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Survey body pinpoints link between mission activities and more newcomers

There is a direct link between special mission or ministry activities and higher levels of newcomers to church life, according to the results of work done by the Australian interdenominational survey organisation NCLS Research.

In a statement embargoed for release today, it says churches undertake a wide range of activities that connect with the more than 80% of Australians who attend church infrequently or do not attend at all. In an average church, one in ten people (9.6%) will be a newcomer without a church background*. NCLS research has found that, on average, this figure is higher in churches that undertake mission activities.

"We cannot say that simply running a particular form of mission or ministry will result in more newcomers," said NCLS researcher Dr Ruth Powell (pictured). However, we have identified different types of mission activities that are linked to higher proportions of newcomers. The variety of such activities should be quite encouraging to churches".

The research that led to today's statement did not include Catholic parishes, but the conclusions are considered relevant to Catholic pastoral planning. The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference is one of the sponsoring agencies of NCLS Research, which conducts the renowned National Church Life Survey. The other two sponsoring agencies are the Uniting Church NSW Board of Mission, and ANGLICARE (Diocese of Sydney).

Churches formed as a result of church "planting" have some of the highest proportions of newcomers to church life (16%). This could be because church plants also tend to have higher levels of vitality generally.

Dr Powell said: "Perhaps church plants are not as bound to previous conventions of congregational life and are in a better position to experiment. Church planting may also break up existing networks of relationships among attenders, making it easier for newcomers to be included.

Churches that conducted almost any form of outreach or evangelism tended to have higher proportions of newcomers than the average. Examples include street evangelism, providing church services for the unchurched such as 'seeker services', running mission teams within Australia or overseas, and mission activities at schools.

Higher levels of newcomers were also found in churches offering particular forms of social services such as training or support programs (eg for migrants, youth or the unemployed), counselling services or community development programs.

NCLS identifies mission activities associated with higher levels of newcomers (NCLS Research 25/10/04)

NCLS Research

32 Nov 2004