Religious affiliation shifting in Australia, Census shows

Posted in News

The first results from the 2016 Australian Census results were released on Tuesday 27 June, and many news sources were quick to identify a significant change in relation to religious affiliation.

For the first time, the proportion of Australians who marked “no religion” (29.6%) is higher than that of any single religious denomination.

While the Census figures show that a majority of Australians still identify as Christian, the new results are significant – particularly given the long term trend of falling religious affiliation. The proportion of the Australian population who self-identify as Christian has fallen from 88.2% in 1966 to 52.1% in 2016.

Whilst these figures are certainly challenging, Uniting Church leaders have encouraged congregations and individuals to view this as a call to renew their commitment to the mission of the Church.

“The Uniting Church is already embracing a future as a welcoming, vibrant, culturally diverse, post-denominational church with the same passion for justice and ecumenism we’ve always had,” says Uniting Church President Stuart McMillan.

Uniting Church SA Moderator Rev Sue Ellis agrees. “This can be a time of renewed focus on how we carry out the work of the Gospel – the core work we are called to in all that we do as a Church.”

More than 870,000 people – 3.7% of all respondents – listed the Uniting Church as their religious affiliation in 2016. This figure is down by a total of 195,611 (5%) from the 2011 Census.

It is the first time in the Uniting Church’s history that the Census figure has slipped below one million. Other major Christian denominations have also experienced drops in membership in line with the generally ageing demographic profile of Australian Christians.

 “While the Census figures reflect the ongoing decline in church attendance, they cannot take into account the breadth of spirituality still present in Australian society,” Sue reflects.

“Additionally, the numbers cannot reflect the fact that within the Uniting Church there are growing faith communities and alternative styles of worship emerging.”

Despite the recent drop, the Uniting Church will most likely maintain its position as the third largest Christian grouping in Australia and the third largest religious grouping overall.

“As Rev Prof Andrew Dutney observed at the 14th Assembly, we mustn’t be so mesmerised by decline that we can’t lift our eyes to see the wonderful thing that the Spirit is doing in gathering the church afresh from the edges,” says Stuart.

“Our Church remains a vital expression of Christ’s mission on the Earth and a source of hope and comfort to the vulnerable and oppressed, and we will continue to work through our congregations and other councils of the Church, our schools and community service agencies to share the good news of Jesus Christ through action and word in the world.”

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Comments (2)

  1. Rex King 28 june 2017, 22:07 Link
    more than 870,000 people – 3.7% of all respondents – listed the Uniting Church as their religious affiliation in 2016. This figure is down by a total of 195,611 (5%) from the 2011 Census
    +195,611 =1,065,611

    195,611 x 100 /1,065,611 = 18.36%
    1. Catherine Hoffman, New Times Editor 29 june 2017, 09:08 Link
      Thanks for your work here, Rex. I'll pass this along to Assembly as they gave us these figures.