Anglican Schools Commission
Anglicans – Falling or Rising?
Anglicans – Falling or Rising?
The Revd Peter Laurence OAM, Chief Executive Officer
The headline is stark: ‘Ten Things we learned from the 2021 Census …. 1.Christianity is in decline…’
There is much talk around with the release of the first pieces of data from the 2021 Commonwealth Census a little over a month ago. On the surface of it, there is little joy for religion and especially Christianity. It’s down down down. Or is it?
Christianity remains the largest religious group in Australia, at 44 per cent of the population, down almost 10 per cent on only five years ago at the previous Census. Hot on our heels are those who selected ‘No religion’. At almost 40 per cent, this group is up almost 10 per cent from the last Census. Christianity is down by roughly the same percentage. With over 60 per cent of the population in the 2011 Census calling Christianity their religion, the significant drop in ten years tells an important story.
If we want to look for growth, it’s clearly in those who don’t subscribe to a religious belief, or who hold one other than Christian. With migration now coming primarily from countries where Christianity is not the dominant religion, it isn’t surprising that Hinduism and Islam have seen significant growth, the former by 55 per cent.
Interestingly, the ‘religion’ question has been in every one of the 18 Censuses and is the only one that is voluntary. Yet respondents to this question have increased not decreased over the past five years. Curious isn’t it? There is not a decline in religious interest among Australians, just in those who self-identify as Christian.
Back in the first Census of 1911, 96 per cent of Australians listed some form of Christianity as their religion. One hundred and ten years later, as evidenced by the 2021 Census respondents, Australia is no longer a majority ‘Christian country’.
Over the past five years, those who self-identified as Anglicans dropped from 13 per cent to just under 10 per cent, while self-identified Catholics dropped to 20 per cent.
The trend across the ditch in New Zealand is the same. A commentator wrote recently of Australasia Christianity: ‘If this slope continues, Christianity in Australia and New Zealand has approximately another 25 years’ (liturgy.co.nz).
Australia is truly a religiously diverse country, for the 60 per cent of people who self-identify with a religion.
It is this religious diversity that sees Anglican schools so well-placed to embrace the changing face of Australian society and belief.
Our schools always have been places of the highest standard of education, high expectations and standards and good pastoral care. They are open and welcoming to all, do not have entry quotas based on religious adherence nor do they require students or families to sign statements of belief before entry.
Anglican schools welcome families from all faiths or none.
It is undeniable that fewer Australians are choosing to engage with Christianity, and for we Anglicans that means fewer are choosing to engage in traditional ways. Yet over the same period of decline, we have seen considerable growth in Australians choosing to engage with our schools. Anglican schools are the face of the Church for many ‘Census Anglicans’ as well as for many Catholics, Hindus, Muslims and those who self-identity as ‘no religion’.
Our schools offer that quiet yet generous Christian witness every day, inviting those in our communities to consider the Gospel truths for themselves.
On the surface, the census numbers tell a grim story for Christianity and Anglicanism in Australia. But look around, and you’ll see Good News everywhere; that Australians across the country engage with the Anglican Church in many ways… some through parishes, others through our schools, Anglicare, hospital or prison chaplaincy or a myriad of other ways. Sometimes it is ‘we Anglicans’ who aren’t so good at recognising the many and varied ways of ‘being Anglican’ in 21st century WA.
Jesus said to his disciples ‘Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand… But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear’ (Matthew 13: 13, 16).
The Anglican Church is alive, is well, and is growing … just not in the traditional way that a Census records.