Eumundi’s last church closes its doors, as more Australians identify as having no religion


October 06, 2019 09:30:05

Every Sunday, for the past 66 years, people would take out their Bibles and meet at a quaint church in the Sunshine Coast hinterland town of Eumundi.

Key points:

  • Eumundi’s last church has closed due to low attendance by locals
  • Forty-three per cent of people in the town identify as having no religion
  • In the 2016 Census, 30 per cent of Australians said they weren’t religious, compared to 19 per cent in 2006

That was until two weeks ago when the Eumundi Community Church, the last church in the town, officially closed its doors.

The congregation at the Presbyterian church was a mix of local families and members of the church’s sister gathering in Maroochydore.

However, the assistant minister, Sam Argent, said few locals regularly attended the Sunday morning service.

“Everyone who was going didn’t live in the area,” Mr Argent said.

“We had — I think — one to two families or couples that use to come together. The locals were all off elsewhere, not going to church, or going to churches elsewhere.”

He said the church tried to publicise its service in town but continuing low numbers led to the decision to close its doors.

“We made sure we were in the business … getting to know as many people as we could in the town. We gave it a fair crack.”

The 2016 Census showed 43 per cent of people in Eumundi, population 2,221, identified as having ‘no religion’ making the town one of the most ‘godless’ suburbs of Queensland.

The town ranks as the 15th-highest Queensland suburb where people identify as having no religion.

Mt Nebo — north-west of Brisbane — recorded the highest no-religion count at 54 per cent but has a population of just 420.

Mr Argent believes the lack of people identifying with religion in Eumundi had a “pretty big impact” on the church.

“If you look at rural communities all over the country, small churches are struggling as it is. Then when you have half the town as non-religious — and even though it’s the only church in town — people still went elsewhere.”

He said people preferred the “real big ones” like Hillsong in the nearby suburb of Noosa.

The building is located on Eumundi’s leafy main street and Mr Argent said it could now be used for a community hall or future church but “at that point, it won’t be up to us”.

New lives for church buildings

The town has a long history of church buildings being repurposed, with the town’s visitor centre once home to a Methodist church.

Discover Eumundi Heritage and Visitor Centre manager Wendy Birrell said prior to the historical association’s purchase of the building, the church was “really big”.

“It had a Sunday school out the back and there are people here in their, probably from about their 50s who remember coming to Sunday school,” Ms Birrell said.

St Ita’s Catholic Church is another example. Today, it’s a home in the town.

“[Former prime minister] Kevin Rudd use to go there for Sunday school,” Ms Birrell said.

St George’s Church Of England was built in 1912 on Cook Street and is today a house.

“I remember they had a sale of the pews. They had an auction and that was probably [in the] early 2000s,” Ms Birrell said.

‘No religion’ trend on the rise

In recent census surveys, Christianity has been on the decline and ‘no religion’ on the rise.

In 1966, 88 per cent of Australians identified as being Christian, declining to 74 per cent in 1991 and 52 per cent in 2016.

Meanwhile, those identifying as having no religion increased from 19 per cent in 2006 to 30 per cent in 2016.

Demographer Bernard Salt said the trend was “likely to continue over the short to medium term” but predicted a resurgence in the next 10-15 years.

“Say the late 2020s early 2030s, as the baby boomers start to die off, you could find that there is a resurgence in belief, as the baby boomers confront their own mortality,” Mr Salt said.

“We will see a further diminution in the numbers of people declaring allegiance to the Christian faith but later on, beyond that, there could be a market resurgence.

“It could be that we will be looking to recreate or build new churches in the 2030s.

“You may well find that we may need to pump up the pipeline, if you like, to make sure that our spiritual needs are met in the late 2020s or 2030s.”








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