The End of Christianity in Tasmania?

Jun 26, 2024
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Theology and Culture

Stephen Baxter considers whether the church in Tasmania has separated from the mainstream of Tasmanian life.

In 1971, Tasmania was the most Christian state in Australia with nearly 9 out of 10 people identifying as Christian. Fast forward fifty years and that number has plummeted to just over 1 in 3. Those claiming no religion went from 1 in 20 to 1 in 2.

This seismic shift didn’t happen overnight. It was the culmination of a series of small cultural shifts day after day, year after year. The shift caught the church largely unaware and over the years it became separated from the mainstream of Tasmanian life.   

Looking Like Jesus?

The church has always been at its best when it resonated with the human condition. It started with Jesus, who met people with empathy and courage, as opposed to the religious leaders of his day who only increased their burdens. Too often in the 2000 years since, the church has looked more like the opponents of Jesus than Jesus himself. We failed to engage the real challenges people faced, and instead erected barriers. However, there have been times with the church was more like Jesus. 

How would the people of Tasmania view the church today? I fear they don’t see Jesus. This is a challenge. If the church remains disengaged from the mainstream we will continue our decline in relevancy and number. But it doesn’t need to be that way. We are people of the resurrection. The challenge before us is in fact a real opportunity. 

Now is the time to reimagine what it means to be the church for 21st century Tasmania. As we do, I believe there are three aspects worthy of our consideration.  

Is the church in Tasmania known as a source of audacious hope, radical community and fierce love?

Communities of Hope, Love and Faith

Firstly, it is important we reclaim being a community of hope. The church is God’s pilot project for the new creation. Imbued with hope through rebirth in the Holy Spirit, the church is not about reviving old dogma but birthing a lifestyle that is dynamic, alive and relevant.  

Secondly, reembody being a community of love. Being church was never about empty religious observance. It’s about humbly loving those around us through practical care, good works and social cohesion. Such love is always infectious.  

And thirdly, rebuilding a community of faith. Too easily we slip into reducing Jesus followers into spectators and consumers of church services. But the church was never meant to be reduced to that. We are a body of faith-inspired, spirit-equipped people participating in God’s mission together. Here we constantly pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” 

Is the church in Tasmania known as a source of audacious hope, radical community and fierce love?

If the challenges the church faces in Tasmania are seen through the lens of these realities, everything changes. No longer are we an institution on life support struggling to stay alive. In fact, we become the vehicle God uses to bring renewal to every area of life in our communities. 

Sure, it is uncomfortable and unpredictable, and will look very different from the church we’ve known. But that is no different than the message Jesus brought. Our calling is to be out ahead of the cultural tremors working to reshape of our world based on the dreams God for our community.   

The Alternative?

But what is the alternative? Simply fading away by surrendering to the status quo that rendered us culturally irrelevant in the first place? 

No, this moment of challenge is the opportunity. What if the church in Tasmania was known as a source of audacious hope, radical community and fierce love for each other? Wouldn’t that be exactly what Jesus would want of us?

Stephen Baxter is Mission Director for Tasmanian Baptists.

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