Phil Chapman is Executive, Chaplaincy and Pastoral Care with the national Christian community service organisation Mission Australia. Here, he shares his hopes for 2024.
What can offer hope to contemporary Australian society as it becomes more fragmented and community engagement seems to be in decline?
As our culture seemingly drifts to be more individualistic and impersonal, we’re also seeing mental health concerns and loneliness increase. Through Mission Australia’s 2023 Youth Survey, we learned one-quarter of young people aged 15 to 19 years old indicated high psychological distress and one-fifth feel lonely all or most of the time.
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The year 2023 was incredibly challenging for many. Tough economic times have caused living and rental costs to rise, pushing more people into homelessness and financial distress. Demand for our homelessness and housing services increased by 26 per cent over the past three years.
Christians and churches have long been involved in establishing services to support others through the challenges they’re facing, community service organisations included. But how well connected are such organisations and churches now, and how can we do this better in 2024?
True holistic care
Great effort is going into creating more joined-up community services to serve the needs of the whole person. But what does that look like through a Christian lens that also considers people’s spiritual well-being?
Those of us in a healthy church readily testify to being part of a loving community of care. We receive and offer friendship, practical assistance, and spiritual sustenance there. For many, this is a source of real hope to persevere through the messiness of life in dependence on Jesus. But what about people and families who don’t naturally reach out to a church for help but are accessing community services?
Deepening community connections
Stronger relationships between Christian community service organisations and churches can offer many benefits to these individuals, families and the broader community. Community service organisations often aren’t aware of all the services local churches offer. Similarly, in the busyness of ministry, churches may not know where to refer someone to complement the support they can provide. Unsurprisingly, this information isn’t static because services and ministries aren’t. So, this requires an ongoing investment in relationships.
Ideas for how Christian community organisations can support churches
- Sharing information about their own and other local community services so churches are equipped to refer people seeking broader support.
- Offering their facilities or equipment for church events.
- Having warm relationships in place to refer people seeking spiritual support or a church community.
- Helping churches understand the challenges facing those accessing community services.
- Developing community chaplaincy programs.
Ideas for how churches can support community service organisations
- Training their congregation on how to connect with and welcome people from outside the church community, perhaps consider a community mentoring program or similar.
- Hosting community meals, community pantries, community gardens, playgroups, etc, that community services can refer people to.
- Volunteering with community service organisations, such as offering a regular BBQ for people staying in supported accommodation.
- Praying for local service providers.
A hopeful 2024
Mission Australia has more than 460 community services and programs in about 130 regions across Australia. Other Christian community organisations will no doubt have hundreds more. Just imagine what the impact could be, now and for eternity, if each of these services had strong relationships with local churches. If we more effectively let our light shine before others, so they see our good deeds and glorify our Father in heaven? That’s my hope and prayer for 2024.