Has community spirit declined with reduced church attendance?

Hannah Sparks 29 April 2021 89
Minister Daniel Mossfield conducting church service

Crookwell and Goulburn District Uniting Churches’ Minister Daniel Mossfield during service. Photo: Supplied.

When I was a child, my family went to church every Sunday. We would have been outsiders if we didn’t.

It was a sign of the times in the 1990s, but we were also a country community of about 300 who did everything together – birthdays, Christmas, the Millennium, even snow days.

I remember some of the Christian teachings but, above all, I vividly recall the oranges we decorated with lollies to represent the people of the world, the colourful pictures we drew at youth club and the singing.

A lot of singing.

It was a time of friendship and community. Everyone came together.

However, as the years grew so did the time between each church visit and we’d stopped going by the time I was eight years old.


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More and more people were questioning their beliefs and trust in the church. Individualism was favoured and being Christian no longer meant attending church every week.

It’s only since returning to a small country village in my 30s that I’ve begun to wonder how important that time was.

There are three churches here in Bigga, in southern NSW. However, the Catholic church stands empty and silent, the Uniting Church is about to hit the market, and the Anglican church holds a quiet, monthly service.

It’s hard to imagine a time when the whole village came and played golf across the road after service, or so I’m told.

It’s not the loss of spirituality I’m worried about, but the loss of connection, the loss of the church’s power to pull everyone together.

It seems impossible to get even a small group together these days, yet reports of loneliness, anxiety and depression are at an all-time high.

Exterior of Wesley Uniting Church in Crookwell

Wesley Uniting Church in Crookwell. Photo: Hannah Sparks.

According to the last Australian census, in 2016, fewer than one in seven of the 61.6 per cent of Australians who identified as Christian said they regularly attend church.

Why?

While 18 per cent told McCrindle Research they were too busy to attend, the majority – 47 per cent – said it was no longer relevant to their lives.

As a result, churches are closing and ministers are becoming few and far between.

Daniel Mossfield is the only ordained Uniting Church Minister remaining in the NSW Southern Tablelands, and he will soon be responsible for the largest parish in NSW, an area spanning at least 130km – from Bigga in the north to Gundaroo in the south, with Goulburn, Crookwell and Gunning in between.

Census data shows 200 people identify as Uniting Church, 800 as Anglican and 900 as Catholic in Crookwell alone, but Daniel says he sees an average of 35-40 people at congregation each week.


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Likewise, Crookwell Anglican Minister, Reverend Wayne Landford, says he welcomes 45-50 people each Sunday morning.

Congregation numbers are low enough that Daniel and Wayne sometimes hold services with the Catholic church – something once considered a sin.

The pair has been worried about the loss of community interaction for a long time, but even more so during COVID-19 when churches were forced shut.

“Some people have changed from being extroverts to introverts because they haven’t had connection with other people so there hasn’t been anything to draw them back out of their shells,” says Wayne.

Fewer people in attendance has also forced the church to reconsider its place in the community, says Daniel.

Exterior of St Bartholomew church in Crookwell

Anglican Church of St Bartholomew in Crookwell. Photo: Hannah Sparks.

“I think the church has failed to meet the community’s needs and that reflects, in part, our declining numbers,” says Daniel.

“For the best part of 1500 years, we had conventional Christianity. The church got into bed with the state and did deals with governments all over the world to be at the centre of power. The government forced people to go to church and people came to church because that’s what you did.

“But belonging to an institution is no longer the norm and lets us get back to being a church. We can get back to walking with people through the highs and lows of life.”

Both ministers have stepped outside the box to prove the church can meet the community’s needs.

Daniel has created a service specifically for the LGBTIQ+ community; as well as a Grace community that’s re-exploring what it means to be people of faith in everyday life by holding Outdoor Adventure Church and The Den (a gaming church); and a playgroup for new mothers who had nowhere else to go through COVID-19.


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“It’s about being a community,” says Daniel.

Similarly, Wayne has organised a Christmas lunch for people who have nowhere else to go, and a Friday night cooking class intended for widowed men but it is popular with teenagers.

“Some of the people who come don’t have a faith and I’m cool with that,” he says. “It’s not about forcing people into faith, it’s about connecting people.”

However, both are worried about small, regional places, such as Bigga, where the church is one of few remaining community services. They say community spirit is often the reason people still attend.

“Any growth I’ve seen in services is from people who have moved here permanently and are looking to find community and connection,” says Daniel. “I had an instant community as soon as I arrived here five years ago so I do think there is something lost by us losing churches at the centre of communities.”

Original Article published by Hannah Sparks on About Regional.


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89 Responses to Has community spirit declined with reduced church attendance?
Steven Cox Steven Cox 10:19 pm 03 May 21

COVID19 Restrictions have had a definite effect. Here in Canberra you can now fill theatres but seating in religious meeting places is highly restricted. This double standard stands out. A clear case of religious discrimination.

Alex SmilyLex Alex SmilyLex 8:02 pm 03 May 21

We have gone down the path of celbrating the self over others

Peter Quinn Peter Quinn 8:51 am 03 May 21

No it's is better without religion....now we can talk to each other without bias

    Kieran Hamilton Kieran Hamilton 11:27 am 03 May 21

    Peter Quinn well THATS not entirely true!

    Peter Quinn Peter Quinn 11:36 am 03 May 21

    Kieran Hamilton not entirely but without religion, and a host of other bias subjects, politics, race etc... it's a step towards talking to each other without bias..although a small step

    Kieran Hamilton Kieran Hamilton 11:43 am 03 May 21

    Peter Quinn it will never happen. While we there’s conflict and disagreement, there will be bias. And that’s directly linked to free will. You can’t have free will without disagreement.

    Peter Quinn Peter Quinn 12:00 pm 03 May 21

    Kieran Hamilton & that is entirely true

scouserdog scouserdog 11:22 pm 02 May 21

I think the kindness that people have shown to others during Covid demonstrates that there is a lot of community spirit here in Canberra. I don’t think churches have ever offered anything to others, especially non-members. I would be happy to see them all disappear.

Frank Booth Frank Booth 10:32 pm 02 May 21

I don’t think community spirit has declined. People are awakening to the falsehoods and myths that have been “sold” to them forever by all denominations of religion.

I think the Royal Commission into systemic child sexual abuse and associated cover ups by religious organisations has been instrumental in finally helping a significant number of people in taking the rational decision to discard their faith.

As the great Frank Zappa stated, “The only difference between a cult and a religion is the amount of real estate they own.”

The relationship between the Coalition Government religious zealots and the church needs to be separated from legislation and policy.

Robert Edge Robert Edge 8:46 pm 02 May 21

For the last 40 years there have been less people involved in community service and social clubs as well."They're all to busy to attend"!!!

Lyle Cameron Lyle Cameron 7:14 pm 02 May 21

And yet conservatives and god botherers have greater political sway than ever

Christine M Knight Christine M Knight 5:34 pm 02 May 21

And connection?

Roy Forward Roy Forward 4:16 pm 02 May 21

It’s not just that community spirit has declined with reduced church attendance, but that reduced church attendance has also declined with reduced community spirit. Both are signs of privatised nuclear families, television, greater mobility in cars etc, and the weakening of many traditional beliefs and practices associated with rural, village and small town life.

Paul Salafia Paul Salafia 4:16 pm 02 May 21

Traditional Latin masses are bucking the trend growing stronger every week 👍

Aidan Murdoch Aidan Murdoch 4:12 pm 02 May 21

Pub is church

Aidan Murdoch Aidan Murdoch 3:44 pm 02 May 21

Little baby cheeses

Steph Maxwell Steph Maxwell 3:15 pm 02 May 21

I have had no involvement in any church for the 30+ years I have lived in Canberra but I see community everywhere - in my neighbourhood and among friends from my child's school years, current and former colleagues and people with whom I share sporting and other interests. Churches do not have a monopoly on bringing people together for company and mutual support 🤦‍♀️ and they never did

    Libby Smith Libby Smith 3:51 pm 02 May 21

    Steph Maxwell it’s even possible to be compassionate, caring, community-minded, ethical, helpful, sharing, engaged etc etc without going to church. I’m perfectly happy that religious faith is important and sustaining for some but I completely object to the idea it is essential for a caring and ethical community.

    Alison Jones Alison Jones 9:08 pm 02 May 21

    Steph Maxwell well said. Totally true. Glad we're part of a supportive community.

Jen Wright Jen Wright 2:40 pm 02 May 21

Our church here in Canberra is a vibrant, growing community where people are loved and cared for. It’s community at its best.

Alison Jones Alison Jones 2:24 pm 02 May 21

Thoughtful article talking about stuff Australians don't often discuss. As the article alludes to, churches need to get past the fact that they're no longer the powerful institutions they once were. Also, too many prominent people & groups who loudly identify as "Christian" are merely a bunch of professional haters & it's high time the many decent denominations & parishes clearly publicly disavowed such views. Finally, the churches need to be centrally but humbly about serving their community in the widest possible sense and doing all they can to ensure it's a good world for everybody without any expectation or proselytizing. Then maybe there would again be a point in having churches exist in our communities (says this churchgoer...)

Lina Costa Lina Costa 2:06 pm 02 May 21

There is no problem at my parish church, yes their are a lot of oldies, but their are a lot of young families as well. Thank God.

Brian Hill Brian Hill 1:45 pm 02 May 21

We don’t need the church or a belief in god to be compassionate or have community spirit.

The main problems people face today are caused by inept conservative governments and their anti-working class policies. Casualising the workforce and removing benefits and penalty rates causes more stress and the community cannot cope, no number of churches or prayers will fix this.

    James Hutson James Hutson 2:00 pm 02 May 21

    Church was a social hub though… at some churches, in some communities.

    Brian Hill Brian Hill 2:38 pm 02 May 21

    Peter Miller absolutely. I guess they need to keep the lie going to get huge amounts of taxpayers money from the government.

Kevin Stockton Kevin Stockton 1:24 pm 02 May 21

Donations must be down

Stephen Saunders Stephen Saunders 12:46 pm 02 May 21

I don’t have a problem with the Waynes and Daniels of the world, and I have similar Christian friends, good people who always try to give more than they get.

I do have a problem with Organised Christianity generally, as represented by Scotty and his brotherly Cabinet. Who give us moral lectures, siphon off billions in church freebies and concessions, then whinge about how “oppressed” their faith is.

    TimboinOz TimboinOz 12:13 pm 03 May 21

    Scott Morrison is not a member of a mainstream tolerant faith.

    His is a bible-inerrancy hard-line, ‘happy-clappy’ mob.

    We are regular attending Anglicans. Helps us stick to ‘us’.

    I triggered the Community Fire Units for Canberra after the 2003 fires, and ran our local one for a few years until hypertension came along.

    LBNL very few folk have to queue to receive their rebates from Medicare of Private Health, anymore either.

Damien Rogers Damien Rogers 12:18 pm 02 May 21

Funny how atheists cannot perceive that their secular world is falling apart around them, they fear every fake boogy man the media feed them, but ignore all the consequences of their own actions. Your government Gods are leading you into a world of pain.

    Michael Strand Michael Strand 4:08 pm 02 May 21

    Our government is infested with religious nutters, don't blame us.

    Paul Newman Paul Newman 6:26 pm 02 May 21

    Damien Rogers and what is your god doing?

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