Do not worry about the numbers too much:
Just how religious – or more particularly, Christian – is Australia? Or for that matter, many other Western nations? Well, it all depends. Getting clear-cut answers here is not always so straightforward. One can only go so far in various surveys and polls on important issues. They can sometimes be more or less accurate, but they can sometimes be misleading, or even way off.
If you want to know about automobile ownership in Australia, I suspect that is pretty easy to come by, and the numbers that they come up with would be quite close to reality. If you are asking folks the question, ‘How often have you cheated on your spouse?,’ that would result in much more ambiguous figures – for obvious reasons.
When it comes to something like religion, this too can be a bit murky. Partly it depends on definitions of course. The biblical Christian has something rather specific in mind when he says he is a Christian – something that can differ radically from what others think it is – including a secular government pollster or census taker.
Let me speak a bit more to this. Recently a fellow who is onside with what I write here sent in a comment saying this:
Back in the 50s when Billy Graham came and preached here in Australia most people here in Australian at the time were Christian and attended church. Most people here in Australia today are atheist. Australia today is 70 percent atheist and only 2 percent of the population here in Australia today attend church. It’s very sad. It’s also unfortunately too late for the West and the West is never going to see another revival. Non Western parts of the world such as Africa Asia Eastern Europe the Middle East Central America South America the Caribbean and other parts of Oceania continue to have revivals though which is great.
My response was as follows:
Thanks ****. But two things are crucial here: how one defines certain terms, and what the actual figures are. I am not sure where you got your numbers from, but one reputable survey on church attendance says this: “In 2021, around one in five Australians (21%) reported attending religious services frequently i.e., at least monthly. Among frequent attenders, 13% attended weekly or more often.” https://www.ncls.org.au/articles/australians-attending-church/
And the last official Australian census said that 44% of Australians claimed to be Christian, while 40% claimed to have no religion. Bear in mind however that ‘having no religion’ of course is not identical to being an atheist. https://www.abs.gov.au/media-centre/media-releases/2021-census-shows-changes-australias-religious-diversity
So we can say that the majority of Australians are still religious, with Christianity the largest religion being held to, while those not wanting to identify with any religion is rising (but they clearly are not a majority as yet).
Sure, census results do not really tell us exactly who is a real deal Christian. But neither do figures on simple church attendance (or lack thereof)!
And given that real revival is ultimately the work of God, and not us, we must be careful in telling God what he can and can not do! So I will keep praying for God to revive the West yet again. But yes, you are right that God is certainly at work in the non-Western world.
On being a remnant
That the number of Australians – and folks in other Western nations – have become more secular and less Christian is true. Over the decades fewer people call themselves Christian, and more people will mark the ‘identify with no religion’ category.
But a few things can be said about that. One, as mentioned, claiming to be a Christian on a census form when you may be nothing of the sort is easy enough to do, but really tells us nothing. It just means people “identify” as Christian for whatever reason: that is what their parents were; they go to church at Christmas and Easter; they do not see themselves as of another religion, and so on.
And while church-attendance can give us some sort of picture as to what is going on here, that too can be misleading. For whatever reason, some real deal Christians are not regular church goers. See more on that here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2014/12/26/on-leaving-church/
And once again, the biblical Christian would insist that simply going to church does not automatically make you a Christian, just as going to your garage often does not make you a car. The Christian has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and it involves his entire life, not just what he does for one hour on a Sunday morning.
Also, those who identify with the non-religious category certainly may not be hard-core atheists. They might be quite religious or spiritual. Maybe they are in the New Age movement or some such thing. So in that sense, they are not necessarily in the anti-God camp. Of course, they are not in the Christian camp either!
Also worth pointing out is that trends can change direction. Right now the trends seem to be – in the West at least – a move away from Christianity. But such things are not inevitable nor irreversible. A major revival or renewal CAN break out in Australia or other Western countries. Things can change, and people may well return to the faith once delivered.
We can only pray, ‘Do it again Lord!’ He is sovereign, and if he so chooses, he can break forth in the hardest and most secular of nations. So the believer will routinely pray that God has mercy on a nation like Australia, and that he sends forth his Spirit in restoration and renewal – beginning with the churches.
But even if present trends continue, in one sense we say, ‘So what?’ Biblically speaking, the people of God have always been a remnant, a minority. Sometimes almost all a nation may be at least nominally Christian. But even then, how many are genuine believers in relationship with the living God?
So if I were asked, ‘Would you like to see more Christians in Australia today?,’ I would have to say, ‘Well, it depends.” Real-deal Christians, yes. But often the church can grow the most and have the most effective ministry and outreach when it is a minority, a remnant – and often a persecuted remnant.
No, we are not told to seek or pray for persecution, and I am glad the West still has some semblance of religious freedom – although it continues to decline. But if God can accomplish more for his Kingdom, and bring more glory to himself, with only a small fraction of Australians being Christians, then so be it.
So we must not take the numbers game too seriously – certainly in terms of who are and who are not Christians. God knows of course. But we are to just keep at it, praying, worshipping, evangelising and seeking to bring in the Kingdom, as Jesus taught us to pray.
If Australia one day in the future goes back to being, say, 80 per cent Christian – whatever exactly that means – fine. But if it continues to decline in numbers, with fewer and fewer folks claiming to be Christians, that can be fine as well. Either way, God is still on the throne, and he is still at work in this world.
All that really matters is that I am found to be faithful, and leave the results – and numbers – up to God.