NCLS Research

Migration patterns (2011)

Country of birth Migrants in cities.png

Australia is ethnically and culturally diverse. In mid-2013, 27.7 percent of Australia’s estimated resident population was born overseas, numbering 6.4 million people.1 The 2011 census reported that a further 20 percent of residents had at least one parent born overseas.2

About one-fifth of Australia’s migrants were born in the United Kingdom. The next most common source countries for migration were New Zealand, followed by mainland China, India, Italy and Vietnam. Together, these six countries comprise the birth countries of almost half of the migrant population3. India is the leading birth place for recent arrivals, followed closely by the United Kingdom. Eight of the top ten birth countries of Australia’s recent migrants are Asian.4

Australia’s migration patterns create opportunities for local churches. Migrants come from a wide host of birth countries, carrying their own cultural links and ethnic backgrounds. Increasing diversity gives churches a chance to engage with people from many nations, all within their own neighbourhoods. Local churches can help to prevent fragmentation in the community by providing social hubs where people from different backgrounds can gather and belong.

The proportion of migrants in Australia’s churches is similar to the proportion in the broader population. Eleven percent of the national population are from English speaking countries (outside Australia), and this is mirrored in church populations. Twenty percent of Australia’s population are from non-English speaking countries, compared to 23 percent of church attenders.5 While these broad patterns are helpful, each local area is unique in how its migrant population is constituted. Churches can access information on their local area’s migration patterns and review how well their church reflects the diversity of the community. This is especially relevant for churches in major cities. Most migrants live in urban areas, particularly in the inner city and near universities. Just under half of all migrants live in either Sydney or Melbourne, followed by Perth.6

For a local church in an area with high inflows of new arrivals, practical initiatives can be a good starting point. Language programs and housing assistance, for example, may help new people to connect to the church community.

While it is important for churches to make connections with new arrivals, the fact remains that many migrants are well-established, having been in Australia for decades. In 2011, the median length of residence for migrants in Australia was 20 years.7 However, this does not mean that longer-standing migrants do not continue to hold strong cultural ties to their countries of origin. Almost half of such migrants speak a language other than English at home.8 Second- and third-generation Australians often maintain significant links to their family’s culture.

Churches can celebrate the rich diversity of their communities by finding ways to express and accommodate different cultures. In regular services, church leaders would do well to use illustrations and language that apply to people from a broad range of backgrounds. A church might host an international meal, where people contribute a dish from their culture. Initiatives like these encourage a sense of unity and sharing in the midst of diversity.

NCLS Research has recently released a new profile of local communities as part of their 2014 Community Connections resources for local churches. Based on national census information, the profiles are uniquely tailored to each individual church within Australia and contain valuable information that can help churches understand their communities and respond to current trends.

See more about NCLS Community Connections Packs 

See Comparing Church and Community: A demographic profile.
NCLS Occasional Paper 19. 


1 Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australia's Population by Country of Birth, 3412.0 - Migration, Australia, 2011-12 and 2012-13. Retrieved from
2 Australian Bureau of Statistics, 3416.0 - Perspectives on Migrants, Mar 2013. Retrieved from
3. Australian Bureau of Statistics, 4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2014. Retrieved from
4 Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2071.0 - Reflecting a Nation: Stories from the 2011 Census, 2012–2013. Retrieved from
5 Mollidor, C., Powell, R., Pepper, M., Hancock, N., (2013) Comparing church and community: A demographic profile, NCLS Research Occasional Paper 19, Catalogue Number 2.13006, Adelaide: Mirrabooka Press. Figure 4, p. 5. The figures for attenders are actually under-estimated, given that non-English speaking congregations are under-represented in the National Church Life Survey.
6 Australian Bureau of Statistics, 4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2014. Retrieved from
7 Australian Bureau of Statistics, 'How long have they lived here?', 4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2014. Retrieved from
8 Australian Bureau of Statistics, Language, 2071.0 - Reflecting a Nation: Stories from the 2011 Census, 2012–2013. Retrieved from

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