2021 census figures reveal that 43.9 percent of Australians identify as Christian; this compares with 52.1 percent in 2016. Some commentators have concluded that Christianity is dying in Australia. So, what do these numbers really tell us about the health of the church in Australia?
As a church planter and pastor, I have to say I would be delighted to see 43.9 percent of my neighbourhood in church every week! It is obviously true that identifying as ‘Christian’ does not make one a Christian. Rather than being an accurate measurement of the church’s effectiveness or health, the latest census figures represent Christianity’s approval rating as determined by the world. This is a significant indicator, but it bears little significance when measuring the church’s effectiveness or health.
The decline in Christianity’s approval rating is to be expected in a world whose moral compass has undergone a paradigm shift from a largely biblical worldview to a secular humanistic worldview. The world will not tolerate a church that challenges its morality or calls out its sin, yet this is part of the prophetic role of the church and is implied in the Great Commission. So, maybe the church’s declining ‘approval rating’ can be seen as a positive indicator of its effectiveness in faithfully upholding biblical truth? The alternative to a prophetic church is too dire to contemplate.
Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who turn darkness to light and light to darkness, who replace bitter with sweet and sweet with bitter. Isaiah 5:20
Christianity has always flourished when it has operated in the margins of society. This is verifiable, both biblically and historically. As the world’s moral compass spins out of control the message of the Gospel will grow increasingly unpopular. The Gospel calls people of all persuasions to turn away from their sin and follow Christ.
19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20 and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. 21 Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. Acts 3:19-21
Is it any wonder Christianity’s approval rating is in decline? Our message will never be approved of by a world system that exalts sin and rebels against God’s Word. Some churches will try to ‘fix’ their approval rating by modifying the messaging to be more palatable to the world’s views on morality and other churches will try to isolate themselves from mainstream life to avoid confrontation with an increasingly hostile world, but our best response to the latest census figures is obedience to Jesus and a deepening commitment to faithfully preach the Gospel.