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Making Use of Research to Shape Ministry Baptists in Australia - A Strength and Weakness Analysis More Ready Than We Realise? Engaging Not Yet Followers of Jesus The Era of Digital Mission



From the Director

This edition of PRAC highlights the value of analysing the recent national surveys that help provide a more objective picture of the Australian Baptist community and its place in Australian society. One of Crossover Australia’s purposes is to reflect back to the church how we are doing and highlight trends in our culture that offer opportunities. The ongoing analysis of the 2011 national census as well as the 2011 National Church Life Survey have highlighted some critical information that the authors of the articles in this edition of PRAC have uncovered. It will come as a surprise to some readers that the national surveys have demonstrated the continued growth of the Baptist community in spite of the more general decline of other mainline denominations. In terms of monthly involvement in public religious activity Baptists now rank third behind the Catholic and Anglican communities and ahead of the Uniting Church and Pentecostal churches. Philip Hughes from Christian Research Association ( has suggested that the growth in Australian Baptist churches can be attributed to three factors. First, the welcoming response to migrants into church communities. Secondly, a system of church government that in emphasising the autonomy of the local congregation provides a flexibility to meet the changing context of contemporary Australian society. Thirdly, a strong emphasis on commitment to the Lordship of Jesus as expressed in believer’s baptism. The challenge for our Baptist faith communities is to continue to build on these strengths to more intentionally engage in faith conversations that help others to encounter the transforming love of Jesus. I trust as you read the articles in this edition of PRAC you will have ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to us.

Keith Jobberns Director Crossover Australia

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see where the church is strongest and where there is room to develop. For example, many Baptist churches have been getting stronger in worship, community service and innovation. But there are concerning trends that we are declining in vision, empowering leadership and faith-sharing. The NCLS does not explain “why”, but it points to strengths, weaknesses and trends that can be helpful for local leadership teams to discuss and identify where to put extra energy for training and resourcing. The NCLS will also be helpful for us over the coming years as we identify and learn from “lighthouse churches” that are especially strong in evangelism, inspiring leadership, vision and community service. So be encouraged, don’t just file away your NCLS reports or ignore Census data – let’s use this research to understand our context, demographics and opportunities, and shape appropriate missional responses.

Michael Leunig is an inspiration for me in his capacity as a poet and artist to connect with the heart and soul of Australians and their interest in a spirituality that integrates the simplicity of everyday life and a passion for justice. I often pray the words of his prayer that is relevant for researchers: “God be with those who explore in the cause of understanding, whose search takes them far from what is familiar and comfortable and leads them into danger or terrifying loneliness. Let us try to understand their sometimes strange or difficult ways; their confronting or unusual language; the uncommon life of their emotions, for they have been affected and shaped and changed by their struggle at the frontiers of a wild darkness, just as we may be affected, shaped and changed by the insights they bring back to us. Bless them with strength and peace. Amen.” The most important thing I want to say in this article, however, is that doing and applying research is not just a task for professional researchers, but for all practitioners and missionaries. There is a wealth of research information readily available to churches about their strengths, weaknesses and opportunities as a church and their community demographics. The Australian National Census offers a wide range of data about Australia’s 21.5 million people. Churches can get a clear overview of who lives in their neighbourhood: their age, education and employment, cultural diversity and religious identity, and people with special needs. For example in my local postcode of Auburn (3122), in 2011 there were 8,006 people or 37.8% of 21,177 residents aged 20-34, significantly higher than 20.6% of people in Australia overall. There are more people not married than average and a much higher than average university education level (38.9% compared to 14.3%). 63.1% of my neighbours are Australian born (compared to the national 69.8%). The next top response for country of birth is India (4.6%, more than three times higher than the national 1.4%), then China (3.5%, more than twice the national 1.5%). This is a quick 10 minute research task that can shape ministry. Where do we need to focus? If we are to connect with our neighbourhood we at least need to give attention to young adults and to our Indian and Chinese neighbours. Census data is also helpful to identify where our growth as Baptists is coming from. For example, from 2001 to 2011 the number of people identifying as Baptist grew by 43,244 to 352,499, but 98% of this growth was from migrants to Australia! This shows our need to cultivate hospitality to culturally-diverse newcomers, but also challenges us to do better at connecting with Australian-born people. The National Church Life Survey (NCLS) is another valuable asset which is unique in the world in its breadth and coverage. 331 Baptist churches participated in the 2011 NCLS, collecting data on 32,290 people gathered in worship on a Sunday. This gives us a good sample across the country. If your church participated, or if your church would be willing to do another survey which is available to do anytime, you can

There is another source of extremely valuable research data, just as cheap and as freely available as census data. It takes a bit more time to access but it is probably more valuable to help us shape ministry. This research is congregational and community appreciative inquiry (AI). AI starts not with a problem to solve but with questions about a group’s best values, aspirations, and where a group has been performing at its best. This is as simple as asking your people where the church is at its best in mission, worship and community. I am not talking about postgraduate worship and widespread research projects, although AI is valuable there, but simply asking curious questions. I have been amazed how insightful asking simple open questions can be to untap insights and visionary ideas. We are the body of Christ and the vision and imagination for a missional future can emerge as we listen to one another. I love the way Alan Roxburgh expresses this: ‘The great reality of the church is that by the Spirit, God’s imagination for the future is already among God’s people, and so the work of leadership is in the cultivation of the environment that will allow this imagination to gather energy.’ Of course it is not just good research craft but basic pastoral care, and can be broadened to people in your cafés and schools as basic community surveying and pre-evangelism. Curious, appreciative questions are the most basic yet powerful research tool that can help shape ministry. I have been learning more of the craft of research from Christian Research Association’s Philip Hughes. One of his critiques of Australian church research is that we are strong on the study of the Bible and theology, but give less attention to learning from and using sociology, psychology and cultural analysis to understand how Australians view the world and how they express spirituality and grow in faith. He observes: Many contemporary theologians and leaders of the churches reflect with great skill on the Biblical text. They apply great scholarship to understanding the history of the traditions of the church. But when it comes to relating this to the contemporary world, many rely on hearsay, hunches and a little participant observation.... A great deal of the theologising that goes on in Australia (and many other parts of the western world) ignores many of the major issues of culture: issues of the business world, of economics and politics, of world peace and the impact of globalisation, of mass media and mass forms of community. With the challenges of mission in our Australian context we need more accessible and relevant research analysis that will help us shape missional strategy. This is not just the task of professional researchers. It is best in the hands of local practitioners who draw on available resources and do all they can to understand the challenges and opportunities of their context. This is research at its best – not for dusty library shelves or to accumulate another degree, but to give strategic direction to how we can best be the church in our local scene. Someone has said, “The ideal missionary has the heart of an evangelist and the mind of a scholar”. Part of the role of missional leadership is R&D (research and development), functioning as a missiologist-in-residence to help a church discern and dream about how to cooperate with the mission of God. Darren Cronshaw is Pastor of AuburnLife and Mission Catalyst (Researcher) with the Baptist Union of Victoria. Details of Darren’s other research is accessible at

In late 2011, the National Church Life Survey (NCLS) was completed by 32,290 adults from 331 Australian Baptist Churches. This world class research provides valuable insights into the church in Australia. It allows us to look above our narrow perspectives to take an objective look at what is really happening, and not happening, in Australian Baptist Churches. So, what does it reveal?

GENERAL DEMOGRAPHICS The NCLS gives a snapshot of our churches: •

The average attender is 48 years, 6 months old (compared to 46 years, 9 months in 2006);

56% are women;

35% say they give 10% or more of their income to the church;

The percentage of attenders involved in leadership roles at church is falling (from 52.2% in 2001 to 47.3%); Of those involved in ministry/leadership 24% are involved in the worship services, 17% in children and youth, 15% in group leadership, 12% in admin or committees and 7% in pastoral care; 12.5% said that if they had the opportunity, they would support and/or become an

active participant in the planting of a new church; •

34.9% have not been directly involved in helping any non-Christians explore questions about faith at all in the last 12 months;

26.8% would use social networks on the internet (e.g. Facebook, Twitter etc) every /most days;

19% were born in a non-English speaking country (up from 11% in 2006);

19% switched from another denomination in the last 5 years;

12% transferred from another Baptist church in the last 5 years;

6.8% are “Newcomers” (people who have joined their church in the last five years and were not previously attending a church – we would call them converts) down from 8.8% in 2001.

THE CORE QUALITIES The NCLS has identified nine facets of church life (their “Core Qualities”) which are indicative of church vitality. In other words, the research has identified that when churches do well in these areas they are also likely to demonstrate numerical growth, spiritual growth in the survey respondents and high levels of newcomers.


Faith - I have experienced much growth in faith at my church

Worship - I always/usually experience inspiration during the service here

Belonging - I have a strong and growing sense of belonging here

Vision - I am strongly committed to the vision, goals and direction here

Leadership - Our leaders encourage us to a great extent to use our gifts here

Innovation - I strongly agree our church is always ready to try new things

Service - I have helped others informally in at least three of the named ways

Faith-Sharing - I invited someone to church here in the last year

Inclusion – I am certain I would follow up someone drifting away from church

Some individual Australian Baptist churches are doing extremely well in these areas and as a result they are seeing strong numerical growth, spiritual growth and high levels of “Newcomers”. Other churches are not doing so well. The scores for most of the Core Qualities have stayed about the same in the 2001, 2006 and 2011 surveys. However, some interesting trends are apparent. On the whole, worship services in Baptist churches are more inspirational than they were 10 years ago. This could reflect the ongoing influence of the charismatic movement with its emphasis on the experience of God in corporate worship services. Potentially, this greater experience of God will lead to transformed lives and a more powerful church. Australian Baptists are also increasingly likely to be involved in acts of service. The percentage indicating that they have informally helped others is steadily increasing (55.0% in 2001 to 60.2%). This reflects a

growing compassion amongst Australian Baptists, perhaps reflecting an increasing awareness of poverty and its related issues. Possibly related to this is the increased inclination to “follow up someone drifting away from church” – up from 7.3% in 2001 to 12.3%. Australian Baptist churches are increasingly caring communities. However, there are two trends in Australian Baptist churches which are of concern. The first is in regard to leadership. The percentage of Australian Baptists who say: “Our leaders encourage us to a great extent to use our gifts here,” is falling (from 27.4% in 2001 to 20.2% in 2006 and 2011). The average percentage for Pentecostal churches was 45% and for the Salvation Army it was 26%. This response indicates that less than one in four Australian Baptists feel greatly encouraged to use their gifts. Additionally, when asked what should be given greater attention in the next 12 months, the top response amongst Australian Baptists (36%) was “Encouraging the people here to discover/use their gifts”. This Core Quality is strongly linked to church vitality. If the role of pastors is to “equip the saints for the works of service” (Ephesians 4:12) they are often failing. Our church members desire to have more help identifying and using their gifts, and it is crucial for church vitality, yet many would seem to feel under-developed. Clearly Australian Baptist church leaders need to work harder at identifying, developing and utilising the gifts of their church members. The second trend is even more disturbing. The percentage indicating that “I invited someone to church here in the last year,” has fallen from 43.6% in 2001 to 36.0% in 2011. Although this is better than most other denominations (although the Pentecostals scored 57% on the same question) the trend is very serious. Although people may be involved in personal evangelism through their own networks, invitation to church remains a key step in the conversion process. If Baptists are to pride themselves on their missional focus, we need to take deliberate steps to reverse this worrying trend. We need to create a culture of invitation.

VALUES AND CONCERNS The NCLS has two questions which provide valuable insight into the heart of Australian Baptists. The first is, “Which of the following aspects of this congregation do you personally most value?” In line with our Baptist heritage the top response was “Sermons, preaching or Bible teaching” (48%). However, this was down from 53% in 2001. Other highly valued aspects included small prayer, discussion or Bible study groups

(28%), praying for one another (27%), and a “contemporary style of worship or music”. Interestingly, worship style is becoming less important, falling from 35% in 2001 to 26% in 2011. Given that respondents have a growing sense of inspiration from worship services (see above) this is puzzling. It could be that with the winding down of the “worship wars” in many churches people are not passionately clinging to contemporary worship. As mentioned above, the thing that most Australian Baptists indicated should be given greater attention in their church in the next 12 months was “Encouraging the people here to discover/use their gifts” (36%). Other preferred priorities were spiritual growth (e.g. spiritual direction, prayer groups) (35%), building a strong sense of community within the congregation (33%) and ensuring new people are included well in church life (29%). Some have predicted the decline of church small groups, but these responses indicate that attenders still want them to play a significant role in their church life. Involvement in small prayer, discussion or Bible study groups has grown slightly (to 54%) since 2001, yet people clearly desire what small groups may offer them.

CONCLUSIONS Australian Baptist churches are clearly a good place to be. Look at your congregation on Sunday and note that on average, a third (31%) of those gathered have switched in from another church in the last five years. Australian Baptist churches are increasingly inspirational where people care for one another and those outside the church. The preaching of the word of God continues to be the major focus of church life. However, there is an increasing reluctance to invite others to experience church. And there is a sense of frustration. Although desiring to use and develop their gifts in service, many feel that the leaders are not helping them with their gifts. Although they desire to grow spiritually, they do not feel that there is enough being done in this area either. This information presents an exciting challenge for local church leaders. Rev Dr Ian Hussey is a Lecturer at Malyon College and coordinator of the Doctor of Ministry program. He did his PhD on the NCLS research. He is available to help local churches understand and use their NCLS results or to arrange for them to take the survey.


Than We Realise? By Andrew Turner

Crossover has been unashamed in championing church planting. We know that it’s hardly ever easy. We know that it costs a lot more than just money. But still we’re convinced it should be more the norm than the exception. Families expect their kids to leave home and start new households, universities expect even their best students to graduate and change the world – but churches with a vision and expectation for sending are all too rare. It seems retentiveness is the norm and planting is the exception. Even the National Church Life Survey (NCLS), which Crossover strongly supports, has a much stronger emphasis on church size and vitality than on sending capacity. Churches growing in size and vitality but maintaining a retentive culture are, from a reproductive movement perspective, only as useful as the big, healthy fig tree Jesus cursed for its fruitlessness. So we engaged NCLS to add some extra questions for churches of our Baptist movement. And the results are fascinating. We added the question: If you had the opportunity, would you support and/or become an active participant in the planting of a new church?

question was about personal involvement as well as support, this variation may reflect the difference in mobility of different life stages more than generational differences in opinion. •

There is significantly higher support for church planting among Baptists born in non-English speaking countries (+34%) than among those born in Australia (+11%). This may reflect a more adventurous and hopeful outlook among those who have moved countries and cultures than those who have not experienced such a radical move.

Support for church planting is fairly evenly spread across the states, but it is strongest among Queensland Baptists (+20%), then WA and NSW/ACT (+16%), Tas (+14%), Vic and SA (+13%) and NT (+12%).

But here’s where the research gets really fascinating: We crossreferenced the support for church planting with the responses to questions about church attendance, personal devotional practice and the importance of God in respondents’ lives. •

We found that church planting support was much stronger among weekly church attenders (+18%) than among occasional attenders (0%).

Support for church planting has a strong correlation with frequency of devotional practice. Among those with daily or mostly-daily devotional practices, support for church planting is at +22%, compared to +14% (weekly practices), +3% (occasional practices) and -19% (rarely practice).

A similar correlation can be seen with responses to the question regarding the importance of God in one’s life. Among those who said that God is the most important factor in their lives, support for church planting is at +24%. This plummets to +3% for those who said that God is almost the most important, -20% for those who said God is fairly important, and -29% among those who replied that God is not at all important in their lives.

Of the Baptists surveyed, 38.1% - that’s nearly 10,000 adults – indicated that they personally would likely support or participate in the planting of a new church. If we express church planting approval as the difference between those who responded positively and negatively, then church planting among Australian Baptists has an approval rating of +15%. These are encouraging numbers, demonstrating a level of support among Baptist members that Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd can only dream of. Does this represent a reproductive “twinkling in the eye” of members in an era of retentiveness? Is this the enthusiastic answer of members to a question leaders aren’t asking? Are our people more ready than we realise? Cross-referencing answers to this question with other NCLS questions allowed us to dig deeper. We found: •

There is no significant difference in positive support for church planting according to age-group, but negative responses to planting increases with age. This results in planting approval of +3% among those aged over 70, +15% among those aged 50-69, +17% among those aged 30-49 and +23% among those aged 15-29. Note that these are all positive, and since the

Together these form a clear picture that support for church planting and spiritual maturity are closely linked. Perhaps like Isaiah, the closer our members come to God the more inclined they are to say “Here am I, send me!” Understandably, it’s the most grown-up of the children who are ready to leave home. The challenge – and I believe the great bottle-neck of our movement – is in the willingness of senior leaders to prepare and release these most valuable of family members. Andrew Turner is the Church Development Facilitator with the Baptist Churches of South Australia.

By Philip Bryant

Baptists have been participating in the National Church Life Survey (NCLS) every five years since 1991. We now have information that tracks what is happening in Australian Baptist Church life over 5 surveys covering a period of 2 decades. Baptists normally identify themselves as people of the Bible who have both evangelistic and mission hearts. So how are we doing when it comes to sharing our faith? What are the strengths and concerns? The good news is that the 2011 NCLS has revealed that there has been a bit of a turnaround in Baptist Churches. Baptists are engaging better with their community than in previous years. From my involvement in church health in Western Australia and some other states, I believe that this is true. Many churches have programs to meet community needs including the usual children’s activities such as Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS), Toddler Jam, Mainly Music, Playgroups, After School Clubs, Youth Ministries and Craft Groups. Others have seniors’ activities, sporting programs, men’s sheds, mothers’ groups, schools etc. The only limit to community contact ideas is the creativity of God’s people. What is also encouraging is that some churches have gone through the process of considering commencing a group to serve the community, but when researching their community discovered that a similar group already exists which has no church affiliation. They have then made an intentional decision to not commence a group of their own, but to instead attend and become salt and light in the existing group. The result is that they have had the opportunity to assist some of their contacts to explore questions of faith that have resulted in people becoming lifelong followers of Jesus. One of the big questions that follows from this increase in community contact is, “Are Baptists assisting people who are not yet followers of Jesus to explore questions of faith?” In 2011, Crossover commissioned the NCLS to ask Baptists how they were faring in helping not yet followers of Jesus to explore their faith. Baptists from around Australia completed these questions, providing some useful information on how we are doing. We discover that 6 out of every 10 (60%) Baptists had been directly involved in helping at least one not yet follower of Jesus to explore questions about faith in the previous year. When looking at this question, the NCLS reveals who is more likely to assist not yet followers of Jesus to explore questions of faith: •

15-29 year olds are more likely to assist (67%) than those older. By the time Baptists reach 70+ years of age, 50% assisted at least one not yet follower of Jesus to explore questions of faith.

Females (61%) are slightly more inclined than males (59%).

Those employed (63%) are more likely than those who have home duties (60%), or are unemployed (59%), or retired (52%).

Singles (65%) followed by separated or divorced people (63%) are more likely to help than those who are married (59%) or widowed (53%).

Those who view God as “most important” in their lives are more likely to help (67%) than those who see God as fairly important (30%).

Those who attend church weekly or more (62%) are more likely to assist than those who attend monthly or less (55%).

Devotional practices also impact whether or not people share their faith. Those whose practice is “almost daily” (68%) are more likely to help than those whose devotional practice is “occasional” (44%).

Those who have a leadership role in the church (69%) are more likely to help than those not in leadership role (53%).

The person most likely to assist an unbeliever to explore faith is 15-29 years old, single, employed with a degree, born in an English speaking country, views God as most important in their life, has a daily devotional life, attends church at least weekly, lives in Western Australia or the Northern Territory and has a leadership role in the church. What does all this mean? If we are to see more people helping not yet followers of Jesus to explore their faith, Pastors and leaders need to: •

Equip and encourage followers of Jesus in the basic spiritual disciplines.

Equip and encourage followers of Jesus of all ages with practical steps on how to engage not yet followers of Jesus to assist them to explore questions of faith.

All ages, especially those advancing in years, need to shake off the temptation to complacency and regain the urgency of their youth to grasp the opportunities to help a not yet follower of Jesus to explore their faith in a turbulent world, where the only permanent answer for people is a change in their heart and life, rather than their circumstances or the people around them. Philip Bryant is the Church Health Consultant for the Baptist Churches of Western Australia.



Research that Crossover has commissioned shows that Baptists aren’t taking advantage of the revolutionary new possibilities that the internet has opened up in terms of evangelism.

26.8% indicated they did on a daily basis whilst 45.1% indicated that they rarely ever did, if at all. When broken down by age a whopping 62.7% of respondents aged 15-29 used social media every day or most days. Asked how often they would access Christian media sites for teaching, resources and encouragement (eg blogs, websites, podcasts, etc) only 5.3% did that on a daily/most days basis. 10.2% did a few times a week but the majority of respondents rarely did with 31.6% only accessing occasionally and a whopping 37.6% indicating that they hardly ever did, if at all. Interestingly, the age group that scored highest in terms of daily usage were between 30-49 years and second highest were aged 50-69 years. This suggests that 15-29 year olds are more focussed on social media rather than ‘traditional’ internet sites such as websites and blogs. While 62.7% of respondents between 15-29 years indicated daily use of social media only 4.8% indicated daily use of Christian media resources.

Modern Christians are in possession of the most remarkable set of tools that believers have ever had access to, especially with evangelism in mind: the internet.

When asked how likely they would be to use quality evangelistic resources in digital media format for sharing with their non-Christian friends 10.6% of those aged between 15-29 years indicated that they were very likely. Surprisingly this remained consistent across the age groups including 6.4% of those aged 70 and above. This bears out the fact that older people are becoming more familiar with use of the internet and social media such as Facebook. In total 10.1% said they would be very likely to use digital resources and 25.1% said they were ‘likely’.

I can only imagine how Johannes Gutenberg in 1439 would have salivated at the prospect of social media. He had just invented movable type printing and started the printing revolution, widely regarded as the most important event of the modern era. This innovation allowed the printing of the Gutenberg Bible and access for people to their own Bible started becoming a reality.

Other research reflects how little Australian Christians are using the internet strategically as part of their lives as ambassadors for Christ. A study by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation showed how Christians are isolated on the extreme edge of the Australian Twittersphere, talking almost exclusively amongst themselves.

This publishing revolution, along with the sacrifices of other figures such as Wycliffe, Hus, Colet, Tyndale and Luther who worked tirelessly to put the Bible into the hands of everyday people in a language they could understand, had tremendous implications for the spread of the Christian faith.

This underlines the lost missional opportunity of the modern digital revolution as far as the church is concerned. We are Christ’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:1) and a living letter (2 Corinthians 2:2) and this applies whenever we log on. It’s time we had the same vision as those early pioneers who blazed a new trail in the history of translation and publishing so that the Bible, and thereby the Gospel, could find its way into the homes, hands and hearts of everyday people. We now have access to the greatest facilitating tool for communication ever. The challenge is how we will utilise it.

We now live in a new era of revolutionary development in publishing. The advent of the internet and the capacity to self-publish has opened up never before seen opportunities for the Christian faith. We are all self-publishers now. Whilst only a small minority will ever go to the trouble of authoring a blog, the mere possession of a social media account allows us to write and ‘publish’ our thoughts into the public realm. This reality should cause us to think strategically about the way in which we engage online and the people with whom we engage. A Christian with clear missional intent can use this new revolution strategically to great effect, communicating across barriers and boundaries not possible in previous generations. The latest National Church Life Survey (NCLS) research commissioned on this issue by Crossover shows that only a small minority are making regular use of the internet as part of their evangelistic activities. When asked how often they accessed social media there were polar opposite responses:

Some Suggested Online Resources: - Brilliantly filmed faith stories. - An equipping hub for online outreach. - Helping you share Jesus online. - Short film resources for online outreach. - Become an online missionary. Stan Fetting is Operations Manager for Crossover Australia.

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Crossover PRAC Spring 2013 Edition  

The Spring edition of Crossover's popular magazine covers issues raised in the recent National Church Life Survey for Baptist churches in Au...

Crossover PRAC Spring 2013 Edition  

The Spring edition of Crossover's popular magazine covers issues raised in the recent National Church Life Survey for Baptist churches in Au...