Category

Stu Cameron

The People of Newlife

In March 2016, the National Church Leif Survey (NCLS) was conducted in thousands of congregations across our nation.  Newlife participated for the first time in ten years.  Over recent months we have been receiving the results of our survey. For a few weeks now we’ve been able to access our comprehensive report.  It makes for fascinating reading and analysis, and provides a wonderful wealth of information as we plan, pray and dream God’s future for us.

833 Newlife adults filled out the survey form.  With around 2000 adults calling Newlife their church home, that’s a very good sample size. This means the survey results offer a very accurate picture of who we are, albeit at a point in time.  Where the survey results become even more interesting is when the 2016 results are compared with 2006, and with the wider Uniting Church in Queensland (UCAQLD). These comparisons give us a picture of how our church has changed over the last decade, and where we sit in our denominational family.

In a series of blog posts over the next few weeks I am going to share a summary and some brief personal observations arising from the (almost overwhelming) data.  In this post I will look at the NCLS category, ‘The People of this Church.’

Age Profile

46% of our adult population is under the age of 50.  In 2006 this figure was 32%.  We have become decidedly younger.  For the UCAQLD, 25% of adults are under the age of 50.

Gender

42% of Newlife adults are men. In 2006 this figure was 38%.  For the UCAQLD, the figure is 37%.

Education

48% of Newlife adults have a bachelor level or postgraduate degree qualification. In 2006 this figure was 33%.  For the UCAQLD, the figure is 35%.  Over the past 10 years we have tended to attract and keep University educated adults.

Retirement

25% of Newlife adults are retired. In 2006 this figure was 38%.  For the UCAQLD, the figure is 51%. This reflects our increasingly younger age demographic.

Country of Birth

57% of Newlife adults were born in Australia. In 2006 this figure was 66%.  For the UCAQLD, the figure is 76%. We are an increasingly multicultural church.

Of those born overseas, here are the percentages – with the 2006 figure in brackets:

South Africa/Zimbabwe:14% (9%), Asia 9% (3%), NZ 8% (7%), UK 6% (8%), Europe 4% (3%)

Americas 2% (2%).

Our biggest increases are from South Africa and Asia.

Not one of the 833 survey respondents identified as Aboriginal or Torres Straight Islander.

Church Background

On the survey Sunday in March 2016, respondents self-identified as follows, with 2006 figures in brackets:

Visitors from other churches 4% (2%), Newcomers 14% (13%), Switchers from other churches 36% (19%), Transfers from other UCA congregations 6% (14%), Long term attendees 39% (51%).

The majority of our growth over recent years has been switchers from non UCA congregations.  The percentage of newcomers (new to church entirely, or returning after a long time) is static, and on par with the average of all congregations.

Frequency of Attendance

63% of Newlife adults say they attend every week. In 2006 this figure was 68%.  For the UCAQLD, the figure is 74%.

Length of Time Attending

34% of Newlife adults have been attending for less than 2 years. In 2006 this figure was 24%.  For the UCAQLD, the figure is 17%. It is worth noting that our attendance increase over the 2 year period referred to was around 18%

There are a lot of (relatively) new people attending each week. Our front door is wide open.  Our back door needs some work.

A Letter From The Future

We have just finished our SENT series, a four week exploration of what it means to live as Gods people sent into mission. Our key text was Jesus commissioning of the 72 (and us), As the Father sent me, I am sending you. (John 20:21)  Along the way we were reminded of the incredible privilege we have of participating in Gods mission.  Our city, the Gold Coast, is predicted to double in population from 600,000 in 2015 to 1.2 million in 2050 (Future Gold Coast Report).  What a mission field right on our door step!  So my imagination started to run

What would our church Newlife write to us from the future, from the year 2050?  What would they say to us IF we chose today to live as Gods sent ones to risk the way of Jesus?  What would they say if today we refused to settle, but live as sent?  What would they say to us if we chose not to retreat into cosy, consumerist comfort, but instead decided to take up our cross and live as empowered disciples?

Here is what I hope they would say if indeed we chose to live as Jesus sent ones.  Here is a letter from the future:

Dear Newlife AD2015,

Thank you.

Thank you that 35 years ago you decided to step up, not step back.

Thank you that 35 years ago you lived the truth that you were gathered to be sent; settled to be scattered.

Thank you that you decided to actively participate in the cause of the gospel rather that passively watch on as passengers carried along for the ride.

Thank you that you decided to carry the cross rather than retreat into cozy, consumerist comfort.

Thank you that you lived the vision, ‘More people, more like Jesus’.

We are your legacy, and the legacy of those who were before and behind you.

We are this is Newlife AD2050.

We are a church meeting in multiple locations in multiple languages – still spanning the generations.

We are a church that ranges from babies to retirees; from 0 to 120.

In 2015, 39 different birth nationalities gathered in your communities. Today, we are a family a multi colored tapestry of 100 birth nationalities.

Our Robina campus is still our spiritual base, and is packed across multiple celebrations every weekend. But it’s not where majority of our people gather. In fact, there are 20 times as many people worshipping under the Newlife banner or carrying Newlife DNA in other locations than at Robina. All because you decided to send, not settle.

Every year we are sending out multiple church planting teams and leaders to multiple cities to plant new communities and restart old ones. In fact, since 2015 the Uniting Church has not sold one property on the Gold Coast to a property developer. Rather, with other partners, you have ensured that through us every church property, the legacy of past generations, is a thriving mission outpost carrying the gospel to the 1.2 million Gold Coasters they surround.

Every year Newlife College is sending graduating leaders ready to be ordained by the Uniting Church and live out the mission ‘more people, more like Jesus’. Every year Newlife College is training and sending out worship pastors, youth pastors and children’s pastors. Newlife College is seasoning the Uniting Church with mission hearted, big vision leaders who believe with every fibre of their being that with God all things are possible

Every month we are sending out Acts 1:8 mission teams to our partners in Cambodia, Thailand, Bosnia, Solomon Islands and other parts of God’s world. We are still bearing witness to Jesus where he sends us.

Finally, every day – every single day – God is adding to our number those who are being saved. And heaven rejoices every day over each of those saved souls, as do we.

Newlife 2015 sisters and brothers, some things have not changed.

This is Newlife 2050:

We are one church, multiple locations and many gatherings through which the:

Homeless find a home

Lonely discover real friends

Addicted are liberated into recovery

Politicians hear the cry of the poor

Gold Coast is seasoned with justice, mercy, grace and love.

We are known more for our worship, our witness, our service than for the fact we have a big, red, LED Cross and a giant courtyard.

We are a messy, unrestrained, unconstrained, joy-filled, faith-inspired, Jesus-obsessed, Spirit-led people who believe with every fibre of our being that our God is:

strong and mighty, gentle and merciful, loving and gracious, faithful and true, and that in and through him all things are possible!

We are an Acts 2 church, with and Acts 1:8 mandate, an Matthew 28 commission, living out an Acts 29 adventure.

We are STILL one big, happy – sometimes dysfunctional – family.

We are Newlife 2050. This is our story. And our story is your story.

And so, dear Newlife 2015, we thank God with joy every time we remember you because of your partnership in the gospel.   We are confident of this that he who began a good work in you is carrying it on to completion, through us and the generations that follow, until the day of Christ Jesus.

To God be the glory, forever and ever. Amen!

Some Muppet Theology

I grew up with the Muppets, first on Sesame Street, and then the show that bore their name.  I cried when Kermit the Frog sang ‘It’s not easy being Green’.  I laughed at Fozzie Bear’s lame jokes.  I loved Animal, the maniacal drummer (is there any other type of drummer?).  The least likeable Muppet characters were a couple of grumpy coots called Waldorf and Statler, who would sit in their theatre box each week and watch the performances on stage, always ready with a biting, sarcastic and often hilarious criticism.  (Waldorf: ‘They ain’t half bad.’ Statler: ‘No, they’re ALL bad!’)

Waldorf and Statler were armchair critics taking potshots from the balcony, while on the stage the actors risked it all each night.  When it comes to the church, there is a little bit of the spirit of Waldorf and Statler in me.  I find it way too easy sometimes to stand back and point out all that isn’t as it should be.  When I do, I forget momentarily that if I claim allegiance to Jesus Christ, the church is not something ‘over there’, but a community that is around, and encompasses me.  For the believer, the church is never ‘them’; it always ‘us’.

Make no mistake; God’s church – made up as it is by broken people is in need of constant reform, and reform will often begin with loving criticism from within.  Renewal arises out of repentance.  The choice we have is whether we will sit in the balcony watching on, arms folded, criticism on the tip of our lips, or instead join the other actors on the stage as together, with faltering steps and imperfect lives, we are caught up in the drama of God’s redemptive plan for the world.  Stage or balcony, which will it be?  Right here, right now this is what I believe God is saying to all of us who call Newlife home:

Don’t spectate; participate. Don’t sit back; step up. Don’t observe; engage. Don’t come to church; be the church.’

I’d rather be Kermit or Fozzie, than Waldorf or Statler any day.