Starting points for churchgoers to connect with others
At present, in mid 2020, the shape of church looks very different, as social distancing measures exist during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it can be anecdotally seen that many churches are seeking to strengthen their supportive connections within the local church, as well as in their local community, in creative and more digitally based ways.
It's in this context that we offer results from our survey of the wider community, on how churchgoers can connect with those around them, as well as Australians' openness to being invited to church activities.
Our research provides some starting points for churchgoers to connect with others, including making and maintaining friendships; inviting people who used to attend church to activities; having fun with friends and music; along with building confidence within church.
The research shows positive links between having at least one close contact and being attracted rather than repelled by actions of Christians, being open to an invitation to attend a Christian event and attending church services and other events. Close relationships make a positive difference to Australia's attitudes.
Yet, it is of some concern that around half (51%) of all Australians do not have any close friends or family who attend church.
Some four in ten Australians (40%) say they would come to church if invited by close friends and family, of which 21 % are fairly certain they would accept an invitation and 19% would probably accept. Whereas 16% of Australians are not sure and 26% say ‘no’ to an invitation to church.
The key is relationship. Australians report that they would be more likely to come if they felt that it was important to a friend or family member that they accept.
The table below shows Australians' ratings of things that would increase the likelihood of accepting an invitation to a church service. Relationship is the highest rating item, with 43% of Australians indicating that if they felt it was important to their friend or family member, they would be more likely to accept an invitation to church.
Community service activities of the church in the wider neighbourhood, along with hospitality and sense of welcome, were next highest, listed by around two in ten Australians as something that would increase their likelihood of accepting an invitation to a church service.
|Relationship||If I felt that it was important to my friend or family member that I accept||43%|
|Service||If the church was doing good work in the community (e.g. supporting vulnerable people)||19%|
|Hospitable||If I could be confident I would be made to feel welcome||18%|
|Convenient||If the church was convenient for me to get to||
|Inclusive||If the church was inclusive of people of all sexualities and genders||13%|
|Timely||If the church service was short and wouldn't take much of my time||10%|
|Clear||If my friend/family member explained to me what happens at a church service||10%|
|Social||If I had an opportunity to informally talk with other people at the church when I visited||9%|
|Other||None of the above||33%|
Australians' ratings of things that would increase the likelihood of accepting an invitation to a church service.
Source: 2019 Australian Community Survey, by NCLS Research (n=1,272)
N.B. Percentages may not add to 100% as respondents could select more than one option.
The research also shows that if a person has a history of church attendance, then they are more likely to accept an invitation than someone who has never attended church. Some familiarity helps.
In the previous 12 months 33% of Australians went to a church event and, for those with at least one close contact, it jumps to 73%.
The most common church events attended were a regular church service (19%), Christmas (19%) and Easter (16%), according to the 2018 Australian Community Survey by NCLS Research. The special moments in the Christian calendar are worth highlighting as times to invite others to church.
When asked about the types of events they would be more likely to attend, those Australians who gave a response were most likely to say they would go to a meal or a musical event hosted by a local church, if invited by close friends or family.
This snapshot of the relationship between church and community highlights that while there is no question that some strain is present, there are also sources of encouragement.
Within church life, both leaders and attenders speak positively about their experiences of discipleship, worship, community and mission. Churches are more open to new possibilities than previously.
The research confirms that connecting with the wider community starts, as it always has, with relationships. Family, friends, food and music. This is where we can start and continue to love our neighbour,
Powell, R. Sterland, S. and Pepper, M. (2020). 2020 Australian Community Survey [Data file]. Sydney: NCLS Research.
The breadth, depth and type of engagement local churches have with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and cultures.
While levels of confidence in the institutional church are low, personal attitudes towards individual Christians are more positive.
Almost half of attenders say they help non-churchgoers to explore faith