Australia Loses Faith?

The headlines screamed “Australia Loses Faith”. But is that what the recent census data really tells us? I had a conversation with Eric Love, a brilliant statistician, to get at the story behind the numbers. Here’s what I found out…

The number of Australians identifying themselves as Christians has increased by 500,000. Only 9,000 of that increase has been in SA.

This growth has, however, not kept pace with population growth. percentage of Australians identifying themselves as Christians has continued a long steady decline, now down to 61%. That’s still a strong majority of Australians. If one of our political parties won an election with that proportion of the vote, they’d declare it a major mandate.

The decline of the proportion of people self-identifying as Christian is not merely due to aging population. It is seen in nearly every age bracket, with a particularly sharp fall in my generation (35-44).

Bucking the trend, however is the 15-24 age-bracket, which saw an increase in the percentage who identified themselves as Christian. Bravo, children’s and youth workers and those who support them!

It’s obvious that only a fraction of those who identify themselves in the census as a Christian are active believers – only about 9-10% of Australians attend church. It is almost certain that we are not seeing a wave of people giving up on active faith. We are, it seems, seeing nominal Christians giving up the façade. Which is probably a helpful thing. This dynamic is most starkly noticeable in Tasmania.

So what about the active Christians? How are we doing? Well, it’s hard to tell definitively without better church statistics. But there are very positive signs: The group of protestant denominations that are more evangelical than traditional (including we Baptists) has seen significant increase. 200,000 more Australians identified themselves with these churches over the last 5 years – an increase of 19%. Yes, nineteen. Allowing for population growth, it’s still a 9% increase – from less than 5.5% of Australians to more than 6.1%, in the last 5 years.

Australia increasingly abandoning Christianity? It’s a myth, probably reinforced by we Christians as much as anyone. Chins up!

Andrew Turner is Church Development Facilitator for the Baptist Churches of SA. Andrew also blogs at Sacred Agents from whence this article was legitimately stolen.