Views and actions of churchgoers and church leaders in caring for the environment.
How do Australian church attenders and leaders view issues related to the environment and caring for the earth? Around 9 in 10 church leaders and 8 in 10 churchgoers believe that Christians have a responsibility to be active about environmental issues.
In the 2021 National Church Life Survey (2021 NCLS), churchgoers were asked to indicate which of 14 public issues their denomination should be most active in. While churchgoers ranked other issues (such as poverty and disadvantage) the highest in both 2016 and 2021 (49% and 58% respectively), the survey showed a growing concern of churchgoers for the environment.
“Environmental issues” increased 8 percentage points from 11% in 2016 to 19% in 2021. It also moved up the ranking of importance from 11th to 9th.
This change demonstrates that concern for the environment has increased, but it remains an issue of moderate concern when considered in the context of other issues.
Results from the 2021 NCLS reveal very strong convictions about caring for the earth. Almost 9 in ten church leaders and 8 in ten churchgoers believe that Christians have a responsibility to be active about environmental issues.
Some 88% of church leaders agree that Christians have a responsibility to be active about environmental issues, while 7% disagree and 6% are unsure. Around half (52%) of leaders are personally active regarding environmental issues.
In comparison, 77% of churchgoers agree that Christians have a responsibility, while 8% disagree and 15% are unsure. Around a quarter (24%) of churchgoers say they are currently active regarding environmental issues.
Being active about environmental issues has been a fairly consistent thread in NCLS results. Over 15 years, from 2006 to 2021, affirmations of Christian responsibility have strengthened overall. Particularly after 2006, the percentage of churchgoers expressing uncertainty dropped from 21% in 2006 to ~13-15% in the following years. Thus revealing a strengthening commitment to a sense of environmental responsibility.
There has been a steady rate of around 7-8 in ten church attenders who agree Christians have an environmental responsibility to be active about environmental issues, of which around 5 in ten are currently active.
A much smaller proportion of churchgoers, around only 7-8% disagree. This has remained fairly consistent over those years.
To further explore the level of attenders’ actions, in 2016 and 2021 we asked churchgoers who agreed they had a responsibility to actively care for the environment, if they personally were very active, a little active or not active at all in caring for the environment.
Between 2016 and 2021 those who were very active remained relatively stable at 21-22%.
However, there was a slight rise in the proportion of churchgoers who were a little active (43% up from 40%), and a slight drop of those who were not active (27% down from 31%).
So, overall levels of active care for the environment rose between 2016 and 2021.
Just over half of churchgoers believe that caring for the earth should be part of the mission of the Church.
In 2021, some 24% of churchgoers indicated that they believed caring for the earth should be an essential part of the Church’s mission (a 4 percentage point decrease from 2016, but higher than in 2011), and 30% believed it should be part of the mission but not an essential part as there are greater mission priorities. Some 28% believed it should be part of the church’s responsibility, but not understood as the church’s mission, while 9% didn’t know and 8% didn’t think the environment should be a priority at all.
From these results we see that, while in the context of other issues, the environment remains a moderate concern, a vast majority of church leaders and attenders agree Christians have an environmental responsibility. Church leaders have slightly higher levels of agreement than churchgoers that Christians have a responsibility to be active. They were also more likely to be personally active compared to churchgoers. Around half of churchgoers see caring for the earth as part of the Church’s mission.
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