Church and Community

The collection of resources on this page relate to the mission and ministry of the parish church as a community itself, and in and for, the wider community and social context in which it exists.

The Community

Understanding the social context in which the Christian message is proclaimed and lived out, by both Christians as community and Christians as individuals, is an essential first step. Ministry that is intentionally missional, is ministry informed by, and shaped by, its context, and which knows and understands its audience.  

Australia in the early 21st century 

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) have published preliminary results for the category 'religious affiliation' in the 2011 census.

For a 'big picture' overview of religion in Australia, the Christian Research Association (CRA) publish 'Australia’s Religious Communities: Facts and Figures,' which provides statistical information on 90 religious groups in Australia. Using the 2011 Census and recent surveys, it describes the size of each group and the changes that have occurred over the years, the variation by capital city and state, the profile of age, and ethnic background and language. It also describes the people who are active in religious activities in the various groups.

Implications for church life 

The NCLS (National Church Life Survey) research team have sought to draw some implications for churches from social trends discernible in Australia.

Christianity in Australia  

The National Church Life Survey (NCLS) Research team publish data specific to Christian groups, and Christianity, in Australia, drawing on a five-yearly survey of participating churches and data collected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).
The NCLS team has conducted research, extending back over twenty years, on national churchgoing patterns.
McCrindle Research has also examined historic and current patterns of church attendance in Australia.

The local area 

Accessing demographic information for local communities and areas in Australia is usually easy to do online. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Community Profiles are excellent tools for researching, planning and analysing geographic areas for a number of social, economic and demographic variables. Simply go to the website and enter the name of your community in the search box. 

The CRA have a helpful article on accessing and interpreting ABS census data for specific communities. 

The quality of demographic information provided by local governments varies, depending on the council or shire concerned, but it is still always worth checking in with your local council or shire. For an example, see the link below to the demographic and community information page for Stonnington Council in inner Melbourne, which gives a wealth of current information together with projections for the future.

The English context 

The learned and insightful survey by Professor Martyn Percy (Principal of Ripon College, Cuddesdon), on the spirituality and churchgoing habits of the English people, makes a number of observations and draws several lessons that are indirectly relevant to the Australian context.  It is well worth a read by those seeking to understand the social and cultural context in which the Christian church conducts its mission and ministry in the early 21st century.  

The most recent statistics for church attendance patterns in the United Kingdom are "heartening."

Health and Vitality

A healthy church

To effectively reach its community, and fulfill its mission, the parish (or other Christian community) must be in ‘good health’ itself, have a clearly articulated vision, and good corporate sense of purpose.

Canon Robert Warren’s ‘Seven marks of a healthy church’ is a much utilized and well proven place to begin.  It provides a good resource for the congregational ‘health and vitality check’. The book from which the seven marks are taken, together with the long awaited sequel, are available from Church House Publishing, and should be on the bookshelf of anyone leading a Christian community. 


Archdeacon Bob Jackson has produced two excellent related publications:  'Hope for the Church' and 'The road to growth: towards a thriving church'. 

On building healthy and effective teams:

Core values

Herb Miller has written a helpful paper on understanding the relationship between core values and mission. Miller contends that: “congregational behavior does not stem from what its leaders write on paper but from the core values of its members. Congregations always act on their core values, not on the goals they set… If a church’s core values do not support its vision statement and mission statement, the writing process creates zero change.”

Strategic Planning 

The articles below by US consultant Tom Bandy provide brief, and sometimes provocative, ways to get church leaders, including clergy, laypeople, churchwardens and vestries etc., thinking about, and discussing, strategy, planning, and vision. 

The Vision Statement

Thomas Rainer offers, in a brief article, a synthesis of current literature together with a dose of his own experience, to provide a concise guide to developing a simple, but effective, vision statement.

On when to change or revise a vision statement: 

Mission Action Planning 

The Anglican Diocese of Melbourne has developed a guide to mission action planning to assist parishes in responding to their own local context, and to develop a plan for future outreach, growth, health and vitality.
The Diocese of London have an expectation that every parish in the diocese will develop its own Mission Action Plan, and publish a comprehensive guide, and wealth of material, relating to mission action planning.

An example of effective mission action planning and implementation (from a specifically evangelical perspective) is given by Curtis House, pastor of First United Methodist Church, Wolfforth, Texas. During the first five years of his tenure, this eighty-year-old congregation in a small West Texas town doubled in average worship attendance.

Structure, Staffing and Organisation

The way the community is structured, staffed and organised, will have important implications for how it conducts, not only its internal affairs, but its mission and ministry in the community.

Big picture

The report ‘Fondant Church: Thawing the church for mission in the 21st century,’ by Paul Dowling, is an attempt to look at what the structure and organisation of the Church might look like if we are to respond to the challenge of being a missionary Church in our present culture.


Bradly Billings has conducted research in the effectiveness, or otherwise, of team and collaborative ministries in the UK, for potential adoption of the model in the Australian context.

Volunteers

An area of staffing that is of increasing importance, but for which there is often a paucity of resources, concerns volunteers.

One of the most widely asked questions by those in parish leadership is ‘how do I terminate a volunteer?’ Tom Bandy gives a typically straightforward answer. 

 
On recruiting and sustaining volunteers, see the article below by Bill Hybels, via 'Building Church Leaders'

Outreach

Building community

Being ‘in the community’ is an essential part of the mission of the outward looking Christian community.

‘Going out side the church walls’ is an economically written piece on basic outreach into the community, giving an overview of the sort of things every church could (perhaps should) be doing already, with plenty of suggestions adaptable to your context.  


A further series of related and practical tips for outreach into the community are provided by the Church Army.  View the two documents below and also the further tips and resources on their UK web site.

Evangelism

The great commission

Fulfilling the ‘great commission’ (Matthew 28.19-20) is a core function and calling of all Christians, both individually and corporately.  

An important piece of research into evangelism and mission in the Australian context is the occasional paper (no. 13) ‘Faith-sharing activities by Australian churches’ by the NCLS team. This paper utilised the results of the 2006 National Church Life Survey to give an overview of the extent (or otherwise) to which Australian churchgoers are willing, and comfortable, in sharing their faith with others. 

The Sheffield Centre (UK Church Army) maintain a large online library of resources relating to evangelism (called 'Scoler').

One edition of TSC (The Sheffield Centre) is dedicated to two models for use in evangelism - the first relating to the faith journey of the individual and the second to understanding "the three stages of relationship development: ‘contact’, ‘engaging’ and ‘friendship’."

Belonging and believing

Building on the mission-shaped church exploration of 'belonging, believing, behaving,' Gil Cann provides a helpful and important overview of the postmodern trend for 'belonging' to precede 'believing' in the journey toward faith.

Church planting

For those involved in or considering a church plant as a means of outreach, the white paper on ‘Planting a New Outreach Ministry’ from MissionInsite may be of interest and value. 

Fresh Expressions and Mission-Shaped

Mission-shaped church

The seminal 2004 ‘Mission Shaped Church’ report has had widespread, and ongoing, implications for the Church of England in its home country, and beyond. The publication of the report, together with its reception, and the advocating of a ‘mixed economy’ church by then Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, is still working its way through the Australian context, although it has led to the publication of an Australian version of ‘Mission-shaped church’ (read a review here).

So what is the ‘mission-shaped church?' A PowerPoint presentation from the Church of England (downloaded as a PDF), gives a succinct, and helpful overview.

At the 2004 General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia, Wayne Brighton gave an insightful analysis of the Australian context, using demographic and church attendance data, to highlight the imperative for the 'mission-shaped' approach in the Australian context.

The Doctrine Commission of the Anglican Church of Australia produced, in 2007, a collection of essays on the Mission Shaped Church in the Australian context (including the summary by Michael Stead above), which were originally published in a special edition of St Mark's Review.

See also our review of Mission-shaped parish

Fresh expressions in Australia and UK

One of the most visible and innovative outcomes of the UK mission shaped report was the impetus it gave to ‘fresh expressions’ of church across the UK, and beyond. A good overview is the article by Steve Corbett below.

One of the leading figures in the movement, George Lings, has written a related article.

An example of a 'fresh expression' is the Moot community (UK).

The ‘Fresh Expressions’ website (UK) has a wealth of information, resources, and other material, much of it available for free download. 

The Anglican Church of Australia, in 2007, re-branded its 'Task Force on Mission' as 'Fresh Expressions Australia.' 

The Sheffield Centre has explored the role of larger churches in the fresh expressions movement.

The Seminars and Conferences page to attend the online (virtual) seminar 'Following the missionary spirit: going forward with fresh expressions,' held in London in November 2012.