8 key takeaways from the Act2 report
The Act2 Project released a major new report in June 2023. What have we learned?
October 6, 2023
In June 2023, the Assembly’s Act2 Project released a major report, Act2: In Response to God’s Call.
It is the product of seven months of intensive and personal engagement across the whole Uniting Church which sought to understand and reflect on the contours of our life and our challenges, and the contours of our vision as we look to the future.
But what does this dense, 65-page report say? Here are eight key insights.
"There is a passion to re-centre disciple-making in the life of our communities and to grow people in the life-giving way of Jesus."
There is a deep heart for making and growing disciples
Discipleship is both a source of life and energy in our Church and a place to increase our focus. Many see making and growing disciples as the fundamental task of local communities. Some lament a loss of focus and resourcing for this work over time. There is a passion to re-centre disciple-making in the life of our communities and to grow people in the life-giving way of Jesus. Our engagement tells us that thriving communities are those that orient their life towards discipleship and mission. This means embracing experimentation and working to their strengths and particular context. What do we need to do, and change, to enable this focus and unlock the energy needed?
See more: Section 2, pp. 11-12
We now have a more accurate picture of our Church
For many years we have had a particular narrative of our life: the third largest denomination in the country with over 2,000 congregations and communities. Out of the research and engagement of the Act2 Project, and insights of the National Church Life Survey, we have a sense of how this picture has changed. In the Uniting Church today there are approximately 1,672 local communities with a typical median attendance of 28 people and an average age of 68. Around 380 of these communities are part of clusters. 62% of our members are retired and 16% are employed full time.
This overall picture of our Church now becomes part of our self-understanding and helps us envision a future that makes sense for the Church we now are. How can we help communities work to their strengths? What we might ask them to do, or release them from? More broadly, what does it mean for our leadership, capacity, sustainability, discipleship and mission practices, our ways of working and relating?
See more: Section 2, p.10.
Many in our congregations are weary and overwhelmed
Local communities reported that the number one challenge they face is a decline in capacity, age, people and energy or some combination of these. Our people are weary. Particularly in lay-led communities, key leaders are burning out. This is a major pastoral challenge. It also has implications for other things like the energy we have for innovation and the good functioning of our wider governance which draws upon the whole people of God.
This story had many contours: communities struggling without paid ministry leadership, communities which led by unpaid lay people and perhaps always will be, leaders who feel the absence of new generations who can steward and tend their communities in the years to come, communities without the capacity to do what the wider church asks of them and communities where the burden of responsibilities lies on the shoulders of just a few.
This weariness is not the whole story, but considering the central place of local communities at the heart of our Church, it is significant. Local communities are asking for simpler processes, flexibility, leadership and support, and more resourcing channelled into ministry and mission.
See more: Section 2, pp. 10-16.
Our ‘system’ is no longer working as designed
People across our Church affirm the principles of our governance – our inter-conciliar model, consensus decision making, equality in leadership, discerning the Spirit and the involvement of the whole people of God. Most also believe the system itself is no longer working.
In the 46 years since Union, we have seen radical change, both within our Church and in the wider communities we inhabit. Our life is governed by law, customs and practices which arose from the wisdom of our founders to order a Church of almost 50 years ago and which no longer exists. As people now seek to navigate our governance they experience too many layers, requirements that do not fit their context and complicated processes which drive slow decision making. The different councils of our Church often have vastly different resourcing and capacity to meet the same expectations. Local communities express frustration and confusion about our processes, regulations and the support they receive from the wider Church.
We know that our challenges are systemic and many are consistent. The scope of these challenges invites us to look at the whole picture, because the way our Church functions as the context in which our local communities operate.
See more: Section 2, pp. 20-25.
There’s something broken in our relationships
The Body of Christ is a rich image for our life – inter-connected, inter-dependent, each with a place and each understanding its role as part of the whole. There are clear fractures in our body at this time. The bonds that tie us to each other have become fragile. We have heard about the gap between who we say we are and who we are. An environment of mistrust, hurt, uncertainty, angst and frustration has grown under the stresses and strains of our challenges. We struggle with a vision of ‘common-wealth’. We struggle with communication and collaboration. We are siloed.
Some of these more ‘cultural’ and relational fractures are also contributing to structural issues, as our interrelated model relies on high levels of trust, goodwill and collaboration.
How can we embrace our common life in Jesus and the rich images of our faith and tradition – a travelling people, a transformational Spirit, an interconnected body of Christ – to inspire our vision for the future and our love for one another?
See more: Section 3, Theological Reflection
The shape of our Church is changing
At the same time our communities have been shrinking, our community service agencies have grown into one of the largest networks of services in the country. We have approximately 1,672 local Uniting Church communities – and we now operate about the same number of service locations (1,634). There are other significant, non-congregational expressions of the Uniting Church like schools. What questions, challenges and opportunities does this national picture pose for the future?
There’s much to celebrate
There is still much love for the Uniting Church and the life and identity we have nurtured for almost five decades. These same markers of our national identity are consistently affirmed: the ongoing value of the Basis of Union, our covenant with Congress, our multicultural identity, equality in our leadership, our commitment to every member ministry, our commitment to justice and our commitment to an informed faith. We continue to seek new ways to make and grow disciples and to serve the world.
There is still energy and passion for the Gospel and for the liberating life of Jesus, for disciple-making and for our wider communities. There is love in and for our local communities, where the Gospel is preached, bread broken and community formed. We continue to trust in God’s promises that there is “hope and a future” for us yet.
See more: Section 2, pp.17-19.
We will need theological imagination
As we look to the future, theological reimagining will need to accompany, inform and inspire our work on structure and culture. We are grappling with change, a shifting social location, grief and loss, new articulations of identity and call. These are all things which must be reflected on theologically – in the light of who we confess God to be and what we confess about ourselves as God’s people. Theological imagination and our reflections on theological culture will be essential as we seek to envision our life differently. How will we reflect on the change we have experienced over 46 years? Can we embrace a new vision of our identity and place in this world?
See more: Section 2, p. 26 and our series of reflections on theological culture
The Act2 Project is in the Collective Discernment phase, focussed on receiving concrete responses from across the whole Uniting Church to the Act2 report and the future Directions and Options put forward in the report. Go to the Act2 website to read the report and find out how you, your community, council or board can make a response.
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