Religion Around Australia: Changing Populations
In regards to religious identification, different geographical areas throughout Australia have always revealed different pictures, particularly when one compares the capital cities to non-urban areas. States and Territories differ. Inner city areas can be different from the suburbs. Urban areas are different from rural areas. Different geographical areas have their own histories and traditions, and different denominations are stronger in some areas than in others.
Each decade sees Australia increasingly urbanised. Between 2006 and 2011, the population of the capital cities grew by 9.2 per cent. While populations in some farming areas are declining, overall, the population outside the capital cities also grew, albeit at a slower rate: 6.7 per cent, partly due to the mining boom. Of those people living outside the capital cities, two-thirds (65.6%) identify with a Christian denomination. This compares with just 58.8 per cent of the population in the capital cities.
Between 2006 and 2011, 316,000 people immigrated to Victoria from overseas. By far the largest group were 62,300 Indians contributing to 97 per cent growth in the Hindu community and an even larger growth in the Sikh community. Nearly 44,000 arrived from China and Hong Kong, 24,500 from the United Kingdom, 21,000 from New Zealand, 14,000 from Sri Lanka, 12,300 from Malaysia, and 11,400 from the Philippines. 341,000 people immigrated to New South Wales from overseas in the five years from 2006 to 2011. The largest groups were Chinese (51,000), followed by Indians (43,000), United Kingdom (33,000), New Zealanders (20,000), Philippinos (14,000) and Koreans (12,000).
Tasmania had the slowest growth rate of all States: 3.8 per cent. It received few migrants from outside Australia compared with other States: just 10,400 between 2006 and 2011. There were similar numbers from China and from the UK (1,300 from each) and 800 from India. With a slow growing population, it is hard for the Christian community to grow. Indeed, it was the only State in which the numbers identifying with a Christian denomination actually fell (by 4 per cent).
Overall, the historical patterns of religious identity throughout the states and cities of Australia are slowly changing as new immigrants add to the picture. A big challenge for churches and denominations is how to minister in an ever-changing demographic and religious environment. The Census data provides an important tool for local churches as they seek to understand their community and ministry within their local context.
For more information see: Pointers, Volume 22, No. 3, Pages 6-8