The number of people regularly attending church in Australia is declining. On any given Sunday somewhere between 7-10% of the population attends church. Have you ever wondered why this figure is so low? Why don’t more people go to church?
As with most things in today’s world the answer is probably quite complex. There are a number of reasons, and combinations of reasons, why people don’t attend church. I thought it might be a helpful exercise to briefly sketch out a few of them.
I want to clarify that I’m not trying to judge those who don’t go to church. I want to understand their reasons for being part of the 90+% who don’t have much to do with church. I genuinely want to understand where they’re coming from. And I’m not trying to be negative about the church either. I love the church. Perhaps in future posts we can explore these issues and consider what the church can do to address them. Either way, it’s worth reflecting on.
Here are 7 reasons (in no particular order) why Aussies don’t go to church. I’ll give you 7 more reasons in a future post.
The reality is that most people in Australia don’t know much about Christianity. They know a few things (gleaned from movies, books, and funerals), but really don’t know what the Bible’s all about. They don’t understand the doctrine of the Trinity. They don’t understand where Jesus really fits in to things, and why he matters. They don’t know how the Old and New Testaments are meant to relate to each other. They are largely ignorant of most of the basics of Christianity. So why go to church when you don’t know anything about it?
Furthermore, few people in our society are friends with a Bible-believing, church-attending, Jesus-loving Christian. So they have little convenient access to information about Christianity and the church.
- WORLD WAR 1
As the social commentator Roy Williams points out, a key reason why many people don’t go to church is grounded in the experience of the First World War.
In the lead up to World War 1 most church leaders strongly supported the war. They prayed for the destruction of the enemy. They encouraged that men sign up and nobly fight for freedom.
When our ‘diggers’ came back, many of them had changed their views about church and the God they thought they believed in. After the horrors they’d seen – and knowing the church had supported it- the church lost any real moral authority in the minds of a lot of the men. They were hurt, confused, and jaded. So were their sons, and their sons after them.
Scientism is essentially the belief that only scientifically-proven knowledge is worth believing. If you can prove something through an experiment, or via direct observation, it’s worth believing. Nothing else.
In a way this seems very appealing. Many of the great advances in medicine and technology are due to scientific inquiry. Science ‘works’.
So when people hear about ‘faith’ and ‘miracles’ and ‘divine revelation’, it all sounds a bit subjective and uncertain. You can cure polio with science. But what about ‘faith’? You can send a spacecraft to the edge of the Solar System with science. What about the church?
When your loved one has a broken arm, you don’t take them down to the local Anglican Church. You take them to hospital.
The present efficacy of the sciences seems to suggest that scientifically-derived knowledge is worth your time. And church? Scriptures? Sermons? Not so much.
We have it so good here in Australia. This is one of the most prosperous nations in the world. Naturally, not all of us have it good – take aboriginal Australians for example. They experience disparate social and economic circumstances which are the consequence of past disadvantages forced upon them.
But overall Australia is generally a beautiful, free, safe, and prosperous place. It’s a place where you can put most of your deepest existential questions on permanent hiatus. It’s where you can enjoy most of the best things that life has to offer. It’s the land of “she’ll be right, mate”.
When you live in heaven right now, why worry about a heaven above the clouds?
You can keep your pews, hymns, and collection plates – we’re doing just fine thanks very much.
- BAD PRESS
Turn on the TV and what do you hear? Nearly every day you hear the words “scandal” “abuse” and “church” all put together. They’re not talking about the Presbyterian Church of Australia – the denomination of which our church is a part. But people hear those words: “scandal” “abuse” and “church”. And an automatic word association forms.
People will drive past a church and in the back of their minds they’ll be putting those three words together: “scandal” “abuse”, “church”. It all sounds a bit risky. Dodgy.
Futhermore, our largely anti-religious media will often showcase the latest ‘scholar’ or author who will assert – with all the scholarly confidence one has when you’re not accountable to the actual facts of the matter – that Christianity is all bogus. It will be on Prime Time TV . . .. we’ve just worked it out: the Bible’s garbage, Jesus never existed, Jesus was married, Jesus was gay, Jesus was…. anything BUT what he himself claimed to be (the whole ‘Lord and Saviour’ thing).
If the word “church” or “Christianity” was a brand name, the manufacturer would have rebranded this product years ago. Bad press is one of most powerful factors undermining the influence of the church, and in destroying any semblance of moral or intellectual legitimacy in the eyes of many.
This one needs little explanation. We all know that people (including many professing Christians) think church is boring.
For far too long church has seemed like a dry, dull, dutiful thing. A place of serious faces, guilt trips, weird songs, and long droning sermons.
Who wants to be bored? No thanks.
- IT’S COMPLICATED
In our day and age, simplicity and convenience are paramount. If a restaurant, for example, is hard to locate, people will more likely choose equivalent options that are easier to find. That’s why McDonald’s is so successful. They make it as easy as possible. Their restaurants are easy to find. What they offer is easy to understand. Easy to order. Easy to eat. That’s how we like it.
So along comes Christianity. And like most religions or philosophical systems of thought, it’s a little complicated. Firstly, there’s all the doctrine – the Trinity, justification, sanctification, inerrancy, inspiration, adoption, ecclesiology, anthropology, and more.
Not to mention that when you get to church, usually there are rules, traditions, rituals, expectations, unstated dress codes, strange buildings, long meetings, and a fist full of religious jargon.
There’s that. Or, a burger and fries.
We want things to be simple. And on the face of it, Christianity (and it’s “churchy” expressions) seems complex and difficult to understand.
That’s one reason most people shy away from it. They’d rather something easier to understand.
Big Mac anyone?