I live in Australia where it’s usually assumed we’re all largely apathetic about traditional religion in general and the Christian church in particular.
Maybe that’s because we’ve never had a civil war, or fought off an enemy land invasion, or suffered from a violent sectarian uprising (unless you count the enemy land invasion perpetrated by British colonists upon indigenous Australians, which we should). Nevertheless, we’re pretty chill about everything.
I mean, we proudly gave the world one of our favorite sayings – “No worries”.
Our struggle isn’t warring religious viewpoints. It’s getting people interested in religion at all.
A new study has just been released asking Australians what kinds of things are likely to pique their interest in religious faith. The results are fascinating. They found,
“Observing people with genuine faith is the greatest attraction to investigating spirituality. Second is experiencing personal trauma or a significant life change.”
That’s not the most fascinating part to me, but I’ll come back to it later. More interesting were the things that turned people off being interested in religion. They hate apologetic discussions and debates. And “the top repellent to Australians investigating is public figures or celebrities who are examples of that faith. This is followed by miraculous stories of healings or supernatural occurrences.”
They hate combative apologetic presentations designed win arguments, testimonies from Christian celebrities and miraculous stories?
Huh? Isn’t that what we’ve been pouring all our time and money into lately? Apologetics film series and websites, testimonials by sportspeople or pop singers, and books about people who went to heaven and came back. You mean to tell me it’s just turning them off religion?
The nation of no worries isn’t attracted to dramatic and miraculous stories at all.
The thing that actually triggers an interest in investigating spirituality and religion is seeing ordinary people live out a genuine faith.
Well, that’s nice, until you read more of their findings.
The same McCrindle Research study found that only 59% of all Australians identify as Christian. That’s not a huge number, but, hey, it’s encouraging, right? It’s over half the population.
Of that bunch, 14%, while nominally Christian by background, see themselves as spiritual, but not religious. So, not really Christian at all.
We’re down to 45%.
You can then shave off another 23% who never attend church nor practice their faith openly.
That leaves 22%.
Of that group, 15% identify as a “churchgoer”, attending church about once a month. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but they’re not the most committed cohort.
So we’re down to just 7% who say they are deeply committed to their Christian faith.
So put those two findings together.
- The thing that actually triggers an interest in investigating spirituality and religion is seeing ordinary people live out a genuine faith.
- Only 7% of the population are committed to living out a genuine faith.
We’re in trouble!
We’re investing in websites, think-tanks, TV shows, and other resources, many of which major on testimonials of miracles and/or the faith journeys of minor celebrities. Meanwhile, our greatest resource, the ordinary committed Christian population, shrinks exponentially.
In other words, our biggest problem is a discipleship crisis.
I know some of my fellow Australian church leaders will read the McCrindle report and see it as good news. They’ll be heartened to read that nearly 60% of all Australians identify with Christianity. They’ll be relieved to hear that Aussies are open to discussing religious faith and are impressed with Christians who live out a genuine faith.
I can’t help but think we’re like a sinking ship named “No Worries”. Our most attractive quality – genuine believers – is shrinking, and we seem willing to do anything other than focus on supporting and nurturing ordinary people to live out their faith, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, champion the voiceless, and share their faith with others.
The good ship “No Worries” is sinking and as the water pours in from every angle we can’t keep assuming that doing the same thing we’ve been doing is going to plug those holes. It’s going to catch up with us sooner or later.
9 thoughts on “The good ship “No Worries” is sinking”
I find that finding very encouraging. It means being faithful in a normal life and in a normal church can still reach people with words of faith and encouragement. Sometimes seeing the big stories and shiny celebrity christians can be discouraging. So hearing of this survey is good news as it highlights something what one has wondered all along.
I just wonder whether there is a difference in those normal genuine christians sharing their face in person or in a digital way. Probably depends on how genuine that is in their general use of social media.
“Only 7% of the population are committed to living out a genuine faith.”
I would think a large proportion would be more likely to equate “living out a genuine faith” with church attendance, daily prayer and bible reading, moral behaviour and conservative politics more so than with a call to “feed the hungry, clothe the naked, champion the voiceless, and share their faith with others.”
Not that it’s one or the other, it’s both (politics aside).
What I’m wondering is…
What fraction of the 7% are actually “living out a genuine faith”?
The 7% figure are those people who self identify as “active practisers” who are “extremely involved”. I was assuming the best about them.
Great post Mike. I have a particular concern with the apologetics cottage industry because its arguments are convinced – for the already convinced.
Makes sense I suppose. There is something deeply touching about genuineness. The early Christians did it and they changed the Roman Empire.
This is fascinating research. Thanks for sharing. Reflecting on it in light of the movie Hacksaw Ridge – as you say, it was an ordinary person living out a genuine faith that made such a profound impact.
Always the optimist, I say the research is timely and a reminder that with only a handful of genuine, passionate disciples, the world was changed!
Thank you for sharing the research Mike. It’s a wake-up call alright.
I wonder if similar findings would come out of America?
I can see the sentiment behind this article, but I think you need to take some care with the view; “You can then shave off another 23% who never attend church …” You don’t know the reasons why people chose – or aren’t physically able – to attend church. People can be committed Christians without going to a church building. To simplify it by saying ‘shave them off the stats’ is convenient, but not necessarily fair.
They have self-selected as not actively practicing their faith.