A few posts ago I alluded to the possibility of backing up my rather controversial claim that Darwin has too many religious leaders. I say controversial because everyone I’ve spoken to about this idea has had a slightly different opinion on the matter and, in a state of affairs that may be without precedent, only about half of them thought I was completely off my rocker. And when I say religious, for the time being I’m just talking about Christian Church leaders. I have no facts to hand on how many leaders other faith communities might have in the area.

The amount of difficulty I had getting my hands on the figures I do have is almost worth another post of its own down the track a bit, but for now I’m just a little perplexed at the stats in front of me.

According to my guy in the Darwin Christian Minsters’ Fraternal, Darwin has no fewer than 52 different church groups*. And even that list is not comprehensive as it leaves out a few Catholic parishes and small home groups who are off doing their own thing. And then there are inter-congregational organisations like Scripture Union, YWAM, Rhema FM and the Bible Society. In a movement which is, in general terms and with a few exceptions, struggling for membership locally, this strikes me as strange. Why do we need so many congregations?

But then I did some sums. They are only simple multiplications and fractions, but in my advanced state of number hating, it took me about half a day to compile them.

An average Australian church has an attendance of about 65 people*. That takes into account average-wreckers at both ends of the scale, like home churches with only half a dozen people and places like Hillsong with half a dozen thousand or so*. If you multiply those 65 people by the 52 congregations in Darwin, that gives you a local Church of about 3380. Despite my previous assertions, that doesn’t sound anything like enough. So now I find myself, asserting we have too many leaders, but not enough Christians. I haven’t yet made up my mind whether that’s complete nonsense or not.

Then there’s the national average church attendance rate of 11.7 percent of the population* to consider. If you run that percentage through the greater Darwin population of 120,000*, you get a weekly church attendance of about thirteen and a half thousand, give or take.

So where the bloody hell is everybody?

There are two possible explanations for this discrepancy in the figures, which are of course based on averages rather than role calls. The first is that my list of churches is even more uncomprehensive than I thought, and there are actually more like 200 congregations out there somewhere. Somehow that seems unlikely.

The more likely explanation is that the national averages don’t actually apply to Darwin, which is culturally an entirely different country (some might say planet). I suspect weekly attendance here might be well below the national average, given the transient nature of the population and high proportion of military personnel, who aren’t generally renowned for their religious piety. I also think on average, from what I’ve seen, our congregations do better than 65. I’m not sure why. Of course, I’ve only really been around the larger congregations. I guess we have little ones out there too.

So essentially I’m back where I started. I have no idea what percentage of Darwinites attends a Christian church. I have an incomplete, if surprisingly long list of local congregations, but no information on the attendance figures for them. And conspicuous by its absence is a record of the total number of local Christians. I’ve tried to get at that, but short of placing an enquiry with the Australian Bureau of Statistics (a pursuit that experience has taught me to avoid) that information doesn’t seem to be available anywhere. Somehow that bothers me, but I don't know why.

I still think we have too many churches and not enough members, but for now it doesn’t seem possible to prove it mathematically. At least not for this numerically disinclined stunt linguist. And therein lies an issue for another day.

And that’s the good news.


Garry with 2 Rs

*What? You weren’t actually expecting a reference, were you? What kind of legitimate researcher do you take me for?

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