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Posts Tagged ‘who’s in church?’

SLIDING ATTENDANCES

Going to church certainly looks different now compared to what it used to be years ago! Here’s the latest outlook for Australian church going at the moment.

From the McCrindle Research team – The proportion of Australians identifying Christianity as their religion has been declining over the last century – from 96% in 1911 to 61.1% in the 2011 Census. Over the last decade, Christianity in Australia has declined from 68% to 61.1%.  And while the latest Census (2011) results show that Christianity is the religion with which most Australians identify (61.1%), well above the second most popular religion in Australia, Buddhism (2.5%), less than one in seven of the Australians who ticked “Christianity” on their census form regularly attend a church. Australia has more churches (13,000) than schools (9,500), but only 8% of Australians attend a church service each week. Although Easter is a time of the year when church attendance increases, we see that many who say that they are Christians do not attend church.[4] Therefore for every Australian who nominates Christianity as their religious identity, just 1 in 8 (12.5%) of these participate in attendance activity (that’s monthly or more). The reasons are outlined in this graphic.[5]

Graph 1 Sliding Attendances

The decline in church attendance that has occurred in Australia over the past few decades is explained in the following chart which tracks the religious journeys of Australians. While around 1 in 4 were not raised as religious and still are not, and just over 1 in 4 were raised in a religious household and still are, the largest group of all (29%) are the “not now religious” category who were shaped in a religious household but are themselves not religious.

Graph 2 Sliding Attendances

CHURCH ATTENDANCE DECLINING BUT STILL SIGNIFICANT:

National Church Life Survey (NCLS) data shows that over the last four decades the proportion of Australians attending church at least once per month has more than halved from 36% (1972) to 13% currently. However this is still a significant proportion of the Australian population and indeed twice as many Australians attend church at least once per month (3.495m) as attend all AFL, NRL, A League and Super Rugby games combined per month (1.684m) during the football season.[1]

A survey of 1718 Australians, conducted by the Christian Research Association at the end of 2009, found that 16 per cent attended a religious service at least once a month, compared with 23 per cent in 1993.[2]

In 2014 Roy Morgan Research announced that they had surveyed 4840 Australians between October and December 2013 to poll religious affiliation, and found that 52.6% of Australians were Christian, while 37.6% had no religion.[3]

From NCLS research:

Graph 3 - Sliding Attendances

THE OTHER TREND

The other trend in attendances is that regular attenders are coming less regularly. For example the percentage who attend weekly is dropping and the percentage who attend fornightly or once every three or four weeks is rising. This trend has shown up continuously over the lat 15 years. No doubt the busyness of people’s lifestyles and activity has led to “committed Christians” being part of a church but only coming once, twice or three times a month instead of weekly or even twice a week which might have been the norm in the 70’s and 80’s.

FROM MY CHRISTIAN DAILY [7]

Quote. “It’s not that fewer total members attend church. They just don’t attend as often,” explained an associate pastor of a church where attendance has dipped.

This phenomenon reflects a change in what Christians mean when they say they’re “regular” church attenders. Not long ago, that meant attending church three or four times a month, and certainly half the time. Now, it can mean showing up once a month or even once every six weeks. This poses multiple challenges for churches.

The deepest is spiritual growth. That’s not to say a Christians cannot mature spiritually on her own. But as with other disciplines, Christians excel in the company of others. When church members skip small group and worship, they miss out on opportunities to be challenged and inspired – and mutually encouraged.

The writer of Hebrews provides wise counsel:

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another …” (10:23-25).

Other challenges are practical: Many Christians do not give when they do not attend, so budgets suffer when folks skip church. This can have a big impact on how the local church can provide staff and services and cover building costs.

Also, churches run on volunteers, and when members don’t attend, operating vital programs and ministries is difficult, if not impossible. And don’t forget morale. Empty pews are depressing.

Members miss church for myriad reasons. You know them. They range from kids’ sports, to work, to aging parents’ health, to the lure of leisure. But the bottom line is assembling together at church isn’t the priority it once was.

So, what do we do?

Guilting people back into the pews won’t work. In fact, it’s more likely to drive them further away.

Entertaining them isn’t the answer, either. If attendance depends upon entertainment, then it will slide faster. Churches shouldn’t even see themselves as competing with big media presentation or Hollywood or major sporting events, however consumers are used to a high level of impact in the visual sensory media.

Several approaches come to mind:

  • Help parents to think about the example they set for their own children. Let’s face it, our kids will end up living the life we set by example for them. We communicate values to them, not by what we say, but by what we do. As our children are growing up if we are only in church monthly due to sport, visiting, grandma, doing the yard, a day at the beach etc. etc. then what we are communicating to them is that God’s House and worshipping with God’s people is less important than all those other things that you as a family do on the weekends. Later when they grow to become teenagers they will more than likely make a choice not to attend church at all because they see no value in it. The tragic results of this poor choice of values is that our kids may not make it to heaven because we did not live out the values we once held to.  It’s true that following Jesus is more than attending church, however, it’s all about who you associate with. If you hang out at children’s ministry, then church youth group, then young adult’s ministry; you’re probably going to form friendships and alliances with people who have godly values and aspirations. Or would you rather all your kids form strong friendship groups with non-Christian secular and humanistic groups and learn their values?
  • Make the links for members high value. Coming to a service might be the obvious connection, but so is attending a small group, or being part of a regular business breakfast etc. Whatever connection a person makes, endeavour to facilitate discipleship within that context so that the member keeps growing in their walk with Christ. If giving is not normally a part of that connection then be intentional about helping them to see that value and give either on line or through an app or donation page so that their faith in giving is following a growth pattern also. If families are working Sunday and are time poor then other ways of connecting can be provided and valued.
  • Feed aspirations. The reason many people say they attend church more often than they actually do is because they want to attend more often. (See the first part of this article) Affirm that aspiration. Call people to a higher spiritual level – not because you want them there, but because God has placed that desire in their hearts. Help them see their longing is God’s way of loving them, drawing them close.
  • Think outside the (Sunday morning) box. Provide other options for “being” church besides parking in the same lot and converging on the same building for one or two hours every Sunday. Create and bless other times and places and opportunities for church members to assemble to study the Bible, pray, fellowship, worship and minister.
  • Harness technology. Chances are, practically every member of your church age 13 and older carries a personal connector with them wherever they go. It’s a smart phone, and it can provide bountiful spiritual applications. Brad Russell, senior editor of Baptist Standard Publishing’s FaithVillage.com, has written a fascinating paper “tracing the trends and issues that inform how the church can leverage new technology.”[6] Unquote. (Words in italics are the blog authors writing)

Our heart for this nation of Australia to experience God’s love and His salvation through faith in Christ is always going to lead us to prayer and also to a strong confidence that God has His plan for this nation. My observation is that church leaders are working harder than ever before, and showing  a high level of innovation to bring the message of the gospel to this new world that is ever changing. Let there be a renewed vision for prayer, a bigger challenge made to church members to lead in ways that show Australians that we have the answer in Jesus Christ; and also deepen our love for the church and remember it will become His bride without spot or wrinkle. The trend of sliding attendances may be a trend that’s hard to arrest but let’s be innovative about making church relevant to this generation and also renew the call for deeper commitment to the great commission. – Pastor Craig Anderson, a pastor within INC with 34 years of fulltime ministry experience.

[1] http://www.mccrindle.com.au/the-mccrindle-blog/a-demographic-snapshot-of-christianity-and-church-attenders-in-australia

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irreligion_in_Australia

[3] “Christians in Australia nearing minority status as religious affiliation declines sharply since 2011”

[4] http://blog.mccrindle.com.au/the-mccrindle-blog/church_attendance_in_australia_infographic

[5] http://mccrindle.com.au/the-mccrindle-blog/calendar/2013/3/

[6] http://abpnews.com/opinion/commentaries/item/28852-how-do-we-respond-to-slumping-church-attendance

[7] http://www.mychristiandaily.com/index.php/feature/10974-how-do-we-respond-to-slumping-church-attendance#sthash.fbEcWjoe.dpuf

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