The Church Serving the Community

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

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


Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

When we think of homeless people we often think of those on the streets, dishevelled in appearance, roaming the rubbish bins for food, a blight on the social landscape which we wish would just disappear, or at least hide themselves from our view. In effect, however, homelessness is much broader, and any understanding of it certainly requires more deeper vision than that first image conjures up.

In ‘Life after Homelessness’, an article in a recent publication from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (Australian Social Trends, Mar 2012), people were defined as having had an ‘experience of homelessness’ if they had previously been without a ‘permanent place to live’ for one or more of a variety of reasons. Family or relationship breakdowns, financial problems, tight rental or property markets, or violence and abuse are some of the more common reasons for homelessness.

Based on data from the 2010 General Social Survey, ‘Life after Homelessness’ examined a range of socio-economic indicators of those who had experienced at least one episode of homelessness in the previous 10 years, but who were no longer homeless. In general, those who had been homeless were much younger than the overall population – 55 per cent of all who had been homeless in the past 10 years were aged 18-34, compared to 11 per cent of those aged 55 and over. After removing the effect of age, the study found that the homeless were less educated, with one-third not having gone beyond Year 10 at school nor obtaining a non-school qualification above Certificate II level. Homeless people were also more likely to report being unemployed, or not in the labour force, and were twice as likely to report that their main source of personal income was a pension.

In December 2008, the Australian Government released a White Paper on Homelessness, in which it set itself a target to halve homelessness and to offer supported accommodation to all rough sleepers who need it by 2020 (FAHCSIA, The Road Home). Its measures aim to strengthen the provision of services to homeless people, and importantly, to help reduce some of the factors associated with becoming homeless in the first place. The issue of homelessness is financially and socially expensive, and the report correctly points out that “homelessness” is not just a housing problem, but has many drivers and causes. Investing in services to support and prevent homelessness not only benefits those who find themselves without a permanent place to live, but the entire community.

Historically, the Christian churches in Australia have been at the front line in tackling social issues, such as homelessness. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, many denominational institutions preceded government departments in setting up services for the homeless. Today, collectively, all denominations together form the largest non-government provider of community and welfare services in Australia (Shaping Australia’s Spirituality, p113). The Australian churches and its associated service organisations continue to play an important role in working alongside government and private industry in reducing the prevalence of homelessness and assisting those who find themselves without a place they can call home.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 22, No. 2, Pages 7-8

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

Faith At The Olympics

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

As athletes, coaches, officials and fans head for London, the religious organisations are gearing up to provide chaplaincy support. There will be a multi-faith centre in the Olympic village during the games where nine faiths will be represented: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Judaism, Baha’i, Jainism, Buddhism and Zoroastrianism. 193 chaplains have been appointed through the volunteer program to assist the sporting enthusiasts.

Sports ministry was formally founded in the UK in 1984 and there are now 30 different organisations provided services. Sports chaplaincy is also well developed in Australia with more than 200 chaplains serving 20 sports in all states of Australia.

For more information on faith at the Olympics, see:

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.

The National Spirit

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

The National Spirit

Day 1 of a Roundtable on ‘Shaping Australia’s Spirituality’ focussed on the evaluation of ‘the national spirit’ and how the Christian faith and Christian ministry is relating to that. The plenary sessions were chaired by John Cleary (ABC presenter on religion).

Rev Dr Philip Hughes, senior research officer of the Christian Research Association, started with the fact that, despite the prosperity in Australia,

  • 10 per cent of Australians say they are not very happy,
  • 56 per cent are fairly happy, and
  • 32 per cent are very happy.

Among the issues are failures in family relationships, rural decline and uncertainty and the lack of a clear future for many indigenous people. There is also insecurity about terrorism and crime, climate change, and ‘who we are’. There are distractions in consumerism and substance abuse, but little vision for the future. If people find meaning, they find it in themselves.

At the same time, church involvement has declined with just 15 per cent of the population involved monthly or more often. However, the church-run schools have increased in numbers and there is a strong presence of the churches in social justice and welfare.

The churches are seen as protectors of family life, but as irrelevant to the major national challenges of climate change and building a sustainable economy. One of the challenges for the Christian faith is to tell the Christian story and expound the Christian principles of love and grace, justice and forgiveness, equality and the worth of all individuals in a way that demonstrates its relevance for the Australian national story.

Prof Alan Black (Edith Cowan University) argued that religion and spirituality are increasingly seen as a matter of individual perception and choice. We are living in a post-traditional era, with increasing electicism, he argued. In Australian society,

  • 24% find their sense of identity and meaning in the Christian faith;
  • 17% find it in spirituality – either of an eclectic style, or a spirituality of nature or land;
  • 2% find it in religions other than Christianity; and
  • 57% in secularism.

Of those Australians who are secular,

  • 16% say there is ‘something beyond’, but are not involved in any religion in any way;
  • 27% are uncertain about ‘the beyond’; and
  • 14% say there is nothing beyond (or hold to some form of atheism).

Prof Black argued that the way that Australians approach life (religious, spiritual or secular) has an impact on their personal wellbeing and on the social wellbeing. The nature of this impact is explored in the book Spirit Matters. (See our products page.)

For an audio version of these research presentations, right-click here to download an mp3 file.

For further detailed information about 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 commented on this research and brought their own insights to the national story:

  • Prof James Haire (Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture)
  • Rev Dr Rod Pattenden (chair of the Blake Prize for Religious Art)
  • Rev Dr Colleen O’Reilly (Anglican Priest at the St George’s, Malvern)
  • Prof. Norm Habel (Flinders University) and
  • Prof. Des Cahill (International Studies, RMIT).

For an audio version of this commentary and discussion, right-click here to download an mp3 file.

(The conference was held in September 2010.)

Shaping Australia’s Spirituality – National Roundtable 2010

Monday, April 19th, 2010

The national Roundtable on ‘Shaping Australia’s Spirituality’ was held from Tuesday 31st August and Friday 3rd September. Over the four days of conversations, close to 150 people participated. Each day explored different areas of mission and ministry, examining the Christian principles, and using contemporary research to reflect on the best ways to conduct mission and ministry in the Australian contemporary context. The following links provide some summaries of the presentations and access to audio files of the research and reflections.

A book was prepared for the conference. It provided a backbone for the discussions. It is now available from the CRA and from Christian bookshops: ‘Shaping Australia’s Spirituality: A Review of Christian Ministry in the Australian Context’.