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Newcomers are different and not included

Pine Mountain Uniting Church Minister Rev Bob Miles

Surprising research from the National Church Life Survey (NCSL) shows that people joining Queensland Uniting Church congregations are different from the people already attending.

Newcomers in 2006 were twice as likely to be remarried, separated or divorced and four times more likely to be living in a defacto relationship than long term Uniting Church members.

They are also likely to be younger than the existing church members with more people joining a congregation for the first time in their 40s than at any other age.

The research differentiates between long term members and newcomers who were not attending any church five years ago, switchers who have joined from another denomination and transfers who move between Uniting Church congregations.

Newcomers and transfers were twice as likely, and switchers three times as likely, to be born outside of Australia and in a non English-speaking country than long term members.

The highest percentage of movement into Queensland Uniting Church congregations was from switchers between 40 and 49 years of age.

Minister with Chappell Hill Uniting Church congregation Rev David Wilshire said many of those who have joined his church were connected as a result of doing the Alpha course or through contact with a play group at the church.

“People have come into the Church for a variety of reasons: a change in their circumstances, or their domicile, parents of young children looking for Christian instruction or guidance for their children, or just shopping around.”

Despite a steady movement of people into the Uniting Church “inclusion”, or the process of intentionally seeking out new people or people on the margins and including them in the life of the church, scored lowest of all the nine core qualities valued by long term Uniting Church members.

Only one quarter of long term Uniting Church members are part of a formal welcoming system in their local congregation and many congregations have no formal system for welcoming and integrating new people.

Minister with Pine Mountain Uniting Church Congregation Rev Bob Miles said a system for incorporating new people was essential.

“You have to be intentional about welcoming and integrating people – it rarely happens in isolation,” Mr Miles said.

“The people who come are looking for genuine spirituality and a loving environment.”

The NCLS research defined inclusion as being “truly welcoming to all people regardless of their background, and if someone begins to drift away there will always be some who notice and reach out a hand in friendship.”

Photo : Pine Mountain Uniting Church Minister Rev Bob Miles