The following article is by Murray Campbell, lead pastor at Mentone Baptist Church in Chelteham, Victoria. It was developed as a tool for understanding the context for ministry in Melbourne and was graciously made avail

able to Geneva Push as we turn our attention this month to stories and resources that focus particularly on urban church planting in Australia.

Murray was also happy to give us a personal 'on the streets' insight into Melbourne – you can watch hit here!


A story of two cathedrals


Standing in the heart of Melbourne city is a memorial to a yesteryear that exists only in the mind, and only in some minds of some.  St Paul’s Cathedral, with it’s imposing neo-gothic architecture and towering spires, reminds the city of a Christianity that has never really taken root, but has nonetheless always had a presence in the community. Today, many thousands of people walk and drive past its newly restored front doors, although very few ever stop to enter in and even fewer ever consider attending a service there. Christianity has had a place in Melbourne’s maturation since the earliest days in the 1830s but it has never been accepted as the way and the truth and the life. It is a worldview that is fine to hold so long as it remains your belief and you don’t try to impose either the belief or its values onto others.
Melbourne has a second Cathedral, a much more recognisable and popular Cathedral, the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) or just ‘the G’ for short—don’t we always give nicknames to the things we love the most. Every weekend 10,000s of people pass by St Paul’s on Flinders St on the tram and head down the MCG to watch cricket in summer and football (that’s Aussie Rules Football) in winter. In 1956 the MCG hosted the Olympic Games. Across the road from the MCG is Melbourne’s Abbey, the Rod Laver Arena, where the Australian Tennis Open is played every year, and down the road is a cloister called Albert Park where Formula 1 racing cars congregate every Marchintone their Gregorian harmonies every March. We love our sport; even other Australians think that we are too fond of our sport.  With great irony however, the record for biggest attendance at the MCG comes not from a sporting event but from the Billy Graham crusade of 1959! Unsurprisingly though, not many people in Melbourne know that.
Structure for this paper:
1. Notes about Research Data
2. Fast facts about Melbourne
3. A sketch of Melbourne life
4. How Melbourne views Christianity
5. The state of Christianity in Melbourne 2014
1. Notes about Research Data
There are 3 comments that I need to make in relation to the statistics mentioned in this document:
1. I have relied on 4 sets of research, Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), National Church Life Survey (NCLS), All Melbourne Matters Research and McCrindle Research. Much of this is easily accessible online. For the time being I haven’t worried about citing which of those 4 research groups I’m referring to for every statistic.
2. The numbers regarding Church attendance, I suspect, are inflated. From experience I would argue that when people of religious persuasion are asked about church attendance what they consider regular attendance doesn’t often match what is seen in the pews.
3. The statistic given for the number of Evangelicals in Melbourne is based on my workings and not from those 4 research groups, who never consider such a question. The actual number of evangelical churches may be a bit higher or lower than I’ve estimated.

2. Quick Facts about Melbourne:

Melbourne is the State Capital of Victoria, and was the nation’s capital prior to Canberra being founded. Melbourne is the second largest city in Australia. The population in 2013 stood at 4.2 million and is growing by almost 100,000 people a year. the phrase ‘urban sprawl’ is very true of Melbourne. While the city’s central business district (CBD) is small, Melbourne’s suburbs reach an area of 8800km2

Melbourne was founded in 1835.
Almost 1 in 3 Melbournians were born overseas or have parents who were born overseas. 
1 in 4 households speak a language other than English at home. The most common are Italian, Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese, and Greek.
 the median age is 36.
Whereas Sydney was first settled as a penal colony, Melbourne was settled for its pastures and the potential for creating wealth. By the 1850s, with the gold rush, Melbourne was all about fortunes and for a few short years in the late 1800s she became the wealthiest city in the world.
There is a significant rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne. Sydney is in New South Wales, and New South Wales car number plates carry the tagline “The premier state”. That’s how arrogant Sydneysiders are. Melburnians, while they are fully convinced in their own minds that Melbourne is by far the superior city, do from time cast wistful glances at the iconic Opera House and Harbour Bridge. But never mind, who needs a glorified theatre and a rusty old bridge when you have Flinders Street Station and Federation Square?

3. A sketch of Melbourne

1. Melbourne is liveable. Melbourne is regularly awarded the highly subjective title of, ‘the world’s most liveable city’, an award that rotates between ourselves, Vancouver and Vienna. No-one quite knows what “liveable” means, but Melburnians think it’s pretty cool nonetheless.

2. Melbourne is beautiful. We are no Montreal or Paris, but the expansive parks that surround the city and leafy suburbs that extend for kilometres are really quite wonderful. In summer people take a picnic dinner to watch Shakespeare in the Botanic Gardens or a Symphony concert in the adjacent park. 
3. Melbourne is fiercely competitive. We want every major sporting event to be held here (and most of them have been). We’ve hosted almost everything except for the Soccer World Cup (still trying!) and we also believe that we’re clearly the best place to hold the Super Bowl. We call ourselves the sporting capital of the nation, the cultural capital, the fashion capital and the food capital and over all best bloke capital! If someone somewhere in the world is compiling a list of the best universities we expect ours to be mentioned, if it’s world famous scientists we assume we’ll be overrepresented, if it’s fine dining, of course we can beat the French…almost.
4. Melbourne is successful. I’ve already mentioned some of notable sporting events that are hosted in Melbourne, but there are more. But seriously, our affluence communicates something about our values but also our successes in creating and managing the most prosperous city in the world.
5. Melbourne is arrogant.
Here’s a snapshot of how Melbournians relate to the rest of Australia:
-We like Tasmanians because they’re like a younger sibling to us and they are so lucky to have as an older brother.
-We laugh at Queenslanders because they are slow and talk funny.
-We don’t like Adelaide because they want to prove themselves to be our equal and we know they’re not.
-We have an eternal grudge match against Sydney. We dislike Sydney so much that our newspapers have a mandatory editorial published every month about why Melbourne is better than Sydney. We know we’re superior to Sydney, if only the world we recognize that fact. What makes this rivalry almost unbearable is that when a Melbournian meets a Sydney-sider, this northern neighbor is usually oblivious to the fact that the two cities are meant to be at war. Most foreigners think that Sydney is the capital of Australia. When we’ve stopped laughing at this ludicrous conceit, we take it as a personal insult.
-We would also take issue with Perth but Perth is so remote we can’t be bothered to yawn at their cultural insignificance…although we happily take our share of their billions from the mining industry boom.
And what about the rest of the world? Every year we pump ourselves up with self-adoration and we award ourselves with medals for competitions that don’t exist…because we are best. Right now our State Art Gallery is showing off an exhibit about, you guessed it, Melbourne and why Melbourne beats the rest. When one considers the age of many world cities Melbourne is a teenager, and we frequently behave as such. We do have a mark on the global map, but it is not a big and significant as we pretend.
6. Melbourne is secular. In 2012 Melbourne hosted the World Atheist Convention, where many of the world’s leading atheist thinkers gathered and waved their pom poms of unbelief.
7. Melbourne is expensive. This wasn’t always true but over the last decade house prices, food and general living costs have forgotten all sensibilities and have made us one of the 20 most expensive cities in the world. We’re not as expensive as Sydney though.
8. Food matters.
9.Coffee is our choice of drug. Seattle can keep Starbucks. Melbourne has seriously good coffee, and it’s everywhere now. New York is probably 5 years behind Melbourne and would be further behind if it were not for the Aussies establishing new cafes around Manhattan and Brooklyn.
10. Sport is god. Perhaps this popular view is an exaggeration; it would be more accurate to say that sport is a high priest who serves the gods of pleasure, freedom and comfort, three things that Melbournians seek more than anything else.
11. The school you attend is often critical for setting pathways to study and vocation. Melbourne sees itself as a wonderfully egalitarian city, having thrown off the stifling constrictions of the English class system. Only some are more equal than others, and those who have been to the “best” schools are more equal than most.
12. Melbourne is relatively safe. We have serious crime and there are areas where one wouldn’t walk at night, but over all it is fairly safe.
13. We have significant issues in the community with alcohol abuse (especially among teenagers), violence against women, child abuse is rampant, divorce, gambling, and poverty looms as a greater problem due to the rapid rise of everyday living costs.
14. Political Correctness is mandatory, except when a journalist or academic wants to remind the city of how evil Christians are and how the Church is filled with every kind of phobia.
15. You won’t see any kangaroos hopping down main street, and you probably won’t step on a venomous snake, although that does happen on occasion.
16. Certain shibboleths crop up regularly in Australian culture in general and Melbourne culture in particular. Everyone must be given, or must be thought to be given, a “fair go”, and those going through hard times like to be thought of as “doing it tough”.
4. How Melbourne views Christianity:
In the latest national census 70% of Melbournians believe in God or a god(s) of some form, and 30% ticked the ‘no religion’ box. This doesn’t mean that 30% of Melbournians are atheist, but that 1.3 million no longer identify themselves with any religion. It is difficult to know what percentage is in fact intellectually atheistic.

We are a multi-cultural city, and one of the by-products is that we are a multi-faith city. Today when one drives along Springvale Rd (major north-south road in the East), one passes not Churches but Temple after Temple built for Buddhist worshipers. 58% of the population still identify themselves as Christian (this is gradually declining) and around 12% identify with one of the many other religions represented in the city (and these numbers are growing). The second largest group are the ‘no religion’ demographic.
In my view these are the dominant attitudes toward Christianity in Melbourne:
1. Suspicion. Australians are anti-institutional and don’t like people who impose beliefs or morality onto them (that’s the Australian egalitarianism coming through again). Problems caused by sectarianism in the early-mid 20th Century left a bad taste in people’s mouths and child abuse in different denominations has understandably caused significant damage to the reputation of Churches.
2. A help to society. The major denominations each have organisations that work among the poor and elderly, some with the homeless, mentally ill and refugees. In recent years the Federal Govt made available Christian chaplains to schools to help with the growing social problems facing children and families. On the high street of most suburbs you will find a “Salvos” (Salvation Army) charity shop. Many people appreciate that Christians help others, but they are not keen to hear the Gospel that is responsible for Christians wanting to serve others.
3. Irrelevant. While Churches may assist people who are in need, most Melbournians don’t fall into that category and see the Church and Christianity as irrelevant. We are so prosperous, comfortable and secure that we don’t need God. To believe in God would be a net loss. We don’t need heaven because we’re enjoying heaven now.
4 The enemy. If universities, politicians and the media held the sum total of views, Christianity would be outlawed in Melbourne. Anti-Christian sentiment in the academy and popular media is very strong and very public.
5. Anti-intellectual and non-scientific. Please, this is the twenty-first century.
5. The state of Christianity in Melbourne 2014
What we are seeing in Melbourne is the slow but certain decline of mainstream Christianity and the growth of Evangelical Christianity.
-There are around 1900 churches in Melbourne (2009 figures).
– While it is difficult to know with accuracy how many people regularly attend Church in Melbourne, 8% seems to be the most agreed-upon figure. Half of this 8% attend Catholic Churches. The other 4% is made of Protestant and Orthodox Churches. Of that 4% no more than one third attend an evangelical church, thus evangelicalism accounts for 1-1.5% of Melbourne’s population. Even by Australian standards this number is terribly small.
– 3% of 15-24s attend church (that is the total number between Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox).
– 2 out of every 3 church-attenders is over the age of 45.
– Very few churches exist in the growth corridors of Melbourne (I’m referring to the newly established suburbs on the outskirts where 10,000s of people are moving every year).
– Evangelical churches are represented in much larger numbers in the city and in the (more affluent) eastern suburbs and they are few in number across the north, west and south. That means there are areas where the evangelical presence is very small indeed. Some regions may have 200,000 or more residents and almost no evangelical churches.  This is a big contrast to Sydney, where the evangelical church is much stronger.
-Not only are there many suburbs with little or no Gospel presence, there are growing subcultures that we are yet to reach including many migrants groups.
– The All Melbourne Matters study suggests that Church attendance will drop from around 300,000 in 2009 to 220,000 by 2026, while the population will increase to 5 million. That means there are already more people going to the football each week than there are Christians worshipping God together.
Opportunities and positives:

1. Because there are so many people and so few Gospel-centred Churches, there are opportunities to plant churches and revitalize dying churches everywhere. We have millions of people who have never heard the Gospel explained to them.
2. There are lots of young guys reading/listening to Piper, Keller, Driscoll et al, and through these voices they are discovering Reformed theology, learning about the primacy of Scripture and about God’s deserved glory.
3. University ministries are strong: still small in numbers but growing. Monash University for example, which is Australia’s largest university (66,000 students), has a growing Christian Union group and as part of that they have a thriving ministry among international students (there are over 22,000 students from SE Asia and elsewhere), and it is a place where graduating students become ministry apprentices. University ministry is one of the most strategic places to work for the future of the Gospel in Melbourne.
4. Ridley College, over the last 5-10 years has been enjoying its highest recorded student intakes.
5. City Bible Forum (, a ministry that began 4 years ago in the city that’s purposed to help Christians engage with the business world. They organise events, involved with discipleship and provide resources.
6. Centre of Biblical Preaching ( While CBP has only been running for 2 years it has great potential for training and mentoring preachers for Melbourne Churches.
7. Church planting is on the agenda for a growing number of churches and there are young guys now meeting around the city to think about it and encourage each other. New churches are starting up across Melbourne which is very exciting. Among the Reformed camp TheGenevaPush and Acts29 are both planting churches (around 8 churches in total over the last 5 years) and possible CitytoCity Churches. Many denominations are also planting churches.
8. Melbourne is a strategic city for reaching the rest of Australia and with its close proximity to Asia there are more and more opportunities arising, not least with students coming to study here from China, Malaysia and Singapore.
9. Many independent Chinese churches have begun over the last 20 years, and many Asian congregations have started up within existing denominational churches. It is among these migrants groups Melbourne Churches are experiencing much of their growth.  

i. Apathy among Christians. Like unbelievers, Melbourne Christians enjoy a lifestyle that would astound even millions of people in the West. Our mud pies are rather better than other people’s and, we think, deeply satisfying. We have worked and saved everything we have for a crumpled photocopy of a Picasso when God is offering, as a loving gift, the originals…all of them. 
ii. Blindness of society – 2 Corinthians 4:3-6
iii. Theological Liberalism controls many of the theological colleges, denominational leadership positions, and often the purse strings. Gospel-centred Churches often find themselves battling against the very people who by name ought to be encouraging and equipping them.
iv. Tribalism. Evangelicals make up only a small percentage of the overall Christian population, and yet Melbourne has a history of these small groups being unable to work together. This may be denominational differences, arguing over spiritual gifts, over the points of Calvinism (you think there are only five!?), styles of music, views about the role of women in church leadership, where you did your ministry training, are you from Sydney (inevitably), and on it goes. Melbourne evangelicals, even the Reformed guys, are suspicious of one another, that we might steal people or pollute one another’s orthodoxy.  I know more than one Christian leader from the United States who, having spent time in Melbourne, has observed this insane and dumbfounding tribalism. It is like a football team deciding that they would prefer to play against each other rather than play as a team and win the game.
In conclusion, there is an immense task ahead for Gospel-centred Churches in Melbourne; there is apathy from unbelievers, criticism from mainstream Christianity, and competitiveness and sectarianism from within the Reformed camp. But the opportunities are huge. Every region in this city has 100,000s of people who are made in the image of God and who need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. We need to pray and preach for God to awaken sleeping Christians and give life to the dead, and a humble Gospel-centred vision to work together in prayer, training and resourcing so that we might reach this great city for Christ