The Church in Australia faces a mighty challenge. The strong influence of Christianity declined as the country became more diverse in religions, and became more secular in its public life and laws. 52% of the population (according to the 2016 census) say they are Christian, but less than 10% regularly attend church. Many Australians see the Church as intolerant, abusive of its power, and anti-progressive in its values. More people prefer a personal spirituality based on individual preferences, and with no accountability. Almost all mainline churches declined or stayed the same in members, and evangelical growth slowed down. Pray for revival in the Church that will affect every area of Australian society.
Modern changes in Australia bring strains and tensions to the nation. Immigration created a multicultural country, especially in larger cities. Ethnic and religious minority groups grow quickly. 28% of Australians were born overseas! This diversity blesses the nation, but strains the attitudes of the people toward refugees, asylum seekers, and other immigrants who come. Australia provides stability and peacekeeping to other Pacific and Asian countries such as Timor, Bougainville, the Solomon Islands, and others. Thank God for the ability and will to save lives abroad. Pray that believers might engage their diverse society in a productive and meaningful way.
The missions vision in Australian churches is mixed. Australia actually has a very good missionary-sending ratio as a nation, but much of the burden is being carried by a small minority of churches. The vision for world evangelization must be imparted to pastors during their theological training. Mission-awareness courses such as Perspectives on the World Christian Movement (USCWM) and Kairos are helping to shift the mentality regarding mission. Training programmes are also getting a makeover, from solely academic study to more hands-on and engaging training (Sydney Missionary and Bible College, Worldview, Vose Seminary, Australian College of Ministries). Australian missionaries at home and abroad are often at the forefront of creative and missiologically astute methods of reaching the un-evangelized; pray that this contribution might be multiplied.
Less-reached peoples are found in increasing numbers and diversity. Pray for those local churches with active ministries to such cultural communities, and for the work of local congregations and mission agencies seeking to share Christ with them. Despite Australia being an evangelistically open country, many of these immigrants face issues of religious freedom and persecution for becoming Christians and even for considering such a decision.
The 550,000 indigenous Aborigines have been demoralized in their contacts with Western culture and greed; they are frustrated about their lack of control over their lands and their heritage. Recognition of the land rights of first Australians is a major political issue. Reconciliation between black and white Australians made a significant step forward with the prime minister's apology, along with National "Sorry" Day. Some Aborigines have adapted to the immigrant and majority cultures, but many are marginalized. Some retreated into the more inaccessible and inhospitable parts of the country, while others moved into larger towns and cities. Insensitivities at times and even cruelties by whites are to a degree offset by the loving contribution of many missionaries to the Aborigines over the years. Widespread abuse occurring within some Christian communities is also mitigated by the influence of some excellent, outspoken Aboriginal leaders who are catalyzing positive changes.
Student ministry is one area needing greater attention. Witness to the nearly 600,000 students in 40 universities and many more colleges has had some impact, but not nearly as much as potential would allow. AFES(IFES) is on almost every campus (with 53 groups and nearly 100 workers/volunteers), Student Life (Cru) is on over 20 and Navigators on 5. A notable trend is that foreign students are proving more responsive to outreach than Australians. Praise God for this open door, but pray that Australians might also be reached during this crucial phase of their lives. Pray for a greater evangelistic zeal, a larger harvest for the Kingdom and an increased flow of missionaries from these groups to the world.
Young people and children. With a drastic drop in Sunday school attendance, alternative methods must be found to reach the younger generation. Christian school systems are growing rapidly. The Inter-Schools Christian Fellowship (SU) has a valuable ministry in secondary schools. In every state except South Australia, religious instruction is conducted in schools by volunteers from churches, but this is increasingly one voice among competing religions (Islam and Baha'i, especially). Many groups - such as YFC, the Crusader Movement, God Squad and others - seek to evangelize young people. The innovative Fusion International developed a well-researched and culturally relevant range of ministries to youth, kids and families, and is based in 25 centres with over 200 full-time workers across the country. A non-religious chaplaincy/counsellor role is filled by committed believers in hundreds of schools, many of them through SU. Pray for their faith to help them offer caring support and wise advice to students dealing with many personal and social issues.
Radio. Opportunities abound for Christian radio, since local and national stations are legally obliged to allocate broadcast time to religious content. Vision Radio, a ministry of UCB, met this challenge beginning in 1999 and now provides Christian programming to over 350 stations nationally. There are 32 full-time Christian FM stations. Pray for meaningful contact with mainstream Australians. A new HCJB transmitter in Western Australia has the potential to broadcast to 60% of the world's population.
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Content taken or adapted from Operation World, 7th Edition (2010) and Pray for the World (2015). Both books are published by InterVarsity Press. All rights reserved.