In a report in the RECORD (July 28, 2007) the leader of the Adventist church in Australia, Chester Stanley, discussed the 2006 Australian census figures which suggest as many as 10,000 on the official membership lists of the church in Australia do not now identify themselves as members. The census figures provide challenging reading for all Christians – and many denominations now acknowledge the urgency of once again becoming church planting movements.
This urgent need for church planting is highlighted by the –
1. Population growth in Australia: According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics a new baby is born in Australia every two minutes and every four minutes a person dies. With migration factored in, there’s a net population gain of one person every two minutes – or over 260,000 new people each year.
2. Emergence of major growth corridors: While most Australian cities have their “bible belts” – with churches clustered in the established and more affluent suburbs – there are few evangelical churches in the rapidly expanding multicultural corridors (or in the growth areas of the central business districts).
3. Decreasing percentage relating to Christianity: With only about 9% of Australians attending a church at all regularly – and this figure is only as high as it is because of the migrant populations that relate to national churches (Catholic and Orthodox) – the ratio of Christians and churches to population is declining! (And, in most small country towns the church has died!)
4. Stable membership lists indicate serious decline: Whereas in the past denominational leaders could get some comfort from the stability of their membership lists, this stability in reality points to a decline when compared to the population growth, the challenge of witnessing to the huge growth corridors and the discrepancy between membership figures and actual attendance and involvement.
5. Challenging trends: Denominations and local churches are struggling with what seems to be a growing disconnect by even faithful members. Decreasing numbers are attending church services regularly – and finding alternate environments for faith development. New generations are seeking the faith of the New Testament (and even their denominational pioneers) – and seeking to define faith in ways that to them seem authentic. This search for simple church challenges institutionalized and hierarchical systems
6. Spiritual Revolution: The commitment to “just following what we find in the New Testament” may not always take into account lessons learnt in the intervening centuries, and can challenge structures. However, following the example of Jesus’ ministry is bringing new life to households. Denominations and local churches need to multiply supportive and encouraging environments for what could be seen as a spiritual revolution.