A Voice for All
Luke 2: 1-2 Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. (NIV)
The idea of a census has been around for a while.
The census that drew Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem was a far cry from our online census experience in 2021. For those of us experiencing lockdown during August, there was a much higher chance of us being in our usual place of residence than usual, and completing the survey online rather than on paper with a black pen or 2B pencil.
Apart from the usual things – changing demand for schools, health care and aged care in each local area, for example – the census this year will give us an insight into the changing nature of our communities and the impact of changing working arrangements that have impacted various sections of the workforce.
Next comes the National Church Life Survey.
Much more than just a census of religious life in Australia, the National Church Life Survey has been holding a mirror up to the church in Australia since 1991.
For local churches, there are insights for leaders about strengths to build on and areas of potential improvement to work on.
- How many current attendees are newcomers? (five percent on average in 2016)
- What do members think are their gifts for mission and ministry? (Hospitality was top at 40 percent on Average in 2016)
- How strong is the sense of shared vision? (33 percent in 2016)
- Are you ready to try something new? (72 percent in 2016)
For the church together, as Presbyteries and as a Synod, what can we learn in 2021 that will help guide the implementation of Future Directions?
- Which churches are being effective in engaging with Emerging Generations? (According to the 2019 congregational census, 52 churches were leading the way with ministry to children and young adults.)
- A heat map of congregations where there is enthusiasm for actively engaging with covenanting with First Peoples, and with advocacy on issues like Climate Action.
- Which churches are growing – in discipleship, relationship, number and impact?
- How has gathering “on-line” in virtual communities helped build connectedness, especially in rural and remote communities?
Putting the two together
One of the tools the NCLS team has developed based on the community census is a “Community Social Profile” – a report on the community within a certain radius of any address. Opportunities for mission can’t help but emerge when a church adds this data to their understanding of their community and is able to compare this to the picture of their membership of the church from the NCLS.
Oh, then there’s pandemic.
Our last snapshot of the country and the church was in 2016, while the NSW and ACT Synod also conducted a short-form “census” of our churches late in 2019.
As we move into the last part of 2021, the pandemic is still with us. We’re all unsure about how lockdowns and restrictions will impact our meeting together for the rest of the year. While we all hope to pick a week where those who are part of each church community can complete the NCLS while gathering, there is no certainty that will be possible for all of us across the Synod.
No matter how we’re gathering for worship and engaged in mission together in October and November, we’ll still be able to have a say about our churches and their future. Keep your eye out on the UME website for resources and ideas for running the survey and making the most of your results.
Director – Mission Strategy and Growth, UME