The churches will be packed this Easter, according to Christian leaders who believe the demise of religion has been exaggerated.
After the last census in 2021, much was made of the finding that for the first time less than half of Australians identified as Christian (though Christianity remained the nation's most common religion, declared by 44 per cent of people).
Meanwhile, the number of Australians who said they had no religion rose to 39 per cent in 2021 compared with 30 per cent in 2016.
In and around Canberra, a majority (50.1 per cent) identified as Christian - but down from 60 per cent five years earlier.
The big changes in the Canberra region between the censuses were:
- Anglican (-9249 persons)
- Catholic (-2499 persons)
- Uniting Church (-1692 persons)
- Hinduism (+1641 persons)
But the Reverend David McLennan of St John's Church in Reid believes the apparent decline in religion was not as steep as it appeared because some people who had stopped ticking the Christian box in recent censuses hadn't been very devout anyway.
"I suspect that the real decline was especially pronounced among those for whom religion was a cultural or historical signifier," he said.
But the stats, including the census combined with aging parishioners, spurred churches into action. "There was a realisation that if we didn't make an effort to connect to a new generation, then it suggests that we weren't confident in our message, and, secondly, that the negative trends would continue."
One Anglican parish he knew had found the money to employ a youth worker. As a result, it had seen an influx of young people. "The fastest growing services is the young person's service."
Catholic parishes have received hope from a different direction: an influx of migrants, particularly from countries with large Catholic populations in South America or the Philippines.
"If you go to the outer suburbs, you will find that to be the case," Father Tony Percy said. His church in Queanbeyan would have an "enormous crowd" on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
He concedes that "religious practice is not what it was but that doesn't mean that religious sentiment has declined".
The Catholic church's latest profile of the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn (albeit done in 2016) shows growing numbers of those "born overseas in non-English-speaking countries" and of those "who speak a language other than English at home".
"There's no shortage. There are quite a lot of young families who are turning to faith," Father Tony Percy in Queanbeyan said.
Anglican churches in Canberra have been weighing up how to be both contemporary and modern - without diluting the central Christian message.
Reverend McLennan at St John's mixes the traditional with the more modern in different services across the day to cater for all tastes. His church keeps quite a lot of tradition, sometimes using the Prayer Book of 1662, for example.
"For a number of young people, that's very attractive," he said.