What Australians really think about Jesus and the Church today

26 Jun 2022 by Rev Andrew Smith in: Letters, Thoughts, News
What Australians really think about Jesus and the Church today

From Rev Andrew Smith
Presbytery Minister - Congregation Futures

Earlier this month, NCLS Research presented a webinar using their research to shed light on “What Australians really think about Jesus and the Church today”.
Research is important because it helps understand the distance between perception and reality. Check out these results for examples from the US of the difference between perception and reality. Those surveyed thought that 27% of Americans are Muslim. However, research shows that it is just 1%. Those surveyed estimated that 29% of Americans were Asian-Americans. In fact, it is 6%. In these examples there is a clear difference between perception and reality. Hopefully, this sparks your interest in exploring further what research shows Australians think about Jesus and the Church today.
The data for the webinar came from the 2021 Australian Community Survey by NCLS Research. This survey has been running since 1998, and more recently it has been run annually. The presentation included a particular focus on the results for young adults. Here is a taste of some of the information.
In late 2021 attendance at religious services had recovered to pre-pandemic levels. Two in ten (21%) Australians attended religious services at least monthly. Note that one in three in ten (32%) young adults reported attending at least monthly. This is the highest in any age group.
One of the questions asked in the survey was “Within the last five years, have you ever gone to a Christians church and been open to getting involved, but decided not to get involved?”. The responses:

  • Two in ten have tried to lean in to get involved and then decided against it.
  • For young adults (18-34) it is even higher – three in ten.

What do Australians really think about Jesus:

  • More than half of Australians believe in God or higher power (55%). One in five don’t know. A quarter say they do not believe.
  • More than half (56%) of Australians say they are familiar with the Christian faith. 44% have limited, little or no familiarity.
  • Only half of all Australians understand Jesus to be a real person who actually lived. Two in ten say he is a mythical or fictional character. Three in ten say they don’t know.
  • Was Jesus human or divine? – Two in ten accept that Jesus was divine (God in human form), similar sized groups believe he was a normal human or prophet/leader. More than a quarter do not know what they believe.
  • 44% of Australians believe in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead in some way. Three in ten do not believe in the resurrection, and more than a quarter do not know what they believe.

From these results, Dr Ruth Powell from NCLS Research concluded that there is a knowledge gap about Jesus and the Christian faith – especially among younger Australians. There is also a low acceptance of orthodox Christian beliefs.
Another set of questions focused on how Australians view religion and religious organisations. Is religion good for society? – 44% yes. Higher than in previous years. 19% disagree. Here is what some young adults had to say in response to this question –

How many Australians would accept invitation to attend church? Three in ten are likely to do so. 16% not sure. Some of the things that would help someone accept an invitation to church are relationship, hospitable, convenient, inclusive, timely (short), social, clear (explain what is going on). Of these, relationship matters much more than anything else. There is a readiness to go if a person felt that it was important to their friend or family member that they accept. However, 56% of Aust think they do not have a close friend or family member who currently attends church regularly.
Here is what some young adults had to say in responding to the question –

At the end of her presentation, Dr Ruth Powell provided the following summary:

If you’d like to view a recording of the webinar, here is the link: https://www.ncls.org.au/articles/webinar-what-australians-really-think-about-jesus-and-the-church-today/