What do non-Christian Australians think of Church? What do they think of Jesus? What do they think of Christians?
If you listen to much of the mainstream media (or spend time on Twitter), you would think that Australians are hostile to all things Christian. You would come away thinking that the average Aussie is an inner-city Atheist who is a devotee of Richard Dawkins.
At least that’s the narrative that dominates the public square.
But is that the mainstream view?
Well, the National Church Life Survey runs an annual Australian Community Survey, which explores community attitudes toward Church and Christianity. They’ve recently released their latest findings. And some of their results are quite surprising.
Here are 10 things that caught my attention:
1) While the media narrative is overly negative about Church, the reality is more varied
The public narrative of the Church is quite negative, driven by a media that is suspicious of Christianity. Churches are seen as anti-women, failing to protect children, and in decline.
(Of course, the fact that there have been public failings of Christians and Churches hasn’t helped).
But this is only one perspective of Christianity: in reality, not only is there a diversity of views among the population – and much of it positive – there’s more to the church attendance story than decline.
2) There has been growth in church attendance since 2016
While the recent Australian census has confirmed the long-term downward trend of those who identify as Christian, the ACS research has found that 1 in 5 Australians attends churches at least monthly (and increasing).
3) Around 1 in 3 young adults report attending a church service at least monthly
Yes, young adults.
Their church attendance is higher than every other demographic (including baby boomers). They’re more religious than their grandparents.
4) Around 44% of Australians believe Christianity is good for society
That’s almost 1 in 2 Australians.
Yes, there is increasing pushback against Christianity from those who hold the levers of power in our society. But for almost 1 in 2 Australians to think that Christianity is good for society shows there still is widespread goodwill across our culture.
5) The least Christian age group is also the group with the most influence across society (i.e. 50-64-year-olds)
The Gen X generation is now holding the public microphone and the levers of power.
They have outsized influence across our culture. Thus, it’s not surprising that the public narrative seems so negative. But it’s not necessarily representative of the majority of Australians.
6) Most people who knew real Christians saw them in very positive ways
While many Aussies do have an ambivalent or negative view of Christianity as a whole, the picture was very different among those that knew Christians personally.
When asked to describe their Christian friend or family member from among 20 different characteristics – 10 of which were positive, and 10 of which were negative – the top 5 responses were as follows:
• Caring (51%)
• Kind (50%)
• Honest (45%)
• Loving (42%)
• Generous (39%)
7) Relationships matter: 3 in 10 Australians would attend Church if invited by a friend or family member
It turns out that almost 1 in 3 Australians would consider attending Church if invited by a close friend or family member. A relational invite is the most significant reason why non-Christians would go along to Church.
8) Around 1 in 5 Australians tried to get involved in Church but then decided against it
That’s a significant number of Aussies.
What does this say about our welcoming and integrating of newcomers?
9) Australians are confused about the mission of the Church
Only 15% believed that the Church’s role was to convert people.
The majority saw the Church as providing weddings, funerals, & baptisms (51%), followed by encouraging good morals (51%) and supporting the poor (50%).
10) A majority of Australians are confused or unsure about Christianity
While 56% say they are familiar with the Christian faith, only half of Australians believe Jesus was a real person (!). And many just don’t know.
Key Takeaway: There are (still) great opportunities to connect with non-Christians in our communities
At the end of the presentation, Australian Christian commentator Karl Faase gave some takeaways.
One was the reminder that many of our fellow Aussies are searching for community and spiritual meaning. There’s a loneliness epidemic that’s suffocating people, and many people are starved of meaning in their lives. Churches are well positioned to address these key problems with a loving community that speaks the gospel truth in love (Eph 4:15).
Article supplied with thanks to Akos Balogh.
About the Author: Akos is the Executive Director of the Gospel Coalition Australia. He has a Masters in Theology and is a trained Combat and Aerospace Engineer.
Feature image: Photo by Bree Evans on Unsplash