For many years, in the eyes of the mainstream Australian journalists — Anglicans and Roman Catholics appear to be the only Christian people in Australia and that they don't see nonconformist news or comment reflected at one end of the spectrum, nor that of the nine different Orthodox groups at the other end.
The history of 'nonconformity' — came from the English 1662 Act of Uniformity. It originally referred to those Christians in England who were not Church of England (Anglican), which at that time represented a number of minority Christian groups such as Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists, and Quakers; and later Methodists, Unitarians, and members of the Salvation Army.
The term 'nonconformist' gradually spread across the globe, and came to mean a much larger group of Protestants who were non-Anglican, which, today, includes the vast numbers of the group loosely called Pentecostals. In a quirky twist of history, the nonconformist Baptists are now greater in actual number than the historically traditional Anglicans. Hillsong has made a huge impact on Australia.
Having noted those world-wide figures, Australians seem to be a little more conservative than the world in general. The Australian census figures from 2016 Census has 52% of Australians affiliating as Christians. Baptists are on par with Muslims and the nonconformists combined are some 13%.
Separate research shows it is hard to tell whether people attend church regularly or what congregation they attend. For those figures one needs to search out the various church survey results where annually those in congregations around Australia fill in a separate data document.
Of the 5.1 million Roman Catholics in Australia only 7% attend Mass on anything like a regular basis. Of the 3.7 million Anglicans only 3% attend church; however, those Anglican figures across Australia do not apply within the Sydney evangelical diocese, where 27% attend church. Sydney Anglicans are on a campaign to effectively increase that figure to approximately 50%.
The comparative figures for Pentecostal and Hillsong and other nonconformist church attendees reveal a startling result. A whopping 62% of 'evangelical and Pentecostal' nonconformists either attend church regularly or are involved in some way in the life of their church or its mission welfare arms. This means there are more 'evangelical and Pentecostal' nonconformists in Australia actively involved in church than both Roman Catholics and Anglicans combined.
Even a cursory glance at his own Tweed Heads area reveals this. There is one Catholic and one Anglican church, yet five large Pentecostal congregations, a Uniting church, a Presbyterian church with three separate congregations, a Baptist church, a huge Salvation Army corps with its own indoor sport centre as does the Church of Christ congregation.
It would be instructive if the journalists could use these figures, when making generalised comments about Christian communities.
Yet, according to my reading of the daily media, the press ignores these realities to present a case of Australian Christianity rushing headlong down the gurgler, when in reality the truth is quite the opposite. Moreover, he explained that there is no overall ‘nonconformist’ voice. This makes it difficult for the press to cover something to do with Christian values or Christian opinions in a traditional media '10-second sound bite’, so M. V. Tronson is concerned that the reporters may just stop trying.
A few years ago the Queensland Uniting Church's OnLine Journey magazine published the statistical breakdown of 'church membership' in the US. I alert the reader that the word 'membership' does not refer to those who actually attend church, rather to a list of names on a church membership role.
This creates significant disparity as the US Roman Catholic membership role includes every baptised infant. On the other hand, the Southern Baptist membership roles only include those persons who have been baptised by immersion upon their confession of faith, and then, applied for and approved of membership in a Southern Baptist congregation.
Should a Southern Baptist congregation state they have 500 members, in reality, those attending that congregation will include children and non-member adherents, which could boost that figure of church attendance to 1250 persons, 125% more.
Nonetheless, the raw US data of the leading 10 Church Denominations, not taking into account these more accurate 'attendance' figures, illustrate that by membership figures alone, that there are 48.3 million 'non-conformist' members.
When multiplied conservatively by only 70% as opposed to the more reliable figure of 125%, it reveals that non-conformists in the US are by far the most influential religious grouping.
Should these same conclusions were drawn in the Australian church context, it would come as no surprise to anyone that government determinations in a host of situations is in large measure determined by the numbers. Those desperately keen on radical social engineering have a much harder row to hoe is the statistics are against them. It is one way in which the silent majority is heard.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children. Dr Tronson writes a daily article for Christian Today Australia (since 2008) and in November 2016 established Christian Today New Zealand.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html