DESPITE THE doom and gloom associated with COVID-19, there is a silver-lining when it comes to religion with increasing numbers of Australians reflecting on their relationship with God and the Church.
Long regarded as a largely secular society, faith has been on the front line as Aussies cope with the pandemic with latest research revealing renewed numbers engaging with their spirituality.
Market demographers Mainstreet Insights has revealed that since the arrival of the coronavirus, one in four Aussies are praying more (28 per cent) and having spiritual conversations more (26 per cent), while a further three in ten (33 per cent) are thinking about God more and one in five reading the Bible more (19 per cent).
In looking at how people have been affected by COVID-19, it found one in five who identify as christians (21 per cent) are attending church more often – either physically or online – and about a quarter (25 per cent) wanting to retain that aspect of their faith life into the future.
Study author Mark McCrindle said that while we think we live in a secular country with Church engagement on the decline, the broader reality is that Australians are without doubt seeking deeper spiritual meaning.
“The research shows us that particularly in uncertain times like this with COVID, Australians very much look beyond themselves and their own circumstances for answers,” he said.
“The fact is that tragic as the deaths and the numbers have been, this has not presented like a pandemic of previous years … the likelihood of us succumbing to this illness is extremely low, a fraction of a percentage, and yet it has left us to suddenly think about death … And surprisingly we have found that as a result, a third of Australians have thought more about God in this time and just as remarkably a quarter have spent more time in prayer.
“When you consider that only 16 per cent of the population attends church in any regular sense and we’ve got more than a quarter praying more during this period [this] shows there’s a level of spiritual practice in Australia, beyond what might get measured just in terms of church attendance.” Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP welcomed the results and the notion the Church is more relevant and necessary than ever.
“This research is a telling reminder that the Church has a role to play, now more than ever, in the spiritual and social needs of our time,” the researcher said.
“This research is a telling reminder that the Church has a role to play, now more than ever, in the spiritual and social needs of our time”
“Now is the time for our pastors and people to reach out to those who are looking for something that lasts, something that endures, for someone who can meet them on the road of life.
“In this time of disruption, it is the constant love, consolation and hope of Christ that we can offer to others through our friendship, our pastoral care and by our proclamation of Good News, even in this challenging season.”
One clear aspect of the research showed the huge impact technology has had on people engaging with their faith, which offers “great opportunities” for evangelisation.
Mr McCrindle said the Church needs to grasp this new population of followers with both hands to ensure they stay connected well into the future.
“Church is definitely going to look different to what we knew in the past and we’re going to have some challenges for some years,” he said. “However from the responses to our study, it’s about the new access channels the Church has instigated – similar to that of learning to work from home or connecting with friends through technology – and the same will be true of Mass or Church.
“If we look through history this is when Christianity has come into its own, when we’ve had a time of great need and the community is searching for answers and a Church being able to offer support … I think it is a new season for the Church and with those new opportunities we need to make sure that we take full opportunity of what this has presented to a nation that is rattled, that is not satisfied with the previous busyness and pursuits and is now looking for meaning and spiritual answers.
“And if the Church has these answers they will engage with Australians both today and well into the future.”