Poll shock: Sydney is so ‘˜Christian’

Jeremy Halcrow

Shock new polling conducted by McCrindle research for the Jesus All About life campaign shows that Sydneysiders are already far more likely to have orthodox beliefs about Jesus than other Australians.

In fact a majority of Sydneysiders (51%) believe Jesus was a real figure, that he had miraculous powers, and that he was the son of God.

This compares with 43% of Australians as a whole, a fairly substantial difference.

While church leaders have been fairly dismissive of census data that suggests that 64% of Sydneysiders claim to be Christians, this data suggests that nominalism isn't completely disconnected from belief.

For those in ministry I want to ask: does the data change how you think about approaching Christian apologetics and evangelism?

If so many Sydneysiders already believe that Jesus died on the cross, rose again and ascended into heaven, then surely less energy needs to be spent convincing people of the truth of Jesus' ministry and more explaining why its so urgent that they repent and follow him?
Compared with all Australians, Sydneysiders are more likely to believe:
"¢      Jesus was born of a virgin (56% SYD and 44% AUS)
"¢      Jesus healed a blind man (60% SYD and 51% AUS)
"¢      Jesus turned water into wine (56% SYD and 44% AUS)
"¢      Jesus walked on water (53% SYD and 44% AUS)
"¢      Jesus was crucified and died on a cross (80% SYD and 76% AUS)
"¢      Jesus rose from the dead (58% SYD and 47% AUS)
"¢      Jesus ascended bodily into heaven (55% SYD and 44% AUS)
"¢      Jesus will return to Earth one day (46% SYD and 37% AUS)

Bigger picture

Commentators are beginning to notice that religious adherence is higher in Sydney than elsewhere in Australia.

In a recent address to the Catholic Press Association, Cardinal George Pell went as far as to described Sydney as 'the religious capital of Australia' and question its label as 'sin city'. (source: Catholic Weekly, Sep 27)

While nearly 1 in 5 Australians ticked 'no religion' on the 2006 census, the figure in Sydney is closer to 1 in 8, by far the lowest across the eight capital cities.

In fact in Canberra (23%), Adelaide (24%) and Darwin (25%) about a quarter of the population selected ‘no religion’.

It's almost as if we are talking about two different countries.

One explanation is that Sydney is the first-stop for new migrants - whether they be Muslims from Malaysia, Buddhists from Bangkok or Hindus from Hyderabad.

In other words Sydney is Australia's most multi-faith city, with the nation's largest concentrations of believers from these three religions.

While all this is undoubtedly true, the multi-faith theory alone does not explain all the evidence such as the polling data from McCrindle about the strength of Christian belief in Sydney.

Sydney and Christianity

So could Cardinal Pell have gone as far as call Sydney Australia's 'capital city for Christianity'?

It is certainly capital city of Australia's most Christian State: New South Wales (68%).

Technically, Brisbane (65%) pips Sydney (64%) with the higher percentage of nominal Christians with both well ahead of Perth (59.8%) and Adelaide (59.6%).

Yet, Sam Sterland from the National Church Life Survey tells me that while no one has compared church-going rates in different capital cities, they do know that church-going rates in Queensland is lower than in the southern states.

What is more significant is that Sydney is well ahead of Australia's other major new migrant destination: Melbourne (58.9%).

It has been suggested that it is the large number of new migrants from strongly religious countries, which includes Christians from the developing world, that is boosting religious adherence in Sydney.

But if that is the only explanation, then why the difference between Sydney and Melbourne? 

I can think of a number of other reasons to explain the relative strength of Christianity in New South Wales, including our history of evangelicalism stretching back to the convict period.

So over to you. Any other thoughts on why Christian adherence and belief is stronger in Sydney than elsewhere?

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