A friend of mine received a flyer in his letterbox last year from the church across the road.
It was an invitation to church. No, it was a plea for help. The letter came from concerned members of the congregation pleading the community to “please attend their church” or they would face closure.
Twelve months later the bulldozers moved in and demolished the church building.
In 2001 there were 10,447 Protestant congregations in Australia, Between 1991 and 2001 there was a 6% decline in number of congregations resulting in a 3% decline in overall weekly attendance. If my maths are right that's a loss of 627 churches in ten years. In fact, we lost more when you factor in the number of new starts during that period.
According to the NCLS, one denomination lost a staggering 22% of it's congregations in this ten year period. That's not decline, that's disaster.
If the overall decline has continued, the number of congregations today is probably just over 10,000, with a corresponding drop in weekly attendance. That means in the last fifteen years we have lost over 1,000 churches throughout Australia. We'll know for sure when the National Church Life Survey 2006 is released.
In 2005, there were 1363 Catholic parishes in Australia. I'm not sure if that number is increasing or declining but the number of priests and membership in the Catholic orders are is serious decline: Where have all the Priests gone? My guess is the Catholic church will be reluctant to close parishes but numbers of active Catholics are in decline.
The Protestant mainline is shutting churches down and declining in regular attendance. That trend will not go away. The evangelical-pentecostal-charismatic churches are planting churches and growing but not at a fast enough rate to stem overall decline of the church in Australia.
The Emerging church is a relatively new phenomena in Australia and I'm not aware of accurate research on it's impact. We don't really know how many Emerging churches there are or how many people are actively involved. We do know that Emerging Christians love to blog.
Ruth Powell from the NCLS is currently researching the Emerging church in Australia: NCLS Seeks All Things New: new project maps fresh expressions of church
My impression so far is that most of the Emerging growth has come from migrations out of existing churches and the movement is not yet seeing significant evangelistic growth.
What's the best way to turn this reality around? Plant healthy missional churches. One thousand would be a good start. Who wants in?