Since the beginning of European settlement in Australia in 1788, the church has played a major part in Australian life and culture. Church services began as soon as the First Fleet arrived and gradually churches grew including the provision of a wide range of welfare and education services such as schools, hospitals and orphanages.
Today much has changed. While the church is still heavily involved in providing services, its influence on Australian culture is declining, along with the numbers of people regularly attending church. Hardly a week goes by without the media making some mention of this decline. In fact there are many who predict the ultimate demise and disappearance of the church in Australia. It is certainly true there are critical issues the church needs to face, and the “good old days” of the 1950’s or 60’s will never return, but does that really signal the church’s death? I suspect not.
The challenge we face in Australia today is reflected across the Western world, not only in countries such as Canada, the UK and the US, but also right across Europe. Yet, this trend is not observed in the rest of the world. In fact, elsewhere Christianity is booming. Across many Asian countries, central and southern Africa and Latin America, the church continues to grow. Christianity is far from being on its death bed.
In fact, even in Australia there is a quiet openness to spirituality. As our population gets older, so the questions about life after death and eternity begin to take on a new urgency. People are not suddenly pouring back into our churches, but they are open.
We can go to them
In such a climate there is much the church can do to engage with this rising interest. And while people may not come to us, we can go to them and meet them in the community and dialogue about spiritual issues.
This is one of the motivations behind “RestPoint,” the hospitality tent of the Baptist churches of Hobart at the Royal Hobart Show in October. The tent gives us the opportunity to engage with people as they rest and take a few moments to recuperate, renew and refresh before continuing their time at the show. In 2010 we connected with over 800 people as we served them, conversed with them and help them in any way we could. It provided us with a simple way of practically demonstrating our faith. It gave us a means by which we can move out of our church buildings and engage with our community.
Let me encourage you, if you have opportunity to engage with your local community you will find it an extremely worthwhile experience.
Stephen L Baxter