Cultural diversity on the increase in Australian churches

A steady increase in the proportion of church attenders born were overseas in the past decade.

There has been a steady increase in the proportion of church attenders born overseas in the past decade, from 28% in 2006 to 36% in 2016, contributing to a greater cultural and linguistic diversity in Australia’s churches.

This increase in overseas-born attenders is due solely to those born in non-English speaking countries.

Of the 36 % of church attenders in 2016 who were born overseas, 27% were born in a non-English speaking country (up 9 percentage points from 18% in 2006) and 9% in another country where English is the main language.

Compared to the wider Australian population the percentage of churchgoers born in a non-English speaking country (27%) is higher than the national population (22%) in 2016.

Churches often form a social support and network for people newly arrived in Australia. The presence of multicultural ministry in churches, as well as mono-ethnic and multi-ethnic congregations, additionally reflect this diversity, particularly in urban areas. Over a third (35%) of Australian churches in 2011 said they were involved in migrant ministry, with 15% heavily involved, and 20% taking first steps in ministry to migrants. This was a large increase over ten years (17% involved in “ethnic” ministry in 2001, and 24% in 2006)*.

 

Linguistic diversity is also revealed in the 2016 NCLS, in the fact that a quarter of churchgoers (25%) speak a language other than English at home. Some 22% of those people are bilingual or multilingual, speaking English as well as another language at home.

People who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander represented 1.3% of the Australian church population in the 2016 NCLS. People born in Australia (including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people) formed 64% of churchgoers in 2016, down from 72% in 2006.

It is important to note that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander churches, as well as new migrant churches, are underrepresented in the National Church Life Survey, so figures for overseas-born and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander churchgoers may be underestimated.

Authors:
Miriam Pepper, Kathy Jacka
Data Sources:

Powell, R., Pepper, M., Hancock, N. and Sterland, S. (2017) 2016 NCLS Attender Survey [Data file]. Sydney: NCLS Research.

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Results from the 2016 National Church Life Survey