood] that ‘a drill mentality’ was encouraged and that ‘no adequate place was found … for serious and extended reflection on pastoral needs and experiences of priests” (p. 12).

Yet, there were forces beyond the control of the church which challenged these attitudes and the very nature of religion which it presupposed. Several of these forces are seen in the person of Mary Lewis who took the initiative in raising the possibility of an Institute of Counselling with Archbishop Gilroy in 1969.

Bollen identifies several factors as contributing to the formation of the Institute of Counselling. One was the increasing acceptance of counselling in the wider society. Another was the demands for counselling that were occurring, particularly within the Catholic Church at the time.

The culture of the Institute was very clearly focussed on human growth. Personal evaluation was preferred to formal assessments. In the mid 1990s, this culture gave way to the provision of formally recognised qualifications. In 1996, courses of the Institute were accredited by Australian Catholic University.

The Institute has never become widely known. Nor have the official structures of the Church taken much interest in it. It has kept a low public profile.

Bollen, from an historical perspective, and Mountain, from a case-study approach, open up some important issues regarding the nature of contemporary spirituality. They challenge the churches to think about how they offer pastoral care in contemporary society.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 20, No. 1, Pages 11-12