Census 2022 reveals that only 44% of Australians believe in God.
Back in my school days, it was 90%
Even less identify with a mainline Church.
In particular, the Uniting Church, of which I am an Elder, has had a significant drop in membership, 22% since the previous Census in 2016, with most now being over 70 years of age.
This means that the death of the Church is about a decade away.
Looking at the short history of the Uniting Church, it reveals a performance which is nothing less than a disaster.
45 years ago, I was one of the team that worked nationally to organise a union of Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregational Churches and was present in Melbourne when all three Churches gathered to vote to create the Uniting Church of Australia.
We were able to announce that the new Church had 2.5 million members.
Census 2022 now reveals that the Uniting Church has only 670,000 members.
This means that 1.8 million members have been lost over a period of half a century even though the population of Australia increased by more than 25% during that time.
So it is that I regard my work in helping to create the new Church as being the greatest failure of my life and I cannot deny the fact that, as an active Elder for all of that time, I bear a share of the unavoidable responsibility for the disaster.
Why and how did it happen?
Many theories abound, but here are my thoughts on the main ones.
*The prime activity of most UC members has been to keep their local churches alive and viable no matter what the cost. There has been negligible effort to take the Church and its message out to the community even though our historical mentor, John Wesley, had set a very clear example of spending minimal time in church buildings. The world has simply passed us by as our local churches are steadily closing despite our faithful efforts.
*The outreach of the Uniting Church through its hospitals, schools, aged care, Blue Nurses, Lifeline etc was once powered in service to the community by Christians giving their time and money in huge quantities. Sadly, their involvement has been phased out as more and more government funds became available. Now, very few Christians work in those institutions. It really is stretching the truth to claim that they are faith based.
*The theology of the Uniting Church is predominantly based on words spoken 2000 years ago and fails to acknowledge that God has constantly spoken in far more meaningful ways through the lives of great Christians ever since. Most people now believe that ancient theology is irrelevant to their lives whereas personal Christian example is powerful.
*All churches, not just the Uniting Church, have a negative image in society. They opposed Same Sex Marriage, Voluntary Assisted Dying and Abortion as well as having a hideous record of Child Abuse and its illegal cover up. The advocacy of the prosperity gospel also repels millions of decent people.
So it is that most marriages and funerals don’t happen in Churches anymore as too many people simply do not want to identify, nor do they want to involve ordained clergy.
So, what do we do about it? We cannot sit around doing nothing.
We can stop living by ancient creeds and dogmas and holy attitudes and spend quality time walking with Jesus of Nazareth to create a more compassionate society. Millions of people can be successfully challenged to have Jesus as their role model and live a life based on what they believe he would do in meeting their daily challenges.
They cant see any point is giving time and money to keep Church doors open , especially when Churches like Hillsong regularly present a less than honest and decent image.
But people do want a code of values and ethics and compassion that can be the cornerstone of life.
The so-called ‘happy clappy’ Churches are only a tiny percentage of the population and have a significant turnover of members as many stay for only five years, but they have missionary zeal and constantly go out to actively enlist new members, whereas traditional churches just put up a sign saying ‘You are welcome.’
So it is that, while I still attend the Aspley Uniting Church every Sunday and chair ACTS, its community service arm, I rarely identify myself by the title of Christian or Church member.
However, I do openly and regularly raise the basis of my faith in speeches by saying,
‘I am a Partner of Jesus of Nazareth. We work together to make the world a better place.’
I welcome your company along the pilgrim way.
My novel, A BEAUTIFUL SUNSET, sets out my personal theology in a positive manner, expressed through the life of a man who is terminally ill.
I am happy to talk about it if you invite me to your church or club.
You can buy a signed copy on my personal website
or online from any major bookstore.