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.