By: Akos Balogh
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:
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.
While the recent Australian census has confirmed the long-term trend of those who identify as Christian, the ACS research has found that 1 in 5 Australians attends churches at least monthly (and increasing).
Yes, young adults.
Their church attendance is higher than every other demographic (including baby boomers). They’re more religious than their grandparents.
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.
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.
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%)
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.
That’s a significant number of Aussies.
What does this say about our welcoming and integrating of newcomers?
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%).
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.
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.