Churches go back to the people
NEW Census data showing fewer Australians identify with religion may be the ironic product of our good fortune - too blessed to need God, or even to be grateful.
Or it may be that churches are facing the same crisis of participation that is affecting most of our secular community institutions, from the Girl Guides and Rural Fire Brigades to the Masons and the Red Cross.
But Gympie Christian leaders yesterday observed that it may also be a sign that people are seeking new substance and relevance in their religious life.
"In places like Australia we've got too many other answers," said Catholic priest Pat Cassidy.
"People don't seem to need God as much," he said.
But down the road at Gympie's Anglican church, rector Andrew Cooper said it may be that people are just more honest these days and are not merely pretending to have a religion.
"And the faithful are now spread over a much larger number of denominations," he said.
Wesleyan Methodist pastor Gary McClintock said people are looking for authenticity rather than religious rituals.
"They're looking for something real," he said.
"People need to see the real deal. They need to see the practice of Christianity."
Rev Cooper said Gympie region's Anglican parish had opted to make the church an experience for everyone to participate in.
The antique timber pews are gone from St Peter's, replaced by comfortable chairs and even round tables where people can gather.
"We're practising messy church," he said, explaining that this is a new approach to involving people in religion, through family events and activities.
"It's a church, but it aims to involve people and to provide a welcome and safe place."
And he says it is about bringing people together, much as the region's original churches started out as community halls.
"It's about hospitality and creativity and people can experience each other's hospitality by eating together, whether it's a plate of sandwiches to share or a meal."
And he says it reflects a God of unconditional love, including for people outside the church.
He says this seemingly radical approach followed recognition of a change in the community mood four years ago and a re-assessment of what the church wanted to be.