Between talking about the third and fourth trends in the National Church Life Survey, Ruth Powell took us on a tour of the Hillsong website and invited us to compare it to our own parish websites. http://hillsong.com/
When you scroll down the home page you get to a section which reads, 'Free this weekend? Join us in church!' and then shows a page of icons with locations around the world. This website is unashamedly set up with newcomers in mind.
So we'd click on Australia. http://hillsong.com/australia
And what message greets us? 'Welcome home. You belong here!' and 'Find your place' Followed by church locations grouped by state, options to check out the leadership team and options of special events coming soon.
Ruth then showed us the landing page for those who clicked on Sydney Hills http://hillsong.com/hills
Scrolling down you get service times, location with 'plan a visit' option, events coming up, what's available for children, youth etc, answers to frequently asked questions, a look at the pastoral team and more.
If you click on Plan a Visit http://hillsong.com/hills/plan-a-visit/ you find out about a concierge service which (if you fill in your details) will on your arrival show you around the place and introduce you to people.
Of course welcoming newcomers is important, but you also have to take steps to integrate them into the community or else they will leave by the back door and not be seen again.
Ruth then showed us the results of the NCL Survey for what Catholic parishes do to help people integrate compared with what Protestant parishes do. These are the main strategies:
- Follow-up visit from clergy or laity
- Invitation to join a social group or faith discussion/bible study group
- People extend hospitality and invite them to meals
- Invitation to take up a task or ministry
- Course for new Christians / orientation program
The fourth trend is an increase in acts of service. This trend is clear across both Catholic and Protestant churches where members are more likely to be involved in informal acts of service and church-based acts of service. Informal acts of service include lending money, caring for the sick, helping someone in a personal crisis, visiting a person in hospital, giving away possessions, donating money and contacting members of parliament.
What the survey results cannot tell us is whether this increased busyness is feeding the consumer culture in our parishes or opening up avenues for conversations that lead to discipleship. Is it a case of 'look busy, Jesus is coming'?
These acts of service certainly build bridges between the parishes and the community, but it is worthwhile doing it strategically. For example, why start your own soup kitchen / help for new immigrant service etc when you could join your efforts to the church down the road that has already got a similar initiative up and running?
Then there are many works of church based service that function like non-government organisations and never tell people the reason they serve is because the love of God impels them to. The way forward requires an integration of both words and works, since we know from experience that 'word only' and 'deeds only' doesn't work. A way forward is to get better at testifying to the reasons why we act in Christian service.
The fifth trend is a decline in inviting people to church. Here are the results of how Catholics answered this 2011 NCL Survey question:
Q. Would you be prepared to invite to a church service, here, any of your friends and relatives who do not currently attend a church?
- Yes, and I have done so in the past 12 months (27%)
- Yes, but I have not done so in the past 12 months (34%)
- No, probably not (18%)
- No, definitely not (2%)
- Don’t know (20%)
The research has not found any single stand out value that attracts newcomers. Rather it is a range of things that together make an impact. The good news is that working on even one of these values will have a positive flow on effect to the whole church community. For example…
- Discover a sense of vision and direction
- Promote a strong sense of belonging
- Focus on those beyond church life (on the fringe)
- Encourage those that attend to invite others to church
- Be an empowering leader
- Nurture growth in faith and movement toward commitment
- Aim for joyful, inspiring services
- Introduce contemporary worship
- Encourage informal acts of helping
- Look after the young
- Be willing to try new things
- With the notable decline in society's belief in God it is important to learn about what authentic and effective evangelisation looks like in this time and in this place. Churches need to reflect and to experiment.
- Happily there has been an increase in willingness to share faith with others. Since family members are so significant for sharing faith, how is your parish supporting them and equipping them for this role? There are people whom God has called and gifted to be evangelists in your parish. So identify them, support them, celebrate with them, and learn from them.
- Healthy, growing churches have been orienting themselves to newcomers. For many parishes doing this will require a major cultural shift and this shift will take a long time to do.
- There has been an increase in acts of service. They help build bridges between the church and community where authentic connection can happen. However we must guard against being busy serving consumers rather than being busy building relationships as we serve and taking advantage of the opportunities that arise to invite those we serve to discipleship.
- There has been a worrying decline in people inviting others to church. We need to find out what is stopping them from inviting others. If some of those reasons are parish based, we need to find out what needs to change and do something practical about it.
The next blog-post will be about the panel discussion on what is working in other Christian churches.
Some of the workshops have been made available as podcasts via www.xt3.com
To access them visit http://www.xt3.com/library/view.php?id=17454
Some of the talks and workshops are now available from http://www.proclaimconference.com.au/resources. Several video clips, transcripts, handouts and slide presentations are downloadable.