Thursday, June 28, 2007

Australian Census figures on Religion Released

The figures have been released from the Australian Census 2006 regarding religion (full details here). We will have to wait for the National Church Life Survey results to get the nitty gritty details, but here are the facts:

Buddhism..........................418,756 (2.11%)
Christianity: .................12,685,836 (63.89%)

Anglican .......................3,718,252 (18.73%)
Assyrian Apostolic..................8,189 (0.04%)
Baptist ..........................316,738 (1.60%)
Brethren ..........................24,232 (0.12%)
Catholic .......................5,126,880 (25.82%)
Churches of Christ ................54,822 (0.28%)
Eastern Orthodox..................544,160 (2.74%)
Jehovah's Witnesses................80,919 (0.41%)
Latter Day Saints .................53,199 (0.27%)
Lutheran .........................251,107 (1.26%)
Oriental Orthodox..................32,711 (0.16%)
Other Protestant ..................56,106 (0.28%)
Pentecostal ......................219,689 (1.11%)
Presbyterian & Reformed...........596,671 (3.01%)
Salvation Army ....................64,200 (0.32%)
Seventh-day Adventist .............55,251 (0.28%)
Uniting Church .................1,135,427 (5.72%)
Christian nfd.....................313,190 (1.58%)
Other Christian ...................34,093 (0.17%)
Hinduism ..........................148,119 (0.75%)
Islam ............................340,392 (1.71%)
Judaism ...........................88,831 (0.45%)
Aboriginal Religions ...............5,377 (0.03%)
Other Religious Groups ...........103,645 (0.52%)
No religion.....................3,706,555 (18.67%)
Other religious affiliation.......133,820 (0.67%)
Not stated .....................2,223,957 (11.20%)

Total .........................19,855,288(100.00%)

The really interesting thing is to look at the increases or decreases in respect to the increase or decrease of population. Here are those categoriest that have grown faster than the population growth (figures given here are the category growth since 2001 percentage minus the population growth since 2001 percentage, which is 5.79%):

No Religion....................21.76%
Christian (no further detail)..17.86%
Other Religious Groups.........16.71%
Religious affiliation not stated..15.37%
Assyrian Apostolic............. 9.40%
Oriental Orthodox...............6.18%
Other Protestant...............0.96%
Latter Day Saints..............0.79%

All that points to really interesting times ahead for the Australian religious scene.

Catholics only had a 2.50% rise--which is 3.29% less than the population. So effectively we went backwards. It might be tempting to say "Not as backwards as some", but we should note that in the 2001 Census we had a 4.22% rise (still 1.50% less than the population rise), so we are going backwards even against our previous levels of growth.

The bottom line: We haven't hit the bottom of the J-curve yet.
The bottom question: Is there going to BE a J-curve?


At Thursday, June 28, 2007 7:34:00 pm , Anonymous Tony Bartel said...

Below are some pastoral meanderings from my Sunday bulletin. I am not sure if they shed light or darkness on the census - they are simply some initial thoughts on the census data.


From a faith perspective, the most alarming trend is the huge increase in the number of people who claim no religious affiliation or who choose not to list a religion. Between 2001 and 2006 these two categories increased by 25% and now constitute just under 30% of the population. In other words, the biggest winners were atheism, agnosticism, and religious indifference. My personal guess would be that religious indifference is probably the chief characteristic of those who do not claim a religion. It is not a conscience rejection of religion so much as an inability to see the relevance or importance of faith.
Any corporation that saw their market share decline as significantly as the Anglican Church has seen its membership decline in the last decades would go into a state of mild panic. Shareholders would elect a new board of directors and demand a new CEO. But the Church is not a business corporation, and we are led, or at least supposed to be led, not by managers, but by bishops and priests who are pastors and shepherds. Neither are the members of the Church investors looking for a return, but integral members of the body of Christ who share in his mission in the world. And finally the growth and survival of the Church is not in our hands, but in the hands of the Holy Spirit who leads people to faith and incorporates them into the life of the Church.
From this perspective, we are called not to panic, but to take a sober look at what is happening in the Church and in society. The first thing to note is that there are forces at work in society which are outside our control. There has been a great secularisation of Australian society in the last forty years. Religious belief and practice has been pushed to the margins of society. Our public policies do not grow out of a religious tradition, but out of a nebulous sense of the public good. Religious traditions do not tend to inspire popular art or music. They are largely absent from the broadcast media. The stories of faith are largely unknown. Even those who adhere to a religious tradition often have difficulty giving more than a vague summary of their faith. We are not going to change this culture. We can only change ourselves and the way that we react to this culture. Therefore, we need to commit ourselves to come to a deeper understanding of our own faith. We need to be more willing to learn and study. It will no longer work to come to Church because that is what we have always done, or because our parents had us baptised in this faith, or because our friends are there, or because we feel some type of tribal loyalty to the Anglican Church. We need to know why we believe what we believe, why we practice the faith in the particular way that we do as Anglican Christians, why our Church teaches what it does, and why it is worth trying to live our lives in accordance with its teaching. If we do not know this, we will be unable to pass our faith on to others for the simple reason we will have nothing to pass on.
Secondly, we must avoid the knee jerk reaction that says we must make changes in order to attract people. We have had forty years of change in the Anglican Church - changes in prayer books, changes in teaching, changes in moral stances, changes in music, changes in the ordained ministry - and they have done nothing to alter the decline in Church membership. Paradoxically it is those faiths which have a deep sense of their own identity, who draw on a strong tradition, which have seen the most growth in Australia. Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism are extremely traditional in the practice of faith. It may not seem that our pentecostal friends are very traditional. In their worship they may not be, but in their teaching on faith and morals they are much closer to traditional Christianity than much of the Anglican Church. The answer is not to change every few years, as we have been doing, but, as noted above, to immerse ourselves once again in the authentic Christian tradition that we have received. Yes, we cannot make the Church grow. That is in the hands of the Holy Spirit. But we can and we are called to be faithful. That is more than enough work for us to get on with.

At Thursday, June 28, 2007 9:52:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

Good to hear from you, Fr Tony. It's been a while.

After you discount the crass "Church Growth" reaction to the census figures (which judges the success of the gospel purely on numbers of bums on pews alone), there remain two possible (equal and opposite) reactions to these figures:

1) The Church is losing grounds to the secular because it is too heavenly minded to be of any earthly use. It needs to learn from the secular world and ditch its ancient and outmoded ideas, practices and beliefs.

2) The Church is losing ground to the secular because it has failed to teach and proclaim the faith clearly and faithfully. The task that stands before it is the hard road of deep and committed evangelisation and catechisation.

No guesses for which of the two reactions I believe is correct.

At Friday, June 29, 2007 7:04:00 am , Blogger Past Elder said...

What an excellent statement of both the problem and the way out. Put in Lutheran for Anglican (and I guess US for Australia)and I'm on board 100%.

I work for a large company and you're right, if we saw our market share drop like that there would be howls! What is so ironic is that our "pastors and shepherds" so often try to respond like CEOs and don't even do that right, instead insisting more of the same, "learn from the secular world and ditch its ancient and outmoded ideas, practices and beliefs", that got us into the problem will get us out.

I think our mistake is this: we assume the numbers success of the pentecostal/evangelical/fundamentalist type churchs is because of their worship style, therefore we try to look like them yet not be like them. What is missing is intergrity. They worship like that because they believe like that. We here may wear different uniforms as to what exactly the sacraments are and who really has them, but we all understand God to have instituted sacraments, therefore we are all liturgical. Non liturgical worship not only fits non sacramental theology, it grew out of it. In that context, at least it's consistent, it fits -- it has integrity, it isn't trying to promote one content under another appearance, what you see is what you get and people respond to that, not theologically perhaps but intuitively and that in turn lends a credibility that trying to "act cool" doesn't whether done by people or institutions.

In terms of our host's two options, our pastors and shepherds think the problem is option two, then act accordingly, and in so doing bring about option one!

Thank you for an excellent post! (What is this, twice now we've agreed on something?)

At Friday, June 29, 2007 11:26:00 am , Blogger Schütz said...

"In terms of our host's two options, our pastors and shepherds think the problem is option two, then act accordingly, and in so doing bring about option one!"

As Manuel would say, "Que?"

At Friday, June 29, 2007 12:25:00 pm , Blogger Past Elder said...

Judas H Priest. I got them backwards. When I post from work, it often takes me all day to write the post because I am not paid to blog and my company has this notion that I am there to do what they hired me to do, so I write on breaks etc. Here it is straight:

Our pastors and shepherds think the problem is they need to learn from the secular world and ditch their ancient and outmoded ideas, practices and beliefs, but the actual result is the church is losing ground to the secular because it has failed to teach and proclaim the faith clearly and faithfully.

Lo siento.

At Friday, June 29, 2007 2:21:00 pm , Blogger Past Elder said...

PS -- we would say "Como?" (Keyboard doesn't have the other part of a Spanish interrogation point!)

Which brings up another point -- of what origin are the majority of Spanish speakers in Australia?

At Friday, June 29, 2007 3:44:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

No idea about Spanish speakers in Australia. There are a fair few Catholics (many in the Renewal movement) but there are also a number of evangelicals and Lutherans--the latter mainly from South America.

In Fawlty Towers--the John Cleese BBC classic--Manuel says "Que?" Its a cultural thing, Past Elder...

At Friday, June 29, 2007 4:36:00 pm , Blogger Past Elder said...

I'm a Benny Hill (as opposed to Benny Hinn or Benny XVI) guy myself. Must have missed it.

At Friday, June 29, 2007 6:31:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

Ironic, I suppose, that an Australian who says "Que?" is displaying the British cultural influence on Australia.

At Friday, June 29, 2007 7:07:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

“. . . there remain two possible (equal and opposite) reactions to these figures:

1) The Church is losing grounds to the secular because it is too heavenly minded to be of any earthly use. It needs to learn from the secular world and ditch its ancient and outmoded ideas, practices and beliefs.

2) The Church is losing ground to the secular because it has failed to teach and proclaim the faith clearly and faithfully. The task that stands before it is the hard road of deep and committed evangelisation and catechisation.

No guesses for which of the two reactions I believe is correct.”

I can’t let this pass without some comment.

Whatever our position on the ‘liberal’/’conservative’ spectrum, it’s convenient for all of us to acknowledge the decline in religious identification/participation and then say that it proves that our views are not being accepted/implemented. People are, quite obviously, turning away because the church is not doing what we think it should be doing.

It ain‘t necessarily so.

There are lots of churches who do aim to “teach and proclaim the faith clearly and faithfully”, and yet suffer precipitous declines in membership. Look at the Church of Christ, for instance – from my experience of members, very traditional in its doctrine, theology and morality, but declining in membership by about 30% in the past ten years.

The Anglicans provide an interesting case study. The Sydney Anglicans under Dr Jensen would no doubt see themselves as proclaiming the faith more “clearly and faithfully” than their wishy-washy liberal fellow Anglicans elsewhere in Australia. But Sydney Anglicans are losing ground – according to the census figures – markedly faster than Anglicans elsewhere in Australia.

We can point to theologically conservative groups which are growing – the Pentecostalists are frequently cited in this regard – but we can only assert that this is because of their theologically conservative stance by ignoring all the counter-examples of theologically conservative groups which are declining. The truth is that most outside observers – admittedly, many of them hostile – see the Pentecostalists as offering a fairly thin theology. Whatever their appeal is, it is not to those seeking robust traditional theology. A wild guess on my part, but their contemporary style of worship and powerful experience of community might have something to do with it.

The decline in religious participation probably has little to do with any ‘liberal’/’conservative’ theological divides (except possibly to the extent that the bitterness of these divides in some quarters may be alienating people). The elephant in the room is that any shift from ‘liberal’ to ‘conservative’ religious groups or vice versa is dwarfed by a substantial shift from religious groups of any stripe to a secularist/indifferent position of having no religion, or simply not answering the question. There isn’t a shred of evidence in support of the view that people are doing this because they are dissatisfied with ‘liberal’ religious stances and that they would respond better to something more robust.

At Friday, June 29, 2007 7:51:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

I wasn't really talking about "Liberal" vs "Conservative". I was talking about that kind of evangelisation that works both inwards and outwards.

Yes, you put your finger on it when you point to the Penties sense of community--that is really important--so that people feel connected to their church.

But another factor, often overlooked in the Catholic "liberal/conservative" debates is simply contact with the Word of God. As a Lutheran pastor, I saw amazing things happen when people are simply exposed to the Word. The Lineamenta for next year's Synod of Bishops says that "direct contact with Sacred Scripture plays an important role in the work of evangelisation", and I know this to be a fact.

So there are many different prongs to this business. "Conservativism" per se won't do it--it is the work of the Spirit. And for the Spirit to work in the hearts of people, we need to do what we can to put them in connection with the Spirit's instruments: the Word and the Sacraments.

I think that we are doing many things right as an Australian Church. We are also incredibly gifted--gifted with the authentic means of grace, many of which the other ecclesial communities are lacking. But in some ways we have simply sat back and let the power of these gifts do their work, without doing our bit in fostering evagelisation.

I'm rambling now, so I will stop. But my point is simply that I agree with you, Peregrinus: it is pointless to come at this from a Liberal/Conservative point of view. I will, however, assert that it must be tackled from an evangelical point of view, taking up JPII's challenge to "put out into the deep".

At Sunday, July 01, 2007 4:42:00 am , Blogger Past Elder said...

If you don't put out into the deep knowing what your message is -- which will involve knowing where you are classified, by others as well as by yourself -- then what was the point of putting out into the deep.

You can get a great sense of community and belonging, and have a great time at gatherings, in a gang too. Is that what we seek to give, or is that the result of what we give?

Not sure what chains are present in Australia, but the point should be clear -- if the sign on the door says McDonald's, you ought to be able to get a Big Mac inside, not what the manager whipped up instead.

If some of our pastors and "bishops" (including the one in Rome) ran Coca-Cola they'd still be trying to sell New Coke.


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