Pom in Oz column: Stats shed interesting light on 21st-century church attendance

DEREK GOFORTHMidwest Times
A Christmas Day church service in WA.
Camera IconA Christmas Day church service in WA. Credit: Sharon Smith/The West Australian

About 55 years ago Time magazine produced a famous front-page article which posed the provocative question: Is God Dead?

Dated April 8, 1966, the article did not provide or even attempt to give a definitive answer to the question but did surmise that although not dead “God” was on the way to being considered redundant in modern society — with many churches moving away from the divine nature of all omnipresent God to a more symbolic ceremonial deity.

The article went on to predict that Western society would move even farther away from a belief in God and perhaps reject the notion all together.

So, 55 years later, have we moved as a Western society away from the belief in an almighty or have we moved full circle?

If we believe statistics, then the answer is a clear no, with a however. That is to say traditional measures would say that belief in God has declined simply because attendance of church services, (regular rather than Easter and Christmas services) has declined. According to McCrindle.com.au attendance at a religious building, (of any religion) has dropped from 98 per cent at the turn of the century to 61 per cent at the start of the last decade.

Time magazine cover in April, 1966
Camera IconTime magazine cover in April, 1966

However, that may only tell part of the story, if we take into account less traditional forms of worship and communion of people. Gone are the days where every church in Australia starts at 8am, runs for an hour with a traditional hymn and a long theology-based sermon. Churches, even in Geraldton come in all shapes, sizes and styles. Traditional to modern, conservative to evangelical; even a city the size of Geraldton has its variety of places of worship. Within these churches exist several non-traditional ways of attending church, home groups, care group, worship groups all cater for an increasingly non-traditional congregation.

Also, and even more prevalent given COVID-19 is the increase in online attendance, which itself can be very tricky to quantify.

With the increase in popularity of online church services there may even be an argument for an upturn in the “ageing” church population. Again, according to McCrindle.com.au the age group of 20-39 year olds is now the fastest-growing age bracket in the Pentecostal church.

As a Christian who attends church regularly, I can’t help but agree with some of these statistics. Although only viewing a small slice of church life I have noticed more and more young families attend church over the past decade.

So is God dead? Well clearly not, he is very much alive and well. If you have any doubts, perhaps walking into one of our church services may change your mind? Or even having a tour around one of our Christian schools? I am positive they would welcome interested visitors with open arms.

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