Do you remember where you were and what you were doing on the evening of August 9th last year? It was census night here in Australia, a day every five years where the government requires every person living Australia to complete a survey (conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics). It includes questions about personal details, the people we live with, our education, our employment, and any significant changes that have taken place in the last few years. This helps to provide a snapshot of our nation, which becomes useful for the government as well as many other organisations.
One of the questions in the census is about religious belief. Here are the results from the 2011 census with a comparison to the previous one conducted back in 2006.
Christian 63.8% 61.1%
Buddhist 2.1% 2.5%
Muslim 1.7% 2.2%
Other Non-Christian Religions 2.4% 2.5%
No Religion 18.7% 22.3%
Unspecified 11.3% 9.4%
A few observations:
- The number of people who identify with a Christian faith (including Catholics, Baptists, Pentecostals, and all other Christian denominations) has dropped from 63.8% to 61.1%. In 1996, this number was 71%, so there has been a 10% decline in this category over the last 15 years.
- Hinduism is the fastest growing religion in Australia, along with Jedi (from the Star Wars movies!), which has grown 13% over the last 5 years to 65,000 people (someone is obviously leading an intergalactic recruitment campaign!).
- Approximately 7.2% of Australians identify with a non-Christian religion now, which means you don't have to go overseas to become a missionary (though that is still needed). Right in our neighborhoods there are Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, agnostics and even Jedi.
- The number of people saying that have no formal religious belief system has grown from 18.7% to 22.3% in the last 5 years. Those between the ages of 15-34 make a large portion of this category.
- 9.4% of people chose not to answer this optional question in the census.
Moving on ... if over 60% of Australians claim to be "Christian", how many of them are actively involved in a faith community? Recent National Church Life Survey and Community Surveys reveal the following:
- Less than 10% of Australians attend church each weekend. In Melbourne, it was 8.4% as of 2010 (just a little more than the number of people attending AFL football games each weekend). If the current 20-year trend continues, this could end up as low as 5% over the coming years.
- Less than 20% attend church once per month or more.
- 20% attend church yearly or more often.
- Over 60% hardly or never attend church (and this percentage is growing). The majority of non-attenders are either indifferent or apathetic towards the church, though some are antagonistic.
These statistics show us that the church has an important part of the Australian society. It is also evident that there is a significant level of latent Christian belief in the wider community. Nevertheless, the majority of Australians do not go to church and, for a great many, spirituality is not an issue. As a result, many churches and even entire denominations are in serious decline, with attendance dropping every year. Thankfully, there are pockets of growth and vitality, and some Australian churches are experiencing significant growth.
Why People Don’t Attend Church
NCLS Community Surveys reveal the following most common reasons given for people not wanting to attend church in Australia:
- They think the sermons are boring or irrelevant.
- They don’t like the music.
- There is nothing for the children.
- The people are unfriendly.
- The church is always asking for money.
Could it be that the average Aussie has no problem with "God" but doesn't see "church" as relevant to their lives? From my experience and observation, there are 100s of churches made up of genuinely friendly people, with tremendous children's ministries, inspirational worship, and practical, life-changing messages (and most only take up one voluntary offering each weekend). Perhaps these churches are Australia's best kept secret. Either way, we are a nation in need of awakening ... beginning with us as God's people. The harvest is ripe ... but the workers continue to be few. Let's pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his field. May Australia yet become the great Southland of the Holy Spirit ... in our time.