Young dominate faith

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A woman prays prior to a Mass for young adults Dec. 7, 2016, at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Young adults between the ages of 18-34 attend Church services in Australia at a significantly higher rate than their parents or grandparents, according to the 2022 Australian Community Survey by NCLS Research.

Thirty-two percent of young adults attended services at least once a month, compared to 19 per cent of those aged 65 and over, 11 per cent of 50-64 year olds, 19 per cent of 35-49 year olds, and the national average of 21 per cent.

Young people also attended more frequently than the elderly. While a devoted 17 per cent of both age groups attended weekly or more, 15 per cent percent of 18-34 year olds attended 1-3 times a month, compared to only 2 per cent of over 65s.

Youth also made more “unsuccessful attempts” to join Church communities, with 30 per cent saying they had tried to become involved in a Church but hadn’t been able to, compared to the average of 20 per cent.

“The challenge is that churches are struggling to find structured ways to build on-ramps for lasting relationship, the kinds of community which allows openness and even affiliation to grow into an experience of the Church as an organic and integral part of their lives.”

Almost half of all Australians were either open to (31 per cent) or not sure (16 per cent) if they would accept an invitation to attend Church if invited by a friend or family member.

Relationships with friends or family are the most likely reason for a person to accept any invitation to Church (34 per cent) yet less than half of those surveyed had a close contact who was a Christian.

NCLS Director Ruth Powell said during a webinar on 9 June to present the 2022 ACTS results that these statistics were a stable trend over the last three surveys.

The negative media presentation of Churches therefore did not take into account what she called the “silent fringe group who are open, curious and questioning”.

Young Catholic adults from across Sydney enjoyed Mass, a meal and the launch of the exciting new mission pathway which will see Sydney Catholic Youth increasing its collaboration with other agencies. Photos: Alphonsus Fok

“There are more young adults connected to Church and open to faith than older age groups, but too many have tried to get more involved and failed,” she said.

The ACS data also showed that attendance at religious services at least monthly has levelled out after decades of decline, at 21 per cent, and has bounced back to pre-pandemic levels.

The perception of religion as a public good has also increased to 44 per cent from a low ebb in 2018 in the wake of the same-sex marriage debate and Royal Commission.

“The encouragement here is that we have something to work with, a fundamental openness among young adults as they seek to connect their inner and outer lives, to live authentically in the midst of what can be a superficial and fragmented culture,” said Daniel Ang, Director of the Sydney Centre for Evangelisation.

“We are very blessed in Sydney to have an especially vibrant young Catholic community, though we must remember that all age groups need pastoral care.”

“The challenge is that churches are struggling to find structured ways to build on-ramps for lasting relationship, the kinds of community which allows openness and even affiliation to grow into an experience of the Church as an organic and integral part of their lives, almost an atmosphere in which they are navigating their hungers and desires.”

Bishop Richard Umbers, Episcopal Vicar for Evangelisation in the Archdiocese of Sydney, said it was encouraging to see that Australian youth were engaged with faith.

“We are very blessed in Sydney to have an especially vibrant young Catholic community, though we must remember that all age groups need pastoral care,’ Bishop Umbers said. “Building up youth and encouraging them to take up leadership roles in their parish may help to revive those parishes suffering decline.”

The ACS statistics were not broken down by denomination. More specific data on religious adherence from the 2021 Census will be released from the end of June.

Related:

Faith and fellowship post pandemic