Dr Ruth Powell is the director of the National Church Life Survey and Associate Professor at Australian Catholic University. The National Church Life Survey is conducted at 5 yearly intervals and the 2011 Survey involved 22 denominations, 3000 parishes, over 260,000 adult attenders and around 6000 clergy.
http://www.proclaimconference.com.au/resources/item/88 will get you to the 35 min video clip of the keynote talk and to the 40 slides she used in her talk. Thankfully you will be able to go through those slides much slower than we did. Some of those slides contained cartoons which brought home the message stronger than the graphs and numbers were able to. The cartoons came from Chris Morgan at CXMedia, http://www.cxmedia.com/ . His work is free to share for personal use, and can be licensed at very reasonable rates by churches and institutions by the image or by an annual fee.
Ruth began her presentation by talking about her father-in-law's ministry, which in equal measure inspired her and filled her with guilt and embarrassment. He could talk to anyone anywhere about Jesus. In particular he loved to pick up hitch-hikers and would take them anywhere they wanted to go – on one condition – that they let him tell them about Jesus.
1996 was the first time Catholic parishes participated in the NCLS. There is now enough survey data to talk about trends.
The first trend is about the context in which we evangelise. There has been a notable decline in belief in God, in Christian identification and in church attendance. 20 years ago 4 in 5 people would be familiar with Christian concepts if you spoke to them, now it is 3 in 5 people and dropping. This is not just an Australian trend. We now have a big cultural gap between the churched and the unchurched. This means that you have to reconsider where and how you fish for souls.
The second trend is about readiness to share your faith with others. One of the 2011 NCL Survey questions went like this:
Q. Which of the following best describes your readiness to talk to others about your faith?
a) I do not have faith, so the answer is not applicable
b) I do not like to talk about my faith; my life and actions are sufficient
c) I find it hard to talk about my faith in ordinary language
d) I mostly feel at ease talking about my faith and do so if it comes up
e) I feel at ease talking about my faith and look for opportunities to do so
15% of Catholics answered e) and 52% answered d). Results over the 2001 to 2011 period showed a small increase in e) and a small decrease in b). What this means is that in any given parish you have 15% of your parishioners who are gifted evangelists. The interesting thing is that the average e) answer for Protestants was 18%. The numbers are so similar that you could infer that the Holy Spirit gifts people to be evangelists at a constant rate across all believers. With the good news that these people are already in your pews, the question then becomes 'What are you doing to train these people with the talent to be evangelists to be better and more effective evangelists?'
To the 2006 NCL Survey question 'Has this parish offered significant training for lay people in outreach/evangelisation roles in the past 2 years?' 11% of Catholics said yes, 28% of Pentecostals and 24% of Baptists said yes. There is a major opportunity here.
Evangelisation requires the whole community working together. You need to think in terms of fishing nets not fishing lines. Your parish is the fishing net.
The churches that have been effective at evangelisation have some core qualities:
Internal : Worship, Faith, Belonging
Inspirational : Vision, Leadership, Innovation
Outward : Service, Faith-sharing, Inclusion
The third trend is that effective churches are orienting towards 'newcomers'. A newcomer is classed as someone who wasn't attending church 5 years ago, and this includes both first-timers and those returning after a long absence.
What does the average Catholic newcomer look like? The results from the 2011 NCL Survey tell us that she looks a lot like Nerida. Nerida is 46 years old, married, employed and has a university degree. Her mother was a significant faith influence, but Nerida hasn't been to church for many years. However, lately in her life she has been feeling that something is missing, and she would like her children to know something about God. She didn't shop around for a church, but went to the local parish church because a friend invited her. She is not sure what she believes in, but she goes to Mass to worship God, to share in the Eucharist and to get some time to pray and reflect. Nerida has been growing in her faith this year, and she puts that down to the life and witness of everyone at her parish.
In any congregation the average population of newcomers is 5%. That's a bit lower for Catholics at 3.4% and higher for the Pentecostals at 11% (Ed. Strong correlation here between outreach/evangelisation courses and newcomers).
Half of all Catholic newcomers are in their 30s and 40s. The average age of a Catholic newcomer is 46, for a Baptist newcomer it is 40 and for a Pentecostal newcomer it is 35.
Catholic newcomers are 56% female, 68% married, 36% university educated, 68% Australian born.
The average Catholic Mass attender is 39% male, 6% separated/divorced, 33% have degrees.
Catholic newcomers are close to the average Australian, at 44% male, 10% separated/divorced, 39% have degrees.
What else do we know about Catholic newcomers?
The most significant people in their lives to show them what faith is about were mothers 77% fathers 48% followed by grandparents/spouses/other family all at 16% and teachers, friends, clergy, chaplains at lower levels. This tells us that the role of parents and family is crucial for faith development and that childhood involvement in church is the best predictor of future church attendance in adult life.
Unlike our Protestant brethren, Catholic newcomers do not shop around when looking for a church to attend. In the 12 months prior to going to their current Catholic parish 34% did not go to any other church and 34% visited one other church.
And what are the triggers that bring Catholic newcomers in the door?
The top 5 NCL Survey answers were – after choosing 2 options out of 10
- Felt something was missing in their lives 19%
- Moved to a new area 17%
- Wanted children to have a religious upbringing 14%
- Spouse invited me / I accompanied my spouse 11%
- I felt guilty for not attending 8%
And what are the top 5 reasons Catholic newcomers give for becoming church attenders – after choosing 2 options out of 12?
- To worship / experience God 58%
- To share in the Eucharist 35%
- For a time of prayer and reflection 30%
- To make sure my children are exposed to the faith 15%
- To learn more about the faith 10%
The next blog-post will be about the other two trends in the National Church Life Survey, and a look at what is working on 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.