November 11, 2010

'Singularly Interesting'...

 I recently discovered these fascinating statistics on singles and households of single occupancy from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Did you know…

* One-person households are the fastest growing of all demographic groups in Sydney. Currently, 22% of all Sydney households are occupied by one person, the trend towards proportionately more of these smaller households is likely to continue.

* By 2031, there are likely to be an additional 300,000 single person households in Sydney, representing 30% of all households.
* Lone person households aged 35-44 yrs were more likely to still be 'renters' (56%) than owner-occupiers (44%), with the rental rate for this group increasing by 9% between 1995-96 and 2005-06. 

* As women have delayed childbearing, a greater proportion have remained childless into their thirties and forties. In 2006, 37% of women in the peak child - bearing age of 30–34 years had not had any children.

 For women aged 40–44 years, childlessness increased from 10% for women born in 1942–46, to 13% for women born in 1952–56, and 16% for women born in 1962–66.

* DINKS’ & ‘Empty-Nesters’ will soon overtake parents with live-in children as the most common family type. "If recent trends continue, couple-only families will overtake the number of couple families with children in either 2013 or 2014"-ABS.
* A fast-growing number of people living alone will have a particular impact on women, with the number of older women living alone growing faster than for men. In 2006, there were 1.9 million people living alone in Australia; by 2031, there are projected to be between 3.0 and 3.6 million, an increase of between 63% and 91%, with the trend strongest among women.
* It’s predicted the number of women living alone will likely rise by 83% between 2006   and 2031.
* For the first time homelessness amongst women 45+ outnumbered men in our city.
* Figures show the trend in Australia to proportionately larger group of single women aged 40 to 54 compared with men in the same age bracket. Demographer Bernard Salt singled out 5 particular ''hot spots'', of women aged 40-54 living in the suburb identifying as single.
- Waterloo 71.2
- Woolloomooloo 63.5
- Daceyville 62.8
- Elizabeth Bay 62
- Rushcutters Bay 61.7

If these statistics are right then this growing demographic could well become a (if not ‘the’) major un-reached people group within our city into the next decade & beyond.

What might this mean for our churches? 
For out-reach?
Our Current Church Target Demographics:

Current approaches to church traditionally focus on 3 main demographic groups
1. Seniors (retired +)
2. Young families and families with teens.
3. Youth (16-21yrs)

These largely homogeneous groupings tend to be confined to 3 main services & service types
- An early morning Prayer Book and communion service for Seniors
- A mid-morning ‘families service’
- An evening contemporary service for youth and university age bracket

Under this current approach, those who are workers, young couples with no kids and those who may be single for one reason or another (those widowed, divorced, separated or never-married) are the demographic most called upon to adapt.

 Preparation and Perception:
 The three key questions that come to mind for me are…
    1. Given these growth statistics, what mission thinking/strategising might we need to begin doing in order to effectively reach this demographic?

    2. What perception or attitudinal shifts might we need to be addressing as we mission to this demographic?

  * What unspoken attitudes (real or perceived) might my church need to address towards Christians who may be single parents, separated, divorced, or never married?

* What attitude may a non-christian single in this demographic perceive?

* If I am single and come to/visit this church where will I fit?

    * Is my church attractive to a broadening range of those who are single (especially those post uni through to 60)?

     * How might my church encourage, help, care for Christians whose un-believing partner never comes with them to church?

    3. How might our churches need to recognise and address some of the specific pastoral realities that may accompany this demographic within our church communities?

    Eg. ABS Statistics also indicate that single women with children face poverty, extreme financial stress, are often government assistant dependant, have employment and re-employment difficulties, relationship complications and suffer from social isolation.

      * Women who are divorced or separated experience similar issues, which may then be compounded by any negative attitudinal issues related to divorce or separation within our churches.

     * Women with non-christian partners who never come to church and therefore are consistently forced to relate as a 'single' within our married communities.

     * The never married often never know where they fit. This can be a disincentive for some entering or engaging in church life, especially in comparison to the secular working world where the single state does not always carry the same questions of acceptability, curiosity or stigma.

       * The  financial and personal safety and security issues for the growing number of singles living alone, or for the growing number of homeless women in our communities.

What I do know, is that the challenge is out there to reach our large, complex and beautiful city of Sydney for Christ. 
And that means growing in our capacity to connect, engage with, and thoughtfully integrate into our church congregations the many vast and varied people groups wherever we might find them.
Hopefully stat's like these should challenge us to move beyond merely considering them - singularly interesting,but mobilize us to be strategically praying for, reaching out to, and gathering the lost…whatever their demographic!

November 4, 2010

Are You A Virtual Friend?

In the very week the long awaited Facebook movie hits the big screen they introduced a new ‘add on’ application to their platform. With this new 3rd party application Facebookers  have access to what can best be described as, a viral ‘de-friend detective’!

Officially called the 'Facebook Friend Checker', this sneaky new mechanism allows users to regularly scour the network for Facebook friends who (for reasons of their own) suddenly and unceremoniously ‘de-friend’ them without grace, for-warning, or even so much as a passing farewell.

No longer can so called ‘friends’ slip unnoticed and undetected from our ‘friends list’, slinking quietly and surreptitiously off into the cyber night. Not with the de-friend detector! With this handy little tool the de-friended are instantly notified and alerted as to the exact time, identity, and date of deletion by their said ‘Facebook friend’.

So finally, we’ll know!

But what then? What do we do with all this newfound knowledge?
And what does it mean?
We’ll know their identity, sure, but all we’ll really have is a new array of unanswered questions and speculative curiosities to plague our troubled and insecure minds…

Why did they de-friend me? Was it something I said? I did?
Was it my profile pic? My ‘Super-Poking’? My constant Farmville invitations?

And then there’s the ultimate question, the unease and uncertainty left lingering uncomfortably in the back of our consciousness…we’re they really my friend, or just a virtual one?

Ironically, it’s the study of friendship, both virtual and real, that lies at the centre of the movie about Facebook,“The Social Network”, based on the life of its founder and developer Mark Zuckerberg.

During the course of the movie, it’s Zuckerberg’s inability to master, or even begin to come to terms with his own jealousy, resentment, intellectual pride and social ineptitude, that lead him to successfully alienate and betray the only two people in his life who had enough grace and emotional generosity to befriend him, his now ‘ex’ girlfriend Erica Albright, and his best friend and co-developer Eduardo Saverin.

Without being a total spoiler for those who haven’t yet seen the movie, perhaps the saddest moment and probably the most telling, is the moment Zuckerberg clocks over his millionth Facebook member is at the exact moment he loses his one true friend, his only friend.

At that one moment his virtual network just climbed 
into to the millions,
his real network plummeted to zero.

The smartest man in the room suddenly finds himself - the only man in the room.

And perhaps the greatest irony of all, the founder of the world’s most successful friendship network becomes renowned for being its one friendless member. This sole cyber star finally gets his wake up call to do some serious soul searching.

Although the movie is about Zuckerberg, it can’t but provoke us to reflect and re-examine our own friendships, the nature of them, the value we place on them and the way we deal with them.

Thankfully movies and discussions on the pros and cons of social networks are not our only source of reflection on the matter. The scriptures have a lot to say about friendships, about their importance, their capacity to influence us, and how to conduct ourselves appropriately and lovingly within them.

The book of Proverbs in particular has a lot to teach us about what it means to be a real friend to others. It also teaches us how to distinguish real friendships from virtual ones.

In stark contrast to the double-dealing, self-serving expediency with which Sorkin’s portrayal of Zuckerberg deals with friendships, Proverbs teaches us that true and genuine friendship is one that is godly, wise, generous and constant.

That a real friend is…

* Not a ‘fair weather friend’, but someone who is faithful in both the good times and the bad:

“A friend loves at all times,
and a brother is born for adversity”

* Someone who doesn’t flatter us, or stroke our ego, but whose words are honest, sincere, straight and true:
“Whoever flatters his neighbour
is spreading a net for his feet”

* Whose love covers a multitude of sins and avoids repeating hurts:

“He who covers over an offense
promotes love
but whoever repeats the matter
separates close friends”

* Whose sincere and wise counsel is considered more delightful to us than the choicest aroma:
“ Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart,
and the pleasantness of one’s friend springs from his earnest counsel”

* Where even the wounds of their friendship are transparent and trustworthy:

“Wounds from a friend can be trusted,
but an enemy multiplies kisses”

By contrast a virtual friend is one who…
* Betrays our confidences (20:19)
* Is tactless and unfeeling to our circumstance (25:20)
* Hides behind humour as a means of inflicting hurt (26:18-19)
* Is dishonest and fickle in friendship (25:18-19)
* Can ensnare and corrupt others with their shortness of temper (22:24-25)
* Can be unyielding in their willingness to resolve issues of conflict or hurt (18:18-19)

Because of the power and force of friendships, real or virtual, the scriptures exhort us to choose those who would be our friends with wisdom and with great care. In the words of 1 Cor 15:33 “bad company corrupts good character”, the wrong kind of friends can be a corrupting and damaging influence on our lives, just as our own ungodliness or poor or immature approach to friendship can negatively impact the lives of others.

Proverbs reminds us that if we are to be serious about learning wisdom, (including the wisdom of friendship) then we’re to walk with those who are wise…

“He who walks with the wise
 grows wise,
but a companion of fools
 suffers harm”.

True wisdom of course will tell us that there are no perfect friends, including us!
There’s only ONE who’s perfect, whose love is never failing, who’s always constant, merciful and true.
The one who promises never to ‘de-friend’ us.
Who befriends the friendless.
And ultimately,"laid down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13)

And that’s the perfect one of whom we sing –

“What a friend we have in Jesus,
ALL our sins and grief’s to bear”.

What more could we want or ask for than that!

Of course, John also reminds us in the very next verse, that we’ll know we’re friends of Christ when we in turn “do what he commands” (14), and that includes learning to be a real friend to others, not a virtual one!