Congregational Life

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.

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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.

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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

Dropping Out of Church

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

The major entry point into the life of the church is in childhood. Most people who attend church today began their attendance as young children, under the influence of their families. However, as has always been the case, many children cease to attend, some before they reach the end of primary school, others in secondary school, and others after their years of schooling. A few return to church when they have their own children. Others return when they feel a personal need for what the church can provide. Many never return. From the perspective of keeping the involvement of people in the life of the church, the most important time is through the teenage years. The following article provides some further data on drop-out rates.

About two-thirds of all Australians aged 50 and over have a memory of attending church frequently when they were 11 or 12 years old. Most of those who did not attend every week went to church occasionally. This would suggest that up to about 1970, two-thirds of Australian children were attending Sunday School or church, at least for a short period in their lives. The big changes occurred in the 1970s when it became less common for children to attend a church. There has always been a significant ‘drop-out’ rate. Indeed, many older Australians remember that they were taken to Sunday School by their parents, but their parents did not go to church themselves. There was an expectation that the children would pick up Christian values in the Sunday School, but they did not need to continue to attend church.

There are many factors which influence the decisions of children and young people to attend or not attend church. Among the most important are the influences of family and friends. In the background are cultural factors: the general sense among young people that this is something about which they can make choices, the awareness that other people do or do not go to church. In many non-Anglo communities which have a strong communal culture, young people continue to attend church. Many of these factors are beyond the control of the church.

However, there are some factors over which churches may have control. The extent to which they encourage the development of groups in which children have a place is important. Young people who find friends at church are more likely to continue to attend than those who do not develop circles of friends at church. In the long-term, young people continue to attend because they find something meaningful within the life of the church, something that contributes to their sense of what life is about.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 21, No. 4, Pages 19-20

Factors in Church Giving

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

The average Australian household spends a total of $1236.28 every week. The major items are housing ($223.14), food and drink ($204.20), and transport ($192.87). The household also spends $161.44 on recreation, including holidays, $32.35 on alcoholic drinks (not included in the total for food and drink), and $12.57 on tobacco. On average, Australian households give $2.97 to churches or other religious organisations and $4.26 to charities each week (Household Expenditure Survey 2009-10).

Many denominations are worried about their income. As numbers of attenders shrink in most denominations, so finances also shrink. It is also likely that, in some places, finances are shrinking faster than attendances. In other words, people who are attending are giving less to their churches.

Some researchers have argued that people will be ‘free-riders’ if they can be. In other words, if there are no controls on giving, they will not give, but will enjoy the benefits of the church without contributing. The challenge for the church is to minimise ‘free-riding’. This is much easier to do in small churches than in larger churches. In larger churches, it is more likely that the non-contributing person will not be noticed (Whitehead 2010, p.641).

Another way of minimising ‘free-riding’ is to have high costs of joining, or, in other words, to raise the standards for belonging to the group. Those churches which have stricter expectations of members, or which demand a long period of teaching before admitting members, or which demand a very public sign of commitment such as adult baptism, minimise ‘free-riding’.

Rather than small group membership monitoring giving, it seems more likely that involvement in small groups leads to a higher level of ownership of the life of the organisation. In a small group, people are not anonymous. In face-to-face contact, they feel a part, not only of the small group, but also of the larger group. As their involvement in the small group is noted by other members, they feel some responsibility in their involvement, and a greater sense of ownership for the life of the whole organisation.

Many people will hesitate to join a church in which there are high demands on them, financially, in terms of time, and in other ways. Even the development of a small group culture in a church where everyone is expected to be part of a small group may discourage some from attending at all. On the other hand, it will encourage others to contribute more to the life of the church.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 21, No. 4, Pages 16-18

Reviewing Church Life

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

Reviews of church life take place in many ways such as through an ‘Annual General Meeting’ within a local church, when the leaders for a region gather such as in a Synod, or when researchers do an analysis of church life. All such reviews make certain assumptions about what ‘church life’ should be about. The Uniting Church Synod of Victoria and Tasmania has been thinking about these assumptions and suggesting some new ways to conduct reviews.

When the reports of the various activities are gathered together and a church meets for its Annual General Meeting, the assumptions are often around numbers. Did the numbers attending the children’s club or the Bible study increase or decrease? Often, most prominence is given to the financial numbers. Anxiety is often expressed about the levels of financial giving and whether a church is ‘in the black’. While financial viability cannot be ignored, the calling of a church is not fulfilled by being financially viable. Nor is the essence of being a church measured by the numbers of people who sit in the pews.

The Uniting Church, in conjunction with the Christian Research Association, has developed a survey which will be sent to all churches in the Uniting Church Synod of Victoria and Tasmania. While some factual information is requested, such as details of services of worship and mission activities, certain evaluations are asked of the Church Council. Thus, the body with responsibility for leading the church is invited to reflect on the various ways in which the local church is being equipped for and is entering into God’s mission.

All forms of review can be helpful to a local church. Over coming months, many churches will be using the reports from the 2011 National Church Life Survey as these are released to reflect on their life. No doubt, many churches will be inspired by these reflections to develop various aspects of their life and mission.

Criag Van Gelder, an American church consultant, has suggested that the self understanding of the church has developed through three paradigms. These are: The Established Church, Corporate Church and Missional Church.

Van Gelder’s distinction draws attention to the fact that churches have and do see themselves in very different ways. In reviewing church life, attention must be paid to what is the calling of the church. There is always a tendency for people’s thinking to be shaped by the ways that other organisations operate around them. There is a tendency for churches to take on characteristics similar to other organisations in their cultural environment and to be shaped by them. However, the calling of the church is distinct and a review of church life must attend to that distinctiveness.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 22, No. 2, Pages 13-15

Encouragements and Discouragements for Young People in Reading the Bible

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

About 4 per cent of young people read the Bible daily, another 6 per cent read it at least once a week, and 15 to 20 per cent read it occasionally (Hughes, 2010). In 2009 and 2010, the CRA conducted 333 interviews with young people and youth leaders in youth groups across Australia to discover what encouraged and discouraged young people in reading the Bible. The project was commissioned by a group of organisations including The Bible Society, Scripture Union, YouthWorks, the Lutheran Church and The Salvation Army (Southern Territory).

There are many discouragements for young people, such as: Church Practice. Many young people, including many who attend church, never consider reading the Bible personally and are not encouraged to do so by their churches. The Bible is certainly read in Church services and seen as the starting point for sermons and homilies. But that does not translate into reading it at home. The Chore of Reading is also a discouragement for some. Many young people read very little, especially in the form of books. Some younger people said to us that they much preferred activities, such as sport, to reading. When they do read, it is often brief messages from friends or from news sources on their computers. Bible reading requires a sustained effort of a kind that is ‘uncomfortable’ for many young people.

There are also some encouragements, such as: Group Practice. Most young people who read the Bible were members of churches, youth groups and Bible study groups which encouraged them in their reading and which assisted them in the interpretation. In some churches, young people read the passages of the Bible that were to be discussed in the Sunday-night youth service. Some young people need encouragement in Finding Relevance. Participation in groups or in courses can certainly help young people find the relevance of the Bible. Most Bible study groups focus as much on the application of the Bible as they do on the content. Experiencing the Bible as relevant depends on the attitudes one brings to it. If young people read it simply as stories of long ago, it had little relevance. If they read it as God’s communication today, they were far more likely to experience it as relevant to life.

It is very easy to use the Bible for predetermined purposes. The challenge for the contemporary Church, and particularly in its work with young people, is to develop the skills of identifying the wisdom of the Bible, including that which makes us uncomfortable, that helps them to evaluate how they live and the norms of our society. Only if that occurs will engaging the Bible be truly transformative.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 22, No. 4, Pages 11-12