Seeking spiritual connection
AUSTRALIA might be an increasingly secular country, but growing numbers of church-goers are proof that people in Hervey Bay are still seeking a connection to Christ.
Pastor Ross Davie, from Bayside Christian Church, said his congregation had doubled in size during the past five years.
"The church had about 75 people regularly attending when we arrived in 2001," Pastor Davie said.
"Now over 500 people attend Sunday services, with several hundred other people involved in our various activities during the week for youth, children, families and older people.
"As the financial pressures increase and also the breakdown of many families and relationships occurs, I am seeing many more people reaching out to Jesus and the church for help, support and change in their lives."
He said as the number of attendees grew, many more families and youths became involved in the church.
"We also have a vibrant connection with people from many nationalities especially Africa and Asia," he said.
"We are less formal and religious than some churches which makes us different but we work in unity with all the other churches and denominations in our city."
The latest Census results showed that almost 24% of people in Hervey Bay said they were Anglican - more than 13,200 people.
Robert Perry, the rector at St John's Anglican Church, said the number did not surprise him as many Anglicans had moved to the area and average attendance figures had grown in the past five years.
"There have been increases in the number of younger couples with and without young children joining our faith community and because of this, the average age is lower now than five years ago," he said.
With about 22% of the country proclaiming in the latest Census that they had no religion, Rev Perry said it may be that many people now identified as "spiritual" rather than belonging to a particular church.
"You would probably find that a percentage of the no religion group would have some sort of faith in a higher being but not belong to a specific denomination," he said.
"Denominational loyalty for many has little importance today."
He said the Anglican church was welcoming and catered to different styles of worship.
"It's a new expression of 'church' that is relevant to today's society," he said.
Hervey Bay Catholic Parish's Father Joseph-Hien Van Vo said about 700 people attended masses at St Joseph's, Howard and Burrum Heads each week - including increasing numbers of children.
"Visitors sometimes comment on our music and meaningful service, so perhaps that is also what attracts people," he said.
"Our church is here to nurture the spiritual life of our people, so they are able to go into the world and do God's work in their own families and workplaces.
"We also work hard to bring God's word to our young people, especially through our two schools, Star of the Sea and Xavier Catholic College."
As well as being closely aligned with the two schools, his church also shares a strong relationship with the other Christian churches in Hervey Bay, sharing various activities with them throughout the year.
"People have a yearning for God - or a need for something spiritual in their lives and, despite the increasing secularity of our society, this need is still very evident in the people we see," he said.