Category Archives: Nerdy Stuff

Australia Loses Faith? Seems Not!

The headlines screamed “Australia Loses Faith”. But is that what the recent census data really tells us? I had a conversation with Sacred Agent Eric Love, a brilliant statistician, to get at the story behind the numbers. Here’s what I found out…

  • The number of Australians identifying themselves as Christians has increased by 500,000. Only 9,000 of that increase has been in SA.
  • This growth has, however, not kept pace with population growth. percentage of Australians identifying themselves as Christians has continued a long steady decline, now down to 61%. That’s still a strong majority of Australians. If one of our political parties won an election with that proportion of the vote, they’d declare it a major mandate.
  • The decline of the proportion of people self-identifying as Christian is not merely due to aging population. It is seen in nearly every age bracket, with a particularly sharp fall in my generation (35-44).
  • Bucking the trend, however is the 15-24 age-bracket, which saw an increase in the percentage who identified themselves as Christian. Bravo, children’s and youth workers and those who support them!
  • It’s obvious that only a fraction of those who identify themselves in the census as a Christian are active believers – only about 9-10% of Australians attend church. It is almost certain that we are not seeing a wave of people giving up on active faith. We are, it seems, seeing nominal Christians giving up the façade. Which is probably a helpful thing. This dynamic is most starkly noticeable in Tasmania.
  • So what about the active Christians? How are we doing? Well, it’s hard to tell definitively without better church statistics. But there are very positive signs: The group of protestant denominations that are more evangelical than traditional (including we Baptists) has seen significant increase. 200,000 more Australians identified themselves with these churches over the last 5 years – an increase of 19%. Yes, nineteen. Allowing for population growth, it’s still a 9% increase – from less than 5.5% of Australians to more than 6.1%, in the last 5 years.

Australia increasingly abandoning Christianity? It’s a myth, probably reinforced by we Christians as much as anyone. Chins up, agents!

The Curvature of the Earth

Here’s an easy little diagram I’m finding useful when trying to explain the kingdom of God – you might too…

This is the shape that dominates many people’s lives. Think of it as a graph. It starts at zero, it ends at zero, and in between is a brief window of non-nothingness.

That is how many people view the universe (once there was nothing, eventually the sun will run out of gas and we’ll return to nothing, life’s what’s in between). It’s how many people view the world (think peak oil, or world population, or non-renewable resources – we’ve developed as much as we can but it all looks downhill from here). And it’s how many people see their own lives (coming from chance, heading for oblivion, time’s running out so let’s make hay while the sun shines, maximize our experiences and enjoyment – let’s eat and drink, for tomorrow we die).

It’s not good news. Kids point out to me that it is the shape of a sad mouth. How apt. But there is a different story, a different path…

This green line is the shape of the kingdom of God. It’s the path Jesus took and invites us onto (See Philippians 2:5-11). It’s a path of servanthood, suffering, self-denial – and great, great expectation. It’s good news, and yes, a happy face. This is nothing more than the diagram of Jesus’ saying “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Have a play with it – a very simple diagram from which conversations can spring about life, death, our world, the environment, hedonism, Jesus, the cross, the resurrection, the ascension, origins, eternity, conversion and discipleship. Ruin someone’s serviette and make their eternity.

Know Your Neighbourhood with Mappage

My friend Eric Love has developed a really – really – useful site called Mappage. Eric is a brilliant Sacred Agent operating in Adelaide’s North-West, and a first class geek-for-the-gospel. Let’s hear from him about Mappage and its usefulness for churches and church planters…

Eric, tell us briefly about the Mappage web tool – what does it do?

Mappage does a range of different things on a Google Map:

  • Shows a map of the schools, churches etc in an area, and you can click on them for more info
  • Colours in the map according to 2006 census statistics
  • Allows me to add labels to one of these maps and print out a PDF so someone can look at these things without having to navigate the website

What it does not do: Work in Internet Explorer 😦

There’s plenty more explanation on the site, whether you just want to look at the PDFs I’ve made or whether you want to look at lots of details.

Can you give an example of how it might be useful to a prospective church planter?

You can look at the map and see what existing churches are in an area, (although I don’t have 100% coverage) and demographics such as what nationalities are represented.

Or how might it help an existing church to know its context better?

You can see how many children at the local schools. Mappage also shows some census statistics (and a link to where you can get more).

How did Mappage come about?

I was sent to gather info on some local schools for a schools ministry team. I found myself interested in the details on the education department website and wrote a program to collate the details from each individual school into one spreadsheet. Then someone said “you should plot those on a map” and this led to a spreadsheet that would produce a Google Earth map with all the places marked…

The ABS site supplies lots of census data for any area in the country. I had a particular interest in comparing particular things across many different areas (in particular the proportion on Christians) so I created a system in Excel to download the data in bulk and set it out in a way that let me compare many regions at once. Then I wrote a program to draw a map of it…

Later I discovered that you could incorporate Google Maps into a web page and do the above things more easily. And after moving house, I found that my new ISP would let me run a website with a database…

Have you discovered any interesting things about particular parts of SA?

The middle parts of Adelaide, both rich and poor, have people born in many different countries, while the outside parts, whether hills, beach or humble outer suburbs, have few non-English-speaking background residents.

My examination of where the Christians live in Adelaide showed a divide between outer and inner Adelaide, and between east and west, but the divides are not so marked as in Sydney and Melbourne.

Though north-western Adelaide has a relative lack of Christians, there’s a big concentration in Queenstown & Alberton.

What does it tell us about how the gospel is going in SA overall?

Maps and stats only show the surface. We see that there are about 1200 churches in the state, with a church with 1km of most populated places. SA has a highest “no religion” percentage than the other states but they’re still in the minority although the weekly church attendance rate is only around 8%.

The most Christian towns include Victor Harbor and Balaklava. In Adelaide, it’s the middle-class outer suburbs with the most believers.

Is Mappage free to use, or do you need to sign up to something?

Mappage is all free to use and no account is required, even to add or edit data on the map. Having checked it out, if there’s anything you’d like to see on a map, whether places, stats or something else, let me know and if the data is available I’ll put it on there. Just today (Monday) my friend gave me addresses of the playgroups in the western suburbs and I’ve put them up.

Thanks Eric – I hope to have you back sometime soon as a guest blogger!

Here’s the link again: Mappage

%d bloggers like this: