Christianity's increasingly multicultural face revealed in Australian church survey

Christianity's increasingly multicultural face revealed in Australian church survey

Christianity's increasingly multicultural face revealed in Australian church survey

Updated 4 October 2017, 10:45 AEDT

More than a third of Australian churchgoers were born overseas, but religious leadership is decidedly less representative.

More than a third of Australian churchgoers were born overseas, according to the latest National Church Life Survey report.

Featuring data from more than 280,000 church attendees, it's the largest survey in the country after the census and is conducted every five years.

The latest figures demonstrate that first- and second-generation migrants make up an increasingly significant segment of the churchgoing population.

Survey director Ruth Powell says the multicultural face of Australia is highly evident in church congregations.

"The proportion of attendants born overseas was 28 per cent in 2006, and it's now 36 per cent in 2016," she said.

"I don't know it for certain yet, but I believe we may have highest proportion of multicultural congregations, perhaps in the world."

As a multicultural ministry consultant for the Uniting Church, Reverend Fie Marino is a firm believer in embracing a diversity in religious practice.

"It's very normal in the Uniting Church to pray in different languages, to sing hymns in different languages, and to do the Lord's Prayer all in different languages at one time," he explains.

"We [tell our congregations]: 'Say the Lord's Prayer in the language of your heart.'"

Calls for a top-down approach

But while diversity is increasing among Australia's congregations, Ms Powell points out that those in leadership positions have not changed as much.

"There is a gap there, in the sense that you see white men who are giving leadership," she says.

"But people are saying we need to see more diversity; we need to give more opportunities in that intercultural communication.

"We are well positioned to do some fantastic, innovative expression in Australia."

Reverend Marino agrees that better representation is required in positions of authority.

"The systems of leadership, board meetings and committees are very much Western ideas and constructs," he says.

"[Attendees from] the Pacific Islands, Asian, African and Middle Eastern parts of the church just don't understand those structures.

"We're working towards coming up with ways where the diversity of the church is able to speak into a space that they feel like they belong."