What changed in the twenty teens
Looking back at the past decade in Australian Christianity
1. We grew. Well, Australian Protestants did anyway. The latest National Church Life Survey (NCLS) date shows an uptick in church attendance from 2006 onwards. (Add in the Catholics, though, and the graph tilts down).
Church planting is key to vitality. The movements showing growth are the ones connected to church planting. Examples include the Geneva Push network – with more than 100 church plants – and Acts 29, as well as Baptist, evangelical Anglican, and evangelical Uniting Church Australia (UCA) church planting schemes.
The Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches – a new denomination – has become a major source of students to places such as Sydney’s Moore College.
The makeup of Melbourne Anglicanism has been transformed by City on a Hill and other church planting.
Adelaide’s Trinity Network has planted an alternative network to the diocese (region) and, in Western Australia, the Adventist Church in particular is a major church planter.
The Australian Christian Churches, despite losing Hillsong, remains a growing movement. The story of Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches (FIEC) and the Pentecostal networks is that they are simply growing.
Within some networks of Christianity – FIEC Anglicanism or Presbyterianism, for example – there has been growth in different regions of Australia. However, these have been offset by decline elsewhere.
In Australia, the conservative forms of Christianity – in general – are the areas of growth.
2. Australian Pentecostalism goes global. Hillsong has followed its music around the world with a still expanding global presence in key cities. Ten years ago most Hillsongers went to church in Australia, now a very large proportion, soon to be a majority, are overseas.
C3 has also developed a global network, with a great deal of growth in numbers overseas.
It is increasingly hard to claim these denominations as Australian; rather, they are world churches with a Sydney base.
In a different part of Australian Christianity, Sydney’s conservative evangelical Anglican diocese (region) emerged as a major player in the formation of a global network ‘GAFCON’ – the Global Anglican Future Conference.
While GAFCON formed in 2008, this decade has seen it consolidate its representation as a voice for a majority of world Anglicanism.
3. Low-fee school networks saw a decade of expansion. For the past 30 years, most of the growth in the Independent Schools sector has been in low to middle-fee schools. During this decade, medium-income parents in the Independent Schools sector have grown to become 45 per cent of the total. A trend towards school networks, such as the Anglican Schools Network and Pacific Schools Network, has meant that schools threatened with closure could be revived.
4. Australian Christianity remained conservative. In the United States (US), major denominations such as the US Presbyterians and Episcopalians adopted culturally progressive views on Abortion and LGBT marriages. In general, though, the Australian branches of Christian denominations retained a traditional view of marriage.
The Uniting Church in Australia adopted a two marriage rite system, an attempt to keep conservatives within the denomination while opening the way for same-sex marriages. But so far, none of the other major denominations have adopted SSM.
The Australian Anglicans, with a growing evangelical presence, is unlikely to change its stance on SSM, even according to bishops (leaders) who support a change.
5. One debate in the culture wars is settled. We are in a “post-Constantinian” Australia – where a central place for Christianity in shaping the nation’s culture may be no longer assumed.
The Postal Survey in 2017 made that clear. “No” case campaigners have said that the real aim of their campaign was to lose by only a small margin, with a “4” in front of it – i.e. a “no” vote of 40 percent or more. But it fell short.
The success of the Australian Christian Lobby in delaying same-sex marriage through the Rudd and Gillard Government can perhaps be seen as the high water mark of (conservative) Christianity’s cultural influence down under.
The new decade will see Christianity in Australia learn to be a joyful minority which, if it wants a place in the national culture, will need to earn it.