Australian Christian numbers to plummet

The number of Australians identifying themselves as Christian will plummet over the next 20 years as an ageing generation of dedicated churchgoers dies out, analysis of census figures shows.

Painting a bleak future for Christian faiths, the Christian Research Association predicts the ranks of non-believers will steadily grow while there will not be enough young converts to replace elderly congregations.

The research, as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, also questions one of the few success stories of Christianity, the Pentecostal churches, challenging assertions that they are hotbeds of Christian recruitment.

Dr Hughes said rates of Christian identification were likely to fall to less than 60 per cent by 2025, reflecting declining interest in religion and spirituality in general. But present trends did not imply that the decline would continue until churches ceased to exist. The rate of Christian adherence was likely to settle at 50 per cent within 30 to 40 years, depending on immigration patterns.

"Denominational leaders should be concerned about the census figures," Dr Hughes said.

Dr Hughes said there was no evidence that the decline in church attendance detected in the 2006 census might be arrested as baby boomers with more time on their hands considered returning to the church in their retirement.

The Salvation Army and the Uniting Church, with ageing congregations, were among the Christian groups to have suffered the greatest decline. The Uniting Church also appeared to be suffering from divisions over gay ministers. Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam boasted the fastest growth.

The greatest growth of any Christian denomination was for the evangelical Christian Brethren Assemblies, which has no formal links with the Exclusive Brethren.

Sydney Morning Herald

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