On March 8 a workshop with Karl Faase was held looking at revitalising local churches. This was repeated in Ulverstone the next night. Provided here for you is a brief summary of some of the points Karl made. Video footage of the session at Lenah Valley will be made available once editing is complete.
One of the first points made about the situation of local churches is that "It's not as bad as you think." The church is not dying, in fact in many parts of the world Christianity is growing strongly. In the West, even in Australia with our unusually high rate of people claiming atheism, the church isn't really in decline. Nominalism is in decline, with fewer people ticking the "Christian" box on the census, but the rate of committed active Christians has not changed anywhere near as dramatically stated. And when people select "no religion" on the census that doesn't mean they don't have any belief in a higher power or spirituality, just that they are not part of organised religion.
While there are some current issues which can be an obstacle to talking about Christianity - same sex marriage, the Royal Commission, the New Atheists, materialism, and scientism - there are also some great positives to consider.
On the last census 61.2% of Australians identified themselves as Christian. They're not all in churches, and we don't know what each person understands "Christian" to mean, but it meant enough to them to choose to identify as such. Christian Radio is growing rapidly. 3.3 million Australians listen to Christian radio at least once a month. Of those, between 40-60% are not church goers. Many of these people are choosing Christian radio, even though they are not Christian, because they feel the content is safe to have on around their children. And those people aren't turning it off every time a think spot or song with explicitly Christian content comes on. Similarly people are enrolling their children in Christian schools because they feel those schools will be a safe environment for them and they like the morals and values taught by those schools.
Australia is a sporting nation. Some would suggest football could be our national religion. On average 1.2 million Australians attend a football match (including AFL, rugby and soccer) each month. That's a huge number, more than double the population of Tasmania. But 3.4 million attend church each month.
This is greatly encouraging for churches who want to be revitalised. Most Australians are open to, or at the very least not hostile toward hearing about Jesus.
That doesn't mean we can just keep doing what we're doing and expect people to come to us. We will have to change. We will need to engage with the local community. We will need to understand our "why" rather than just planning "what" we want to do. Karl recommends checking out Simon Sinek's "The Power of Why" which is available as a book or as a TED talk.
Our current situation is full of potential. While numbers in some of our congregations are decreasing, we have some amazing resources - buildings, expertise and dedicated people - all of which we can use to engage with our local communities so that people might understand God a little better.