Frequently Asked Questions

On this page we have gathered common questions about the Act2 Project. If yours is missing, use the form to submit it.

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Our Project

Where can I find a summary of the Act2 process?

We have the Act2 Project Plan available as a handy one-page visual document. Find it on this page, or go to the menu and click on Our Plan. Currently we are in Phase 2 of the Project Plan—Collective Discernment (June-November 2023).

What are the Phases?

This process is running over three phases:

  • Exploration (complete)
  • Collective Discernment (current until 30 November)
  • Recommendations for Action (December 2023-July 2024).

Read more about the three phases here.

What are the Workstreams?

Our process is focussed on four Workstreams:

  • Workstream 1: Local Communities of Faith and Discipleship
  • Workstream 2: National Identity
  • Workstream 3: Governance and Resourcing
  • Workstream 4: Theological Culture and Education

Read more about the Workstreams.

Why is there no mention of discipleship and mission in our Core Commitments?

The Act2 Project has three core commitments—our Covenant with the United Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress, our multicultural Church, and our social, legal and ethical obligations. These are things the 16th Assembly asked us to recognise and take account of in working through this process. They do not seek to capture all the core commitments of the Church.

Our work is shaped by the resolution of the 16th Assembly which quoted from Paragraph 17 of the Basis of Union:

“The Uniting Church will keep its law under constant review so that its life may increasingly be directed to the service of God and humanity, and its worship to a true and faithful setting forth of, and response to, the Gospel of Christ.”

Our work on the governance and resourcing of our Church—the shape of our life together—is key to allowing us to re-centre our life on discipleship and respond to “God’s call to enter more fully into mission” (Basis of Union).

Who works on the Act2 Project?

The Act2 Project is served by a staffed Project Unit and a national Steering Committee, including nominees from every Synod. Meet them all here. Both were established by the Assembly Standing Committee and are overseen by the ASC.

Will we do Uniting in Prayer again? (It was fantastic!)

It’s really wonderful how much people have entered into and appreciated Uniting in Prayer. We are considering whether we do it again in 2024 between Pentecost and 47th Anniversary of the Uniting Church.

What are the constraints of what the Basis of Union allows us to do?

The Constitution in Clause 2 says:

“The Church, affirming that it belongs to the people of God on the way to the promised end, lives and works within the faith and unity of the one holy catholic and apostolic church, guided by its Basis of Union.”

In considering what we have offered to the Church we have taken this into consideration. The resolution of the 16th Assembly reminded us of Paragraph 17 of the Basis of Union on law in the church. The report ‘Act2: In Response to God’s Call’ is drawn from Paragraph 13 which says ‘The Uniting Church…will order its life in response to God’s call to enter more fully into mission.’ So while the Steering Committee and the Project Unit have been guided by the Basis of Union in its work, it is for the Church through its councils to decide how the Basis of Union guides its life into the future.

Do we need to change the Basis of Union for anything we suggest?

We do not believe the Basis of Union is a document which is open to amendment but nor do we believe it needs to be amended.

Act2 Report: In Response to God’s Call (June 2023)

What were the biggest findings of the report?

The biggest findings—and the case for change—is captured best in the Conclusion to Section 2 of the report (p. 30-31). The report’s Executive Summary, available in plain language, also sketches many of the issues.

  • The shape of our Church now is not as we imagined when we formed in 1977. The world we inhabit has changed drastically too.
  • This is creating significant and far-reaching challenges, particularly in local communities of faith.
  • We are seeing the effects in our identity, governance, resourcing and our theological culture.
  • While there are areas that are thriving, the capacity and energy of our local communities generally is impacting on our broader life. The way our wider Church functions at the moment is also impacting on the ability of local communities to do the mission and ministry they see as ‘core’ to their life and witness.
  • The issues are not isolated to one part of the Church or one geography. They are widespread and systemic.
  • This is an opportunity to come together in honesty and hope, facing our challenges and forging a future together for the sake of the calling God has placed upon our life.
What is the best way to take in and read the report?

The Act2 report is in six sections. The first three reflect what we heard from across the Uniting Church over six months of engagement, and offer some theological reflections. Sections 4-6 introduce the Phase we are in now, and put forward some concrete future Directions and Options for consideration.

Someone gave this wise advice: read the report front to back, not back to front. So don’t start with the diagrams—start with the diagnosis. Read the first three sections and then take a break. Make a coffee (or your beverage of choice) and spend some time in prayer. Then read the next three sections with hope and an open heart and mind.

It’s a long report! We have made it available to read in sections, and the Executive Summary is in plain language. See the report page for other resources.

What cultural change (as well as structural change) is needed?

In answering this question you might like to read the theological reflection in Section 3 of the report. We have placed this in the middle—at the heart. It invites us to draw on images from the Basis of Union and apply them to our current context—particularly images of a pilgrim people, a fellowship of the Spirit and the body of Christ. As we look to the specific changes we might make in our life we are invited to draw on those images to reimagine our life together.

Through this project we are exploring identity, structure and sustainability. We are seeking to look at both our national identity and our theological culture. Part of our culture change is being honest about who we are—taking that long, loving look in the mirror and seeing the reality of our life.

Why does the report speak of ‘faith’ and ‘discipleship’ but not evangelism?

The decision of the 16th Assembly talks about ‘making and growing disciples’. So when we talk about discipleship it is both the calling of new disciples as well as ongoing growth in faith. There are different perspectives on the relationship between discipleship, mission and evangelism around our Church. But we heard a strong desire to re-centre these things in our life. In an earlier article we wrote the following on this issue and sentiments similar are within the report:

“The inability of the Uniting Church to make and grow disciples in a widespread way has been deeply felt. There is little appetite for what many perceive to be outdated and coercive evangelistic techniques or the application of modern marketing culture, however, there is a deep heart for seeing a Church that is more able to invite people into life-giving communities of faith and deepen people in the way of Jesus.”

The Act2 report paints a fairly bleak picture of the current state of the UCA. Why not offer more suggestions for turning congregations around rather than making it easier to close them?

There is much work to be done about supporting the health and vitality of congregations, and much is already being done across our Church. This Project is focused on the systems, structures and practices which may be currently impeding life-giving communities of faith and which could help them thrive.

One of the four Directions in Section 5 of the report is about making sure the Council with oversight of local communities is equipped to midwife the beginnings and endings that occur in the life of local communities. We don’t hope for congregations to close, but we know from our engagement that this work is already a part of our present and will continue to be a part of our future. Where communities have come to the fulfilment of life, we want to see this transition happen pastorally and effectively, with love and care.

We also trust that in the power of the gospel. Death is not the end but rather is the beginning of new life.

What can I do if I don’t agree with something in the report?

Act2: In Response to God’s Call is an interim report of the Project on the way to the 17th Assembly (July 2024). We welcome responses and submissions on any part of the report. The report itself will not be changed. However we know the report is imperfect and incomplete. All responses and feedback help inform the current and future phases of the project and the final report and recommendations to the 17th Assembly.

Current Phase: Collective Discernment

What is this phase about

How can my Church Council participate?

How can I contribute if I lead a particular kind of community?

We are keen to hear from the various expressions of communities of faith. You could:

  • Gather your Church Council or local leaders (or whole community) to make a response
  • Drop in to a Going Deeper Session—a fortnightly informal, online opportunity to chat with members of the Act2 team
  • Join one of the 12 Focus Groups being run specifically for ministers and leaders in different types of local communities (congregations, faith communities, small churches, large churches, experimental churches etc).

Find all the opportunities here.

How can I get involved as an individual?

First, please read the latest report! You can make a response to the report, Directions and Options as an individual. You can make a submission. Join a Going Deeper Session to speak with members of the Act2 team. Join a national forum. See all the opportunities to get involved here.

Can I give feedback about specific issues I have?

While the scope of this Project is broad it does not cover every issue people are facing in every context! We are looking at our identity, structures and practices, and seeking to address common challenges. It’s important that we be honest about what we can and cannot influence through this work.

In this phase we are inviting you to respond to the specific Directions (four) and Options (four) put forward in the report (Sections 5 and 6). Evaluate the different ways forward, and share with us if/how they would address your challenges.

What has the engagement been with CALD communities?

People from CALD backgrounds are part of our collective life as a Church. Therefore in all our outreach to every congregation and the wider Church we have engaged with leaders from CALD backgrounds. Alongside this we have had some intentional outreach. This has included through our Focus Groups with leaders from local communities of faith and our National Forums. We have also been invited to participate in some of the National Conferences. We are also working with the Assembly Circle of Interest and Synod based staff to ensure engagement throughout this process.

How do our CALD churches engage and how are they affected? Can I help translate something?

CALD communities are one part of the whole of the Church and are invited to engage throughout the process. We have also engaged in intentional ways including through our Focus Groups with leaders from local communities of faith and our National Forums. We have also been invited to participate in some of the National Conferences. We are also working with the Assembly Circle of Interest and Synod based staff to ensure engagement throughout this process. Some of the experiences are common to many other parts of the Church whereas some are distinctive (or only shared by some others). In particular we see work on the Directions as directly relevant to many CALD communities.

We would welcome any support in translating key documents.

How can I engage my church in this conversation?

Congregations around the Uniting Church have engaged in this work all throughout the different phases in different ways. Many engaged in prayer through Uniting in Prayer. Some have utilised worship and preaching to explore issues raised within the report and contextualised them to their own context. Some have organised discussion times with members of the congregation to explore the Directions and Options to help inform the response of their Church Council. Feel free to engage as broadly and deeply as you are able with the work of Act2 in your own local context.

Workstream 1: Local Communities of Faith and Discipleship

What are the Directions?

In the Act2 Report, we have offered an integrated set of four Directions in relation to the future of local communities of faith and discipleship. They are designed to be taken together. They are shaped by both the challenges we have heard local communities are experiencing, and by our key insights that life-giving communities of faith are those that:

  • Orient their life towards discipleship and mission

Have a ministry and local governance arrangement which is healthy, sustainable and effective

Experience good oversight by councils that have the capacity and capability to work with them on being life-giving.

You can find the Directions in Section 5 of the report, and on the same page you can find a visual representation.

The Directions are fairly vague, when will we have revised Regulations to discuss?

We invite people to take a look at the detail in the report which does outline where areas of specific change would occur in our current structures and practices. This includes references to existing areas of our Church law which would be impacted by these Directions.

However, the Directions are not designed as final form recommendations but are directional in nature.

We want to hear from the Church whether these are the right directions for us to take. We want to hear: how the directions would make a difference in your context, any concerns you have about how a specific direction would be implemented, and any different ideas you have about other directions we could take.

How can I give feedback on the Directions?

Find all the information for responding to the report, options and directions on this page. We particularly want to hear from church councils and others in leadership and ministry in local communities of faith about the Directions.

What does it mean in Direction 1 when it talks about ‘structured and consistent approaches to discipleship’?

We heard that many communities of faith struggle to have structure and consistency in making and growing disciples. Other things were crowding out a focus on discipleship and they struggled with how to engage in discipleship in the current context. Direction 1 is all about refocusing our life on this core work of making and growing disciples. How this is done and resourced remains to be explored. However it was a clear focus of the decision of the Assembly and this was confirmed across the Church.

This Direction is not about mandating a particular program or approach. It is about us all being clear that discipleship formation does not happen by accident – it requires intention, structure and consistency in our life together.

How does the idea of fit for purpose local governance arrangements in Direction 3 relate to resource ministry models which some Presbyteries are implementing?

One of our areas of concern is that governance and ministry arrangements at a local level are not aligned. We hear of people working across 2,3,4 or 5 congregations but with separate Church Councils. Often, this means people being pulled in multiple directions with multiple expectations and those trade offs having to be addressed by the minister (or team) rather than addressed through a single local council. However presbytery resourcing models approach this issue from a different perspective through making the Presbytery the council with accountability for working with ministry agents on those priorities. This achieves a similar objective via a different route but is another example of ‘fit for purpose’ governance arrangements. One option in implementing this direction may be how we better enable this model.

Is every community of faith expected to implement every one of the Directions proposed in Workstream 1?

No, that is not the purpose of the Directions. These directions have emerged from the listening we have done across the Church to identify changes that can make a difference. In a sense they are about retooling the toolbox for local communities working with their oversight council (currently the Presbytery) to order their life to be healthy, life-giving and effective.

Is every community of faith expected to implement every one of the Directions proposed in Workstream 1?

No, that is not the purpose of the Directions. These directions have emerged from the listening we have done across the Church to identify changes that can make a difference. In a sense they are about retooling the toolbox for local communities working with their oversight council (currently the Presbytery) to order their life to be healthy, life-giving and effective.

What processes will sit underneath the directions? What change do you anticipate they’ll bring? What regulatory changes will come as a result of xyz direction?

As an integrated set of Directions we hope that they will allow greater flexibility for local communities of faith to order and govern their lives in a way that aligns with what they have the capacity, capability and resources to manage. Our hope is that this will allow communities to focus their lives on discipleship and mission.
At this stage we are asking the Church to respond to the Directions. Are these the right directions (both overall and in the specifics that have been identified in Section 5)? Once we are sure about the directions then there will be a process to implement those directions. We have a tendency in our life to focus on how the regulations (the rule book) might change. That is one lever and the report points to places where regulations may change. There are other levers as well. Guidance on implementation, sharing experiences from different contexts, collaboration between councils, training and support could all be levers we use to implement the directions.
Ultimately the Directions in Section 5 about local communities of faith and discipleship are about retooling the toolbox for local communities working their oversight council (currently the Presbytery) to order their life to be healthy, life-giving and effective.

What will be different if we feel like we are already doing some of these things?

In many cases the Directions in Section 5 have been drawn from the lived experience and wisdom of the Church. In some parts of the Church they have found ways to implement these ideas. What we want to do through these Directions is highlight, promote and regularise their use. For example, some people feel like they are stretching or skirting our regulations to achieve what seems to them a sensible arrangement. While we will always have special cases (exemptions to regulations exist for a reason) we should recognise when the context and new ways of shaping and ordering our life will serve our ministry and mission better.

Some congregations were previously in shared local governance arrangements (Parishes for example) and are reluctant to go back to those arrangements.

Following the change to one Church Council at the 1997 Assembly some congregations did establish their own Church Council after having been in a Parish. Some continued in a joint Church Council arrangement and some have formed new arrangements (clusters, linked congregations). In many cases those changes are coming up on a quarter of a century ago. A lot has changed in both the shape of many of our communities and in the wider society. Expectations of compliance are ever increasing and so much of this falls in our system to local councils. Direction 3 is inviting us to look again at the way we organise our local governance arrangements and ensure that it is fit for the kind of communities of faith we now are and the responsibilities that Local Councils are now expected to fulfill.

Can you spell out what would be different for faith communities and their support and oversights?

The key insight from the Exploration Phase is that in many instances Faith Communities (as defined by the Regulations) are functioning like Congregations as described in the Basis of Union. Therefore Direction 2 is saying that all communities which are fulfilling the Basis of Union description of a congregation we should call ‘congregations’. However we also recognise that not all communities have the same capacity and capability to fulfill what is currently expected of a congregation. Therefore there would be scope for an Area Council to vary those responsibilities over time. This is in effect how the Faith Community regulations are used now, however some have found this lacks flexibility.

Also, currently Faith Communities are overseen directly by the Presbytery. However we know that in many instances this means limited oversight and support and that in reality in some cases support is provided by nearby or ‘parent’ congregations. We want to clarify and formalise this through the ‘fit for purpose’ local governance arrangements in Direction 3. We expect that where current arrangements for Faith Communities are working well these changes should not be disruptive. However for places where there are things hindering communities being healthy and supported this should provide more tools to enable this to happen.

Workstream 3: Governance and Resourcing

What are the Options?

In the Act2 Report, we have offered four Options in relation to the future of our governance and resourcing as a national Church. They are offered as a set of alternative options. These are in the form of different structural models with implications for how different parts of our Church would relate and where different responsibilities would lie. Find the Options in Section 6 of the report, and on the same page find a visual representation.
We invite you to explore the different features of the options and how they are different and similar to one another.
Through this phase of the Project we are seeking responses from across the Church to the Options, and to the Directions in Section 5. The deadline for responses is 30 November.

Which of the models would be the best to help us get from our current state as we have heard it to a solution?

That’s the question we have before the Church right now in the Collective Discernment Phase.
Each of the four Options in their own way (along with the four Directions) seek to respond to the challenges and issues identified in the first three sections in the report. They do so in different ways by pulling different levers, having different priorities and distributing responsibilities in different ways. Our invitation to the Church is to reflect on:

How might this make a difference in our context within the Church?

If you’d like to explore the Options in more depth to understand how they may address particular issues you might like to attend a Going Deeper Session.

How might this make a difference to our life together as a Church?

Does the Act2 Project team have a preferred option?

No, neither the Project Unit nor Steering Committee have a preferred option. We offer all options as credible ways to address the challenges we have identified. We are looking for a way forward which is in response to God’s call to enter more fully into mission, can gain the support of the Church and will address the challenges we face.
We draw on the Ignatian ‘spiritual practice of being disinterested’—invested in the process but not the outcome, and seeking only to facilitate the discernment of the Church and what might arise.

What do the various options mean for our legal arrangements and corporate structures (e.g., property trusts)?

At this stage we are wanting to test with the Church where it believes God is calling us in terms of how we shape the roles, relationships and responsibilities across the life of the Church. As we come to the Recommendations for Action we expect to do some further detailed analysis and seek expert advice about the legal and corporate structures that would underpin any preferred way forward.

What do we mean by ‘oversight’ when we use it in relation to Area/Field Councils and in terms of agencies, schools and other institutions?

Oversight is expressed in different ways across our Church based on the context, relationships and the scope of the work of various agencies.
We have sought to acknowledge that diversity in the way we have mapped the Options, including where oversight might sit. We are seeking to identify in the Options ways of relating and overseeing agencies which does not presume significant change in those places where oversight arrangements are currently working. However we also know there are places were current arrangements could work better. The Options seek to recognise both realities.

Do the various options take into account the diversity of agency, school and other institutions we have across the Church?

Within each of the Options we have noted where the oversight of various agencies, schools and other institutions would be located. In most cases there are at least two councils identified. This is designed to signal that there needs to be flexibility in the arrangements of oversight. This reflects our understanding of the significant diversity in governance and corporate arrangements which do exist and could exist into the future.

Structural change seems to happen infrequently, therefore does this change need to be for the next 45 years of our life?

Some parts of our Church have experienced a lot of structural change over the past 45 years while others structural change has been quite infrequent. The work of the Assembly asked that the change in our conciliar life make us more ‘flexible and agile’. Therefore a key principle of this change is that it should be able to be adapted to further change in the future. We should and need to be more open to adapting our life to enter more fully into the ministry and mission to which God is calling us.

Where does ministry and mission resourcing fit within each of the options?

This is a question we would invite the Church to reflect on and respond to in the options. We note that roles (and entire teams) in ministry and mission resourcing exist in many different councils in the wider Church. Therefore rather than identify in each option where that resourcing would sit we think it is really important to think through what ministry and mission resourcing we need to fulfill the responsibilities and enable the Directions. This is a case of thinking through having the right resourcing in the right places with the right orientation to achieve life-giving communities of faith and healthy and effective ministry and mission.

How does each option handle agencies and theological colleges?

Each option includes a note within it about which councils may oversee agencies, schools and other institutions of the Church. In most instances this includes two councils. At the moment the Synods generally oversee agencies through a variety of arrangements generally defined within the Constitution or other governing document of the agency. The Assembly also oversees three agencies. For each council and agency in any new shape of our council there will be a decision about the most appropriate council to oversee an agency based in geography, size, scope and existing relationships.
For theological colleges, currently standards are set by the Assembly and colleges are governed by Synods. In each model different councils are proposed to fulfill those functions. Sometimes they are together while other times they remain split. No option assumes a number or geographical location of theological colleges.

If all theological colleges were both governed and standardised nationally, would we lose something?

For all options in theological education there are opportunities and risks. Working nationally for example may lead to greater sharing and collaboration across the Church and the ability to invest in new areas of formation and education. It may lose a connection to context and the institutional value of a local theological college. There are also opportunities and risks with our current arrangement. We want to hear from the Church about those opportunities and risks as we work together to think about the best approach to theological education in sustaining our theological culture, formation for our specified ministries and discipleship of the whole people of God.

Why are there no more radical options, why not a two council option?

The 16th Assembly asked us to look at ‘evolving’ how our interconcilliar governance works so it is more responsive and agile. We have therefore been guided by the Basis of Union, the decision of the Assembly and the reflections of the Church in thinking about what options are credible for the Church to consider. A range of other options were considered and based on those criteria not prioritised. However it is open to different parts of the Church to propose alternatives to the current four options.

Why a reduction in presbyteries/area/field councils?

The options indicate for Regional, Area and Field Councils an indicative number. This is to ensure that each option is grounded in a realistic assessment of how it would work out in practice. Overall all options assume some reduction in the number of councils. This is connected to our finding that some councils are currently unable to fulfill their responsibilities. We have looked at the number of councils and governing bodies in comparable churches both here and internationally. We have also thought about what resourcing may be required for councils to fulfill their responsibilities. We have also thought about what this would mean for the number of local councils and communities overseen by an Area or Field Council.

How many congregations do you anticipate a Field/Area Council would oversight and support?

As far back as 1996 the Assembly discussed potential minimum sizes for the oversight of councils. However, the diversity of context and geography shapes these choices. Currently there are about 1,600 communities. The average number of communities of faith per presbytery is 40-50, however this varies very significantly across the 33 presbyteries across the country. The range of Area/Field Councils proposed across the four options could mean between 50-100 local communities of faith per council. However any change in council arrangements would need to take into account any changes in Local Council arrangements, new and emerging communities, communities coming to the end of their life, geography and resourcing.

What is an area council? / Why the different names?

Names in our Church have come to mean different things to different people. The names we have used in the report are intentionally different from the current council names. This is to remind us constantly that this is an exercise in reimagining our life together. No matter how hard we try, when we use existing names we impose upon those names our own experience and assumptions. Take these new names as an opportunity to imagine differently how our councils could be and relate to one another. Through this process we hope every council of the Church will be change as we reimagine our life together.

What is the rationale behind each option and the trade offs?

The report provides a explanation of each option and the opportunities, risks and implementation considerations for each option. Fundamentally each option is a response to the findings of the report which point to the fact that the shape of our life has changed and this is impacting on many parts of the Church and their ability to govern and resource the conciliar life of the Church. Each option seeks to respond to that context in different ways through changing the number, roles, responsibilities and relationships between the respective councils. Some propose a consolidation of responsibilities to seek efficiencies and consistency. Others propose a delegation of responsibilities to allow for flexibility and contextualisation. Each seeks greater clarity and flexibility. They are also seeking to align responsibilities with capacity, capability and resourcing. We are inviting the Church through the Collective Discernment phase to explore the rationale and the trade-offs. We know we don’t understand all the possible implications and trade-offs of each option which is why we are inviting the Church to share their experience and insight with us.

Next phase: Recommendations for Action

When is the 17th Assembly?

The Assembly will be held from the 11-16 July in Sydney.

Who will make the final decision on the proposals?

The 16th Assembly asked for a report to the 17th Assembly. The Act2 Project team will bring recommendations to the Assembly Standing Committee in early 2024. It will consider and decide what goes before the 17th Assembly.

What will happen after the Assembly?

Depending what the Assembly decides about any proposed changes, there may be additional processes within and beyond the Church we need to undertake. This is why we are asking the Church to engage in a discernment process now—so we can move forward with a process that will find support across the life of the Church. For each option we have indicated an expected timeframe for implementation. We also believe there will be interim steps to move us towards any future shape that is agreed.

Other Issues

Are you going to be looking at the membership regulations?

Proposal to reform the membership regulations have come to several Assembly meetings over the past 17 years. Membership is not directly in scope for us in Act2. However, like other issues they may be a consequential issue for the Church to consider. A key lens needs to be the workstreams and how membership impacts on those workstreams. In many parts of our Church communities have found ways of deal with membership in their own context. To address this issue it is critical we are clear what are the problem or problems we are trying to solve and how this will enable healthy and life-giving ministry and mission.