The nature of Australia’s households and family structures is shifting. Traditional family units consisting of a couple with children living together are becoming less prevalent. Increasingly, Australians are living in single person households and in single parent families. Single person households account for almost a quarter of dwellings.1 There are now over 900,000 one parent family households in Australia.2 There is also a trend towards living in the family home for longer. In 1976, 21 percent of young adults lived at home with their parents. That figure is now 29 percent.3
As household structures change, churches need to be aware of any possible assumptions about the nature of families in their community. Each local area will have its own unique characteristics, and church leaders would do well to investigate the types of households and family structures that are most prevalent in their community. From here, churches can assess whether their current activities are best suited to their local community.
Ministry structures that are founded on the idea of a strong family unit, where both parents and their children live together under one roof, may no longer be appropriate. Instead, a church might consider designing ministry programs tailored to single parents, people living alone, or young unmarried adults. However, that is not to say that churches should adopt an individualistic approach to ministry. Despite the fact that household structures are not the same as they were in the past, being part of a local church is still a collective activity for many families. Partners will often attend services together. Parents are likely to bring their children along with them. The challenge for churches is to reach and retain a diverse range of households in the community, while maintaining a sense of belonging and inclusion.
One way that local churches can connect with people with different family backgrounds is to monitor the ways in which language is used during services. Sermons with language and illustrations that are aimed at members of traditional family units might fail to resonate with, or even alienate, numbers of those listening. Church leaders who are receptive to the varied types of households and families in their local area are likely to use more inclusive language that connects with a broader cross-section of the community.
Changing household and family structures can also create added time pressures and responsibilities for many people. For example, single parents and those who live on their own carry sole responsibility for leading their family and running a household. As well as creating ministry programs that give support, churches might also think about the accessibility of their service times. Single parents may find a Sunday morning service difficult to attend. This is especially true for those whose weekends are the primary contact hours they have with their children. Alternative service times bring flexibility, and give people more opportunities to attend church.
Churches that understand the nature of families and households in the local area can design services and programs that are attractive and beneficial to members of the community. They can also be better prepared for challenges and opportunities that these social changes can create.
NCLS Research has recently released a new profile of local communities as part of their 2014 Community Connections resources for local churches. Based on national census information, the profiles are uniquely tailored to each individual church within Australia and contain valuable information that can help churches understand their communities and respond to current trends.
See more about NCLS Community Connections Packs)
See Comparing Church and Community: A demographic profile.
NCLS Occasional Paper 19.