Many people in Australia, including some news media and sociologists, have predicted the death of the Church in Australia. Sure we have some problems and the “good old days” of 1950s and 60s will never return, but one should never write off the Church.
In his recent book, A Short History of Christianity, veteran Australian historian Geoffrey Blainey, suggests that while Christianity is in decline across Europe, such a “decline cannot yet be viewed as permanent.” In fact he writes, “A conclusion of this book is that Christianity has repeatedly been reinvented. Every religious revival is a reflection of a previous state of decline; but no revival and perhaps no decline is permanent.” So despite what some people may have hoped, his book is not an obituary of the church, quite the contrary.
Dr Keith Suter, economic commentator, author and foreign policy analyst for Sky TV agrees and suggests there are many indicators why the Church will not die. Firstly, the decline is not uniform. There are many places where churches are not declining but are experiencing significant growth. This is as true in Australia as it is across Europe. Secondly, denominational loyalty, which was a major issue in Australia in the past, is now virtually meaningless. Today people feel free to move around from church to church until they find what they want. While this is threatening to some, it is also a window of opportunity for churches willing to think and act flexibly.
Thirdly, churches have a monopoly over death. Death still haunts people. So while there is no law saying you have to be buried via a church, most Australians are buried via some form of a religious service.
Not surprisingly Suter concludes that despite the fact that Australia is often thought of as one of the world’s most materialist countries, spirituality has never disappeared and people continue to wonder where they might spend eternity.
He is not suggesting that people will suddenly start pouring back into churches. Yet there is much in our society upon which churches can enter into a dialogue with those who are seeking. Here we have the opportunity to present to them the gospels but in ways they can engage with. His one condition is that churches need to learn to be flexible and accommodating.
Let us continue to pray that God will enable us to be flexible and accommodating as instruments of his purposes in your locality.
Stephen L Baxter