Date of Submission



The Christian Churches in Australia are not only present in parishes and congregations but are also involved in a wide range of activities in the fields of social welfare, human services and social policy. The historical legacy of this involvement is organisationallydiverse and represents a significant presence in public policy in Australia. With the shift to contracting as a funding technology for social welfare and human services in the 1990s, church-related agencies found themselves engaging in new ways with government. Nearly two decades later there has been relatively little research into the impact of the shift to contracting on these agencies, leaving unanswered the question as to whether, or not, they have now become simply an extension of the state. Driven by that fundamental question, this thesis is a theologically-informed inquiry into the impact of the shift to government contracting for social welfare and human services with ‘church-related’ agencies in Australia between 1996 and 2013. It has been undertaken to contribute both to the empirical evidence on the impact of contracting with government on these agencies and to assist agencies in reflecting on their mission, in the light of the impact of this pattern of engagement. The inquiry is shaped by its subject, and its institutional, sociological and theological contexts, rather than a specific discipline. The disciplines, and the theoretical insights drawn on for the research and the interpretation of the findings were chosen for both their theoretical utility and analytical relevance, including theology, Australian welfare history, the sociology of religion, the sociology of organisations and public policy. An account of how the movement across disciplinary boundaries is undertaken is laid out at the beginning of the inquiry. Theologically the inquiry commences with articulations and developments of the tensions of exilic identity in seeking the flourishing of the city, the secular and sacred character of the contemporary state and how these are manifested in the maintenance of identity and mission for church-related agencies. The sociological processes of isomorphism, and organisational secularisation, provide the theoretical grounding for exploring how these theological themes are manifested against the distinctive background of the Australian settlement of church-state engagement in social welfare provision. The research involved analysis of publicly-available documentation including annual reports and strategic plans from a range of church-related social welfare and human services agencies, denominational coordinating bodies, as well as extensive interviews with senior staff and board members on the impacts of, and agency responses to, contracting. The analysis explored issues of financial dependency, ecclesial connection, governance and tactics of response and resistance. The findings included the importance of intentionality by leadership and management of agencies in owning the mission and identity of agencies along with settings of governance, funding, communication of theological commitments to staff of agencies that seem to be conducive to maintenance of identity and mission. These findings are reported through a number of narratives that spell out the processes by which some church-related agencies became an extension of the state and, by contrast, tactics of response and resistance that enabled other agencies to retain identity and continue their mission. A significant and unanticipated finding was of the emergence of a sector-level response, through the expansion and development of denominational coordinating agencies that facilitated a continuing policy advocacy role by church-related agencies in their relationship with government.


School of Theology

Document Type


Access Rights

Open Access


289 pages

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Faculty of Theology and Philosophy


Research Location