NCLS Research

Research Projects

NCLS Research conducts research in a range of areas, internally as well as in partnership with other researchers and institutions. Our research programs for 2015-2017 are as follows:

1. Leadership and organisational effectiveness in Australian local churches and denominations

Organizational effectiveness is of interest not only to business and non-profit organizations, but also to Christian churches. Measurement is complex and the trend is towards multidimensional, multi-stakeholder models. This project focusses on leadership and organizational effectiveness in Christian churches. We will conduct a multi-disciplinary literature review and address research questions using National Church Life Survey (1991 to 2016) datasets, a longitudinal study of thousands of local churches. With churches as the unit of study, we will measure effectiveness or ‘vitality’, investigate best practice or ‘lighthouse’ churches, social capital, and innovative or entrepreneurial activity. We will also look at the role of leadership, both in terms of the style and role of the leader as well relational processes. Distributed leadership, empowering leadership and social change leadership are potential frameworks.

2. Mapping the intersection between church and community

Churches are renegotiating their place and role in contemporary Australian society. This project maps the interplay between churches and the wider community. At the macro level, we look at changes in the social and cultural context and the role of churches in providing local faith communities, church schools and church-based community services. How do church attenders share beliefs and values? We assess growth and decline of churches, including perception of competition and inflow of newcomers. We evaluate the impact by churches in public policy areas such as advocacy on social issues, or on environmental attitudes and behaviours.

3. Psychology of religion and positive psychology in church life

This program focuses on individual differences, drawing from the discipline of psychology. We will review both attitudes and behaviours of church attenders and local church leaders. The impact of personality differences across different questions will be explored.

The intersection between spirituality and wellbeing among attenders and leaders is of interest. One key focus will be on sustainable leadership, which refers to the resilience and wellbeing of individual leaders. This strand of the research program focuses on identifying factors that help individuals to thrive and guard against burnout. Another aspect of this work covers hope and optimism.

4. Who goes to church and tracking trends in church life over time

This project is about the characteristics of those who attend activities of local congregations. We describe their demographic profile, including variations across denominations and changes over time. There is a particular emphasis on age, assessing both stage of life and generational differences. We also profile attitudes and behaviours of church attender and leaders, particularly to do with denominational/local church issues such as attitude to financial giving, denominational beliefs and practises (e.g. ordination of women), interfaith relations etc. An ongoing project is the estimate of church attendance. This is used to assess which parts of the Church are growing, stable or declining.

5. Minority populations in church life

Three specific examples of minority population groups are: children and youth/generational issues, multicultural ministry, indigenous and non-indigenous relations.

Re children and youth: As younger people disengage from organised religion, we are interested in attitudes and experiences regarding spirituality and church life.

Re multiculturalism: Churches play a critical role in the social capital of migrant communities and their integration in Australia. We will review attitudes about migrants and connections by churches. We will evaluate differences between multi-ethnic groups and mono-ethnic groups.

Re indigenous relations: We are interested in the lessons to be learnt from indigenous faith communities and the impact on their own participants as well as the wider church and society.

In accordance with our research priorities, NCLS has been involved in a range major survey projects since 1991. These projects include the Australian National Church Life Survey and international survey collaborations. Read more about these projects.

To express interest in being involved in a research project, please contact NCLS Research,

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