Churches grow by embracing migrant communities

With an increasingly ethnically diverse population in Australia, it’ important to see how this is being reflected in the life of the Australian church, and how the church can innovate to ensure it is building a church for people of all nations.

Migrant profile in churches matches Australia
Research shows that the percentage of migrants in church life is similar to the wider Australian population. Seven in ten church attenders were born in Australia (72% vs 74% overall), and three in ten church attenders were born elsewhere (28% vs 26% overall).

Significant levels of first and second generation migrants in church
Of church attenders born elsewhere, 18% are born in Non-English-speaking countries. 10% were born in other English-speaking countries. Nearly three in ten (28%) are first generation migrants, and nearly four in ten (38%) are second generation migrants, having at least one parent who is a first generation migrant.

What churches can offer

  • Churches are organisations that can provide the following for migrants:
  • A place to belong based on ethnic identity and/or Christian identity
  • A beliefs framework that affirms the worth of all people (‘God of all nations’)
  • Community: friends, social opportunities
  • Access to a ‘knowledge library’ and networks
  • Practical assistance: e.g. money, housing, equipment

A quarter of churches involved in ethnic ministry.
A quarter of Australian churches say they are involved in ethnic ministry. One in ten claim to be heavily involved. Two thirds believe it is not a priority for their area.

Churches who are most likely to say they are heavily involved in ethnic ministry are Catholic churches, followed by similar proportions of Uniting, Baptist, Churches of Christ, Pentecostal and Other Protestant churches.

Ethnic ministry mostly in urban settings.
Across Australia, non-Australian born people will tend to be located in urban centres. This pattern impacts church life, meaning that ethnic ministry is much more likely to be an issue for churches in urban settings. Churches in regional and rural areas are more likely to say that ethnic ministry is not a priority.

Sharing property and ministry with non-English speaking churches.
Research shows that approximately a quarter of churches either share the same property or services with non-English speaking congregations.

Cross-cultural challenges
In every cross cultural situation, there are potential challenges that arise from communication and cultural differences, preferences and understandings. Some to be aware of in church life include:

  • Ethnic prejudices between groups
  • Ignorance
  • Dominant Anglo culture: control of resources (eg property)
  • Relations between home country church and Australian-based churches (eg training, church leadership)

An Australian church for all nations
Australia is a multicultural nation. Australian churches are shaped by the experience of migrants from first, second and third generations. Migrants offer a richness to Australian church life, and churches can offer migrants a sense of identity, belonging, community and practical support. There are positive signs that there is a similar percentage of migrants represented in the Australian church as there is in the overall population; showing that Australian churches are open to learning from other cultures. However, with an increasingly diverse population, churches that continue to innovate through their worship services, additional events, leveraging relevant technologies and embracing cultural differences and strengths will continue to effectively reach the diverse generations.

You can download this article as a pdf fact sheet by visiting the NCLS web site