Bucking the trend to ‘grow young’

Bucking the trend to ‘grow young’

The Future Directions resolution adopted at the April session of Synod 2021 challenges the church to buck recent trends and “grow young”.  We know the membership of our churches has been aging over time – this isn’t new news.  In 2016, half of our membership was over age 70 (born before 1947) and another quarter born between 1947 and 1962. That leaves only a quarter of church membership in our Synod aged under age 54 in 2016.

So, how is this younger church different to the rest of the church, and what can we learn from that as we seek to grow young together?

Compared to the rest of the church, the youngest quarter (YQ) is significantly more multicultural, with 41% born overseas compared to 21% for the rest, and 45% having at least one parent born in a non-English speaking country, compared to 12% for those older.

The YQ is a potential power house of volunteers for the future of the church – 25% of them said they would like to be more involved, compared to 11% for those over 55 and 7% for those over 70.

When our church members were asked whether they were satisfied with what is offered at their church for “people my own age”, the overall response is that 80% were satisfied, with 90% of the over 70s satisfied. Of the YQ, on the other hand, only 62% were satisfied – which means 38% of them were dissatisfied. And they’re the one’s who’ve stayed.

The results for worship style follow a similar pattern, with 47% of those over 70 valuing a traditional style of worship music, while only 15% of the YQ are in agreement.  While the pandemic will throw up some new and interesting perspectives on church attendance and participation in mission, we already know that the YQ are less likely to attend worship usually every week (66%) compared to those older (78%).  

The future, “growing younger” church is more multicultural, more involved, more contemporary and more focussed on those who aren’t yet disciples of Jesus.

National Church Life Survey 2021

This year is the next opportunity churches around Australia have to reflect on who they are and how their members are involved in mission, and how this has changed since the last National Church Life Survey (NCLS) in 2016. This year, there will also be questions about the new ways we’ve been experiencing worship during the pandemic.

All churches in NSW and the ACT will shortly receive an invitation to participate in the NCLS later in the year. There is no cost to congregations to participating in the survey – this includes every congregation, large and small, from the bush to the city.

NCLS congregation profiles (published in about April 2022) provide local leaders with a wealth of insight and ideas for helping their congregations grow in discipleship, relationship, impact and number. Aggregated data also provides Presbyteries and Synod with vital information about the health of our church as a whole, and helps shapes their priorities and work.

David Cornford, Director of Mission Strategy, Uniting Mission and Education.


1 thought on “Bucking the trend to ‘grow young’”

  1. “Science takes things apart to see how they work. Religion puts things together to see what they mean.” (Jonathan Sacks, The Great Partnership – e.g. https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/bigideas/easter-sacks/3892022).

    We love examining the church using science; analysing trends and deconstructing people into little groups. We then talk about church as a group of marketing segments. This feeds into a narrative of “older people are different to younger people”.

    The more startling viewpoint comes from when we combine these statistics into a whole. Using these statistics, about 65% of the people dislike traditional music in church. So why, every Sunday do numerous churches play traditional music that a shrinking minority like (even among older people)?

    It is more constructive to approach this problem from the point of view of the common characteristics between generations and work to join them, than to approach the problem from the point of view of dividing the generations and pitting them against each other.

    My experience (without statistics) is that many older people want something different too. However, four hymn sandwiches from a single voice, week after week, is the only offering (maybe a lay person reads the bible, but no opinions may be expressed). Older people may be too entrenched to leave, but that does not mean they find it uplifting. Younger people have no such problem they just walk out.

    We are good news; bringing people together over division. So, Jonathan Sacks wrote to offer us perspective on our common purpose. The way we talk about ourselves, becomes ourselves.

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