NCLS Research, a reputable Australian organization renowned for conducting studies on church health and community connections, presented the impact of spirituality on communities of faith from their 2021 survey in a webinar held early this month.
The webinar, entitled “What Australians Think About Jesus And The Church Today,” was held on June 9 and particularly discussed the results of the 2021 Australian Community Survey. The Australian Community Survey is conducted online every four years originally but have become annually since 2018.
ABC reported that the 2021 survey was released in December and pointed out that the survey suggested “Australians are as unbelieving as mainstream media.”
During the webinar, NCLS Research Director Dr. Ruth Powell presented a historical overview of Christianity in Australia where religious affiliation declined in the last 100 years. Only 52% of Australians identify as Christians as against more than 80% a century ago. Data showed that 30% of Australians had “no religion” and 8% identified with “other religions.” This data is comparatively parallel to a decline in church attendance since the 1950s.
But if one would look at the data in the last three years since 2019, Powell highlighted, one would see a steady increase in church attendance, especially among the young adults or the Gen Xers of today (aged 18 to 34 years old). The director emphasized that 2021 data on church attendance revealed that it has returned to pre-pandemic levels. This translates to two in 10 Australians or 21% attending religious services at least once a month. Young adults comprise 32% of this attendance, which is the highest among the age groups. The least attendees are the Baby Boomers or those in the age group of 65 years and above.
Broken down by frequency, 40% of Gen Xers never attend religious services, 15% attend less than once a year, 13% attend once or several times annually, 15% attend once to thrice a month, and 17% attend weekly or more. While 52% of Baby Boomers never attend religious services, 18% attend less than once a year, 11% attend once or several times annually, 2% attend once to thrice a month, and 17% attend weekly or more.
A good ratio of Gen Xers also tried getting involved in the church with three in every ten among their age group. While a total of two in every 10 Australians tried to get involved in the church in the past five years.
Despite their lack of presence in the church, Powell said Baby Boomers “hold the mic” when it comes to the narrative of what Christians are, which is mostly negative. This is reflected in the Baby Boomers’ lack of church attendance. Powell compared this with the attendance of young adults and pointed to possibilities of missed or overlooked opportunities by leaders.
The survey also focused on Australians’ responses to the following questions: “Do you believe in God?”, “How familiar with the Christian faith?”, “Was Jesus a person of history?”, “Was he human or divine?”, and “Did Jesus rise from the dead?” The results showed that 55% of Australians believe in God or on a higher power–24% believe “there is a personal God” and 31% believe “there is some sort of spirit or life force.” While 24% “don’t really think there is any sort of spirit, God, or life force” and 21% “don’t really know what to think.”
On Australians’ view of Jesus, 56% have familiarity with the Christian faith and 44% have little or no familiarity at all. This means 22% have a strong understanding of the teachings and values of Christianity, 34% are familiar with most of the teachings and values of Christianity, 22% have limited knowledge of some of Christianity’s values and teachings, and the remaining 22% say they have little or no familiarity with Christianity.
Almost half or 49% of Australians believe–a majority of whom are Baby Boomers–that Jesus was a real person or that he actually lived and 29% don’t know whether he did. While 22% believe Jesus was only a fictional or mythical character. Powell raised that this is a point for reflection on the knowledge gap about Jesus and the Christian faith, especially among young Australians. She said another point of reflection is the low acceptance of orthodox Christian beliefs.
Despite the low results, 44% of Australians acknowledge and agree that religion is good for society. This result is higher than the 38% in 2020, the 41% in 2019, and the 33% in 2018. An interesting result is that majority of those who agree are Gen Xers. NCLS Research said the data means that Australians have regained a more positive outlook on the influence of the Church, which was marred by historical abuse.
As per Christian Today, Olive Tree Media CEO Karl Faase also spoke in the webinar and pointed out the tension between Australians’ perception of Christianity and its reality. Faase said “those with an agenda both inside and outside the Church” push the misconception of the Church’s failure. He differentiated this perception of the Church as a whole against Australians’ positive perception of Christians they personally know. He concluded that there is a need to clarify the identity of a Christian.
“The word ‘Christian’ actually needs to mean something, and we need to help people understand what it means, we need to define and communicate what it means to be a Christian,” Faase said.
Reporting from Christianity Daily.