Disciple Making - A Blueprint
This paper was written for Belconnen Baptist Church and so is most specific to the Belconnen and Australian Capital Territory.
The key statement that defined the New Testament Church's identity, reason for being and mission was the great commission (Mt 28:19f). It was the final thing that Jesus entrusted to the fledgling church.
Are we carrying out the great commission today? The National Church Life Survey in 2001 identified that most new people in Australian churches were transfer growth, i.e. Christians moving between churches (25% of the church population had moved recently) compared to a tiny number (6% unchurched or returning after a long absence) coming into the church from outside. The composition of Australian society reflects this lack of real growth.
In the 1971 census, the Australian Bureau of Statistics included a new instruction:
"if no religion, write none". The dramatic change shown in the 1971 census, seen above, would suggest that the church had been losing ground for some time. The trend has continued to the latest census in 2001.
If we are to take seriously the great commission we need to reverse this trend. We can make a beginning by trying to understand what our society looks like.
In 1996 almost 70% of the Christian church was split between the Catholics on 39% and the Anglicans on 31%. Baptists made up a mere 2.4% of the church. Both Belconnen and the ACT had a higher proportion of Catholics and a lower proportion of Baptists than the national average.
It is inaccurate to consider the Australian society to be godless. In 1996 only 16.6% of Australians considered that they had no religion and by 2001 that figure had dropped to 15.5%.
In 1996, both Belconnen and the ACT had a very small proportion of other religions, much less than the national average.
The majority of Australians, around 70%, consider themselves to be affiliated with a Christian church which leads to the philosophical question of what makes a person a Christian?
The 2001 National Church Life Survey records that 19% of those surveyed regularly attended church less than weekly.
This suggests to me that there is a large section of the population who count themselves as affiliated to a church but who are not integrated into a Christian community.
The other major religions are increasing at a rapid rate with increases of between 5.2% (Judaism) and 79.1% (Buddhism).
These increases are partly driven by immigration. Their growth comes from a small base (about 5% of the Australian population in 2001.) they don't tend to have a large effect on the proportions in Australian society.
The message of the statistics we examined is that local church mission should target those stating affiliation but not part of a church community and the unchurched (20% in Belconnen).
2001 National Church Life Survey
1996 Census of Population and Housing, Basic Community Profiles, Table B10 for Australia, ACT and Belconnen (Australian Bureau of Statistics)
Australia Now, Year Book Australia, 2003 Population Religion, (Australian Bureau of Statistics)