What are your views on the results of the 2016 census that showed a drop in the percentage of Australians who say they are Christians?


(RZIM Connect Member) #1

G’day, Jordan, greetings from Sydney!

I was wondering if you have any views on the results of the 2016 census which showed that there’s been a drop in the percentage of Australians who say they are Christians from 74% in 1991 to 50% in 2016. And the proportion of people reporting no religion increased from 16% in 2001 to one-third in 2016. What do you think are the reasons and what kinds of concerns with or objections to Christianity have you experienced in your ministry? What kinds of questions are being asked and how can we reach the hearts of those around us who have turned away?

Thank you for spending this time to address our questions.

(Jordan Thyer) #2

Dear Helen

Thank you for your question! The census results have indeed been very interesting and to be honest I’m still processing all the information as it has just been released. My first reaction was actually surprise that 51% of Aussies identify with a Christian denomination as their religion! I thought it would be much lower going by the percentage of people who attend church (although that isn’t always a marker for ones commitment to Christ, Hebrews 10:25 does encourage believers to continue meeting together to encourage one another). I suspect there are still many in Australia for whom the traditional label of “Catholic” or “Anglican” still matters. My close friend Steve McAlpine has written a great blog post on this. (The link to his blog is here: 51 per cent of us are Christian? Yeah, right!)

In terms of the reasons for this there is a number of ways you can look at it. My initial reaction is to recognize that this is not unusual, John 3:19 indicates that people “love darkness rather than light” and Romans 8:7 indicates that the natural inclination of a persons mind isn’t to submit to God’s law. So theologically we shouldn’t be surprised by people’s rejection of God. Furthermore, Australia is an incredibly wealthy, safe and comfortable place to live! When I look at the landscape and consider Jesus’ words that it is “hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God” (Matt 19:23 & Luke 18:24-30), I see further reasons for people living under the pretense that they don’t need God. John Chapman (famous Aussie evangelist) used to say, “Australians don’t want to go to heaven because they’re already there”. The sad reality is that for many Aussies they are comfortable enough with the life here and now that they aren’t forced to think through the bigger questions very seriously. In my experience talking to students on University campuses, high schools and time with my sporting club friends most people haven’t seriously thought about their world view and why they hold the view they do. A lot of the time what people believe is shaped by what is most convenient for them and makes some sense of their lived experience. Unfortunately it often takes takes a tragedy to cause people to seriously reflect on the meaning of life and our ultimate destiny (this is actually how my mum became a Christian in her mid 20’s just after her brother died).

The best way to understand what issues have kept people from seriously considering Jesus is to spend time with them and listen. Get to know them and hear what their real struggle or concern is. The issues people throw up as a reason for not believing in God (i.e. science, not enough evidence, etc) are not always the real road block for them. I often find that when I listen to people and explain the gospel to them they had not previously rejected the gospel, but they’d rejected a false impression of Christianity they received from Facebook, YouTube, TV, school, or a “religious relative”. All that to say the most important thing is that you take the time to help them properly understand what the gospel actually is, then you can deal with their objections/questions as they arise. This is especially important when trying to reach a friend or loved one who has turned away from Christ. Jesus asks roughly 290 unique questions in the gospels in conversation with people. As Christians we can often be so keen to jump in and share that we don’t take the time to carefully listen so that we can respond appropriately. So, I am often listening to understand what is the hurt or cry of the heart in the person I am talking with.

I appreciate the way Ravi talks about our worldview needing to make sense of four areas; origin, meaning, morality and destiny. It seems like in Australia the sticking point for people is no longer the “origin” questions but more the “morality” questions and the uncomfortable implication that God being real and having made his will for people known might impinge on their right to live however they see best. So we need to spend time helping people understand how Jesus being Lord is in fact good news for our world since we aren’t doing a great job of ruling ourselves.

Finally, the best way to get better at answering people’s questions is to practice!

I don’t suppose I’ve said anything new that you haven’t thought about before but I do hope that encourages you to keep going in your evangelistic conversations and to love the person behind each question. I often have to pray that God will help me care more about the person I am speaking to than I care about being “right”.

In Christ,

(Kay Kalra) #3

(RZIM Connect Member) #4

Hi Jordan, thank you for your prayers. I read Steve’s blog with keen interest and I think that he has analysed and presented the situation here with accuracy, candour and wit. I look forward to his future posts. Thank you for sharing that with me.

(Jordan Thyer) #5

I’ll pass on your comments to Steve and I’m sure he’ll be glad to know you appreciate his writing. He is speaking in Sydney in August at Morling College for a symposium called, ‘not in Kansas anymore’. If you can get along to those events I highly recommend it!

Enjoy grace,

(RZIM Connect Member) #6

Thanks, Jordan, I’ll follow-up on that for the dates.