Gospel Matters: Australia’s Spiritual Climate
Dr. Christine Wood, Director, Office of Evangelisation & Catechesis
The 2021 census data revealed a 6.7 percent fall in Australians identifying as “Catholic” since 2011. While this is a stark statistic, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Australians are hostile towards Christianity. In fact, McCrindle’s 2017 Faith and Belief in Australia Survey highlights that 24 percent of Australians, who also identified as non-Christian, are in fact “warm” towards Christianity. To use Sherry Weddell’s language, this equates to 5.6 million people having an attitude of “trust” towards Christianity due to a positive association with Christians and/or the Church. Of this group, 67 percent say they are “open” to changing their religious views.
Inspired by this encouraging news, parishes can work to build pathways enabling these people to move from “trust” to active “curiosity” about Christ. Indeed, if we speak to them about Christ and his life, we provide them with an opportunity for a personal encounter with the Saviour, and help them to take a step closer to union with him.
McCrindle’s report lists three main reasons why people identify as having “no religion”: (1) they have a preference for a scientific approach to life; (2) religion is viewed as a crutch for the weak; and (3) religion and spirituality are seen as outdated and traditional approaches to life.
The Church has robust responses to these three “objections”, which can be used to begin a conversation with those we call the “religiously non-affiliated.” For instance, I would recommend the Magis Center for responses about science versus faith. The Archdiocese’s recent Miraculous Events Exhibition provided a response to this objection. The Search and Alpha are helpful courses in addressing the notion that religion is a “crutch for the weak.”
McCrindle’s October 2021 study, Australia’s Changing Spiritual Climate, found that, “Younger Australians are leading the way in the renewed spiritual search, being more likely to have had spiritual conversations, thought about the meaning of life, thought about God, prayed, and read the bible more” as a consequence of the COVID pandemic. Indeed, compared with Baby Boomers, the Gen Z population are “extremely” or “very likely” to attend a church service if personally invited by a friend or family member.
The 2021 census data are concerning, but there is much more to the story. Other studies indicate most Australians are seeking spiritual meaning and wellbeing. The Church should see opportunities in these study results, and make renewed efforts to build our parishes to be welcoming communities that continue to proclaim the Gospel. Let’s reach out and build a future together, founded on the Gospel.