The 4 Key Shifts in Australia Influencing the Rise of Micro Churches

Micro churches are already part of the Australian landscape in our post-Christendom, post-COVID complex world. But why are we seeing the establishment of micro churches accelerate at this time in Australia? Bree Mills unpacks the biblical basis for micro churches and the four key shifts occurring in Australian culture that supports the rise of micro churches.
First Shift: Move to Go Local
Presenting at Morling College on “Micro Churches: Remembering the Past to Shape the Future,” Bree Mills recognises a noticeable shift amongst Australians to support the local community and this is primarily seen through people’s actions. Bree observes this has been fed by climate concerns but also a reaction to some of the negative externalities caused by multinational organisations at a local community level. Bree summarises how this shift reflects an attitude of embracing localism away from a globalist mindset,
“In its essence, it’s about choosing to invest locally…During COVID lockdowns, particularly in Melbourne but I think broadly in Australia this shift to live and engage more locally has been accelerated.”
While Bree says that there has always been a bent in Australian culture to support local businesses whether it’s been the Aussie Pub or the corner store, where in recent years this cultural characteristic has been evidenced in cafe culture where owners are starting to stock items from local sellers to help support local entrepreneurs and businesses.
Second Shift: Increased desire for connection and belonging
Part of what is causing the shift to go local is an increased desire for social connectedness. Bree recognises that this movement of valuing the local community more than ever before includes Australians of all nationalities. She quotes social researcher and author, Hugh Mackay who talks about the desire Australians have for belonging and how the quality of our lives are measured by our connection and the depth of our relationships.
Mackay argues that community provides us with a level of emotional security and moral guidance. Bree continues,
“We no longer seek moral guidance in organisations such as the church; we’ve begun to look for it in the community.”
Bree says these changing values are reflected in the employment decisions made by Gen Y and Z, where they are motivated to join workplaces more for the community they provide, not just the type of work they will be engaged in.
Bree also observes a mentality for deeper social connection among Aussies as seen during the lockdowns, where a number of attendees of bigger churches have decided to find places of worship that are closer to where they live and pastors are starting to respond by planting churches in these locations.
Third Shift: Increased Decentralisation
Just as Australians have seen the negative impact of multinational corporations, Australians are pushing against the big is better mentality. Bree observes,
“As a larger organisation, as an institution, the Church has lost the trust of the people of Australia.”
While this is a difficult reality to confront, Bree identifies that a mix of leadership failures, tribalism and hard boundaries on complex theological issues has caused many believers to walk away from the church as an institution or organisation.
When you pair the decentralisation that is happening and an increase in the personalised economy, Bree argues that Australians are looking for a more intimate expression of the local church that meets the needs of their local context. Micro churches are able to meet this demand for small and intimate local gatherings of believers that are missionary in nature.
Fourth shift: Missional Theology
The last shift which missiologists such as David Bosch and Leslie Newbiggin have popularised is the concept of “Missio Dei” – that mission has its origin in the heart of God. As Bree shares, this shift has gained broad acceptance across the church,
“It’s not the church who has a mission. It’s God who has a mission and He invites His people to participate in it.”
The shift of understanding the missional nature of God has helped people to rethink how it is participating in this mission. There’s been an increased focus of discipleship in many churches, on justice ministries and equipping all believers for works of service. Bree continues,
“For a significant number of churches this has shifted the focus away from the Sunday Service and there is an openness towards other expressions of discipleship.”
When Sunday services were shut down what was left to engage in God’s mission to the world? As smaller gatherings became an option for churches in some States in Australia, Bree suggests that micro churches started to gain momentum in Australia in a new way.
A missional movement that warrants more attention
Bree asks whether the increasing prevalence of micro churches is a cultural adaptation or is it something that is signaling a bigger movement that requires further reflection from the body of Christ. From the time of Constantine to now the church has been constantly adapting. Bree observes,
“Micro church movements of one sort or another have been continually emerging throughout history as a space that God has used to brith gospel movements from the early church to today.”
Bree considers that micro churches are more than just a cultural adaptation and warrants further attention. Indeed Jesus reminds us in Matthew 18 where two or three are gathered together in His name, He is there. Bree reflects on the biblical basis for micro churches,
“Ecclesia did not designate a single form in scripture. The focus is instead on a single gathering of people.”
In the early church, believers meet in the temple courts and in their homes. Could it be that COVID-19 has brought about a resurgence of this type of ecclesia that we see in the early church that bore much fruit?

If you want to hear Bree Mills lecture “Micro Churches: Remembering the Past to Shape the Future” listen here

About Bree Mills

Bree Mills is the Senior Associate Pastor at Glen Waverley Anglican Church (GWAC). Previously, she worked to birth missional youth ministries at various churches, until moving into her current role which involves overseeing missional discipleship at GWAC. Bree has been involved with various missional movements around Australia, including launching the Discipleship Institute alongside the GWAC team. She is also a member of the National Executive of Catalyse Change Australasia, seeking to help churches grow movements of discipleship and mission.