8 December 2023

Churches take note: Australians like nature, music spirituality

Ruth Powell has urged churches to offer Australians activities that tie into popular spiritual practices. Picture: supplied 

Stephen Cauchi 

4 April 2022

Churches should run more activities based on nature and music as these are the top spiritual practices that appeal to Australians, according to National Church Life Survey director Dr Ruth Powell.  

Dr Powell said the results of the latest NCLS Australian Community Survey showed that seven out of 10 Australians believed spiritual practices were fairly or very important for wellbeing, especially during tough times. 

Spending time in nature and listening to music were the top two choices for Australians, with prayer, meditation and mindfulness practices coming in third. 

Dr Powell said churches should listen to the results of the survey and run more activities based on nature and music, to meet Australians halfway. She said the church was in an exciting position, as it could do something about these spiritual choices. 

“We’re inviting the church to have a listen to what Australians are saying. They’re telling you that this is helpful to them,” she said. 

“They’re reaching a hand out, why don’t you meet them and offer something that they actually are telling you appeals to them? 

“The church can be quite creative, and it’s not out of reach to think about offering help to Australians as they engage spiritual practices around being outside, listening to music or those prayerful practices.” 

Dr Powell said spending time in nature and outdoors was particularly powerful, as there was a deep human connection with the land and with nature. 

She said some churches had already realised this and were offering bushwalk reflections, meetings in local parks, or trips to oceans and the mountains. 

Dr Powell said theologically, nature was God’s creation that he had made for people to steward and enjoy. 

“We’re built to be in and part of God’s creation and care for God’s creation,” she said. 

Dr Powell said music had a similar effect, as a powerful, universal spiritual language. 

She said churches could capitalise on this by promoting their music, such as advertising choirs at times of year such as Easter, or special concerts.  

“It doesn’t matter what style of music you like. It’s just this incredible gift to life to have music and to have the rich diversity of music,” she said. 

“When we share music together as a community, something happens – when you make music, incredibly deep, wonderful things happen.” 

Dr Powell said the third most popular spiritual practice – prayer, meditation and/or mindfulness practices – was something that Christians were really good at. 

She said this tapped into many Anglican traditions, such as the Book of Common Prayer. 

“There are Australians saying, ‘I’m open to this, I would like to use this’ … the church knows well about this and can offer resources to others,” she said. 

Ms Powell said that survey sample included Australians of all beliefs, not just Christians.  

Attending religious services was the fourth-most important spiritual practice in the survey, but only 18 per cent of Australians said they found it appealing. 

Dr Powell said that NCLS been running the Australian Community Survey since the 1990s. 

In the 2020 survey, due to the impact of COVID, questions about well-being and spiritual practices were added. 

“What is fantastic about this list is it’s being quite inspirational to churches who are seeing the common ground between Australians and what churches can engage in that may be of interest,” Dr Powell said. 

Australians said they found the following spiritual practices important: 

  • spending time in nature or outdoors – 52 per cent 
  • listening to music – 43 per cent 
  • prayer, meditation, mindfulness – 34 per cent 
  • religious, worship services – 18 per cent 
  • religious, spiritual reading – 16 per cent 
  • religious, spiritual talks, clips or podcasts – 12 per cent 
  • small groups – spiritual and social support – 9 per cent 
  • other spiritual practices – 2 per cent 
  • none of the above – 22 per cent

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