Employment changes things

'Time strapped' people with less time for volunteering and participating at church.

Want to fill that church roster? Sorry you'll have to wait until I get home from work, check my emails and sync my calendar.

There's been a rise in the number of people in the labour force, including more women in paid employment and people delaying retirement. The result - 'time strapped' people - with less time for volunteering and participating at church.

The old assumptions around having free time are being challenged by the new trends and raises questions as to how the church can contribute to a work-life balance.

In 2016, around half of Australian church attenders (49%) were employed, another 8% performed full time home duties/ family responsibilities and 36% were retired.

The percentage of employed church attenders has remained steady in the past decade (50% in 2006, 51% in 2011 and 49% in 2016), while the rate of unemployment was stable at 3% during this period.

There was a steady downtrend in the percentage of churchgoers who indicated full-time home duties or family responsibilities (11% in 2006, down to 9% in 2011, down further to 8% in 2016). This might reflect the national trend in the number of women working part-time or older people remaining in the workforce.

The number of retirees in churches rose slightly in the past ten years, from 32% in 2006 to 36% in 2016. The older age profile of Australian churchgoers may be reflected in the higher proportion of retirees, complete with lower employment and unemployment rates, as compared to the general population.

Denominational variations exist in the employment status of their attenders. Pentecostal and Baptist churches have the highest proportion of full time employees (39% and 32% respectively) along with the highest proportion of students (11%). This could reflect the younger age profile of those denominations.

Similarly, denominations with an older age profile have the highest proportions of retired attenders, including Uniting, Lutheran, Catholic and Anglican churches.

Lutheran and Pentecostal churches have the greatest percentage of self-employed churchgoers, at 12%.

This all has implications for churches in terms of the volunteer hours available for church activities as time pressured people may not have as much time for involvement in its activities. This may also encourage churches to consider how they can shape their programs to help working parents spend more time with their families, perhaps through activities that include and allow them to participate together. 

Changing work patterns need to be understood by church leaders, in order to wisely steward the gifts of their people and best facilitate their involvement in sustainable ways. Whether retirees, full time employees, or part time employees with family/ domestic duties as well, the people in a church are balancing life, work and caregiving in new ways.

Kathy Jacka, Miriam Pepper
Data Sources:

2016, 2011, 2006 NCLS Attender Survey [Data files]. Sydney: NCLS Research.

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