Yet, a couple of years ago I met with Gold Coast Christian radio station 107.3 promoter Hayden Whitworth, and he utilised the latest published figures to illustrate that the Christian marketplace on Queensland's Gold Coast is well and truly open for business.
I am pleased to report that his statistics have varied very little and what was in evidence then remains much the same. The statistics then showed that twenty percent of Gold Coast (and Sunshine Coast) residents attend church regularly, and a whacking seventy percent are fellow travellers with Christian beliefs.
Whitworth was amazed by the diversity of 107.3 listeners who ring into his program, giving as one example, a caller who was a young woman who listens regularly, who has a partner and a tiny tot and spoke about how she yearned to be a believer in Jesus Christ.
"A completely different demographic is on a building site, where the men tune in to our 10.30am Focus on the Family program," Hayden Whitworth said. "Having guffawed at first when the Christian among them tuned it in, they now ensure one of them always turns the radio on at 10.30."
In my view, now having lived at the southern end of the Gold Coast for seven years, there are a number of factors why these tourism (Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast) areas have a high Christian commitment.
The real community is hidden
The tourism culture 'hides the community' and the residents who make up the permanent community sees the tourist market for what it is – 'simply glitter'. The community members have families and homes. Parents who see this surface glitter want to protect their children from the worst of what they see 'at work'. Belonging to a congregation is one way to imbue honest moral values."
Because they see first hand the sense of the ridiculous, where reality and normality play little part of what happens to visitors on holidays, that when the permanent residents return to their homes, they want a sense of reality and normality.
There are other factors too that might be a factor in the high Church attendance. One is that the area has attracted a significant population of New Zealanders and Melanesians who come from church-attending cultures.
Upmarket form of worship
Another consideration is the growing Protestant and Pentecostal scene, with upmarket forms of worship that involve a plethora of weekly activities that cater for various members of a family. I recently attended two of these types of churches, one a Pentecostal and one a Protestant congregation.
One can find any number of volunteer activities within these congregations. In one instance, the 'grey set' manufactures teddy bears for third world children during the day. In others there are voluntary church-run children's occasional care catering for babies, toddlers, after school primary-school children and activities for teenagers; and there are often ranges of cooperative evening groups for young adults, from student 'singles' to young marrieds.
The twenty percent, based on a one million population over the broader Gold Coast and hinterland regions, this figure would actually incorporate in some way a much wider cross section of the community than a simple 'Church on Sunday' count.
To give a different kind of representation, the Uniting Church on the Sunshine Coast with its Retirement villages, upmarket Camp sites, Day Care facilities and the like, is the region's third largest employer.
Classic examples of church construction
To cater for the increasing demand of people wanting involvement in Christian activities, the Reverend Russell Hinds, who was on the Gold Coast and now at Cabarita on the Tweed Coast has twice now constructed church buildings in 'three days'. The first was Helensvale in 1990 and the second was the 'Gold Coast Family Church' at Mudgeeraba in 2005.
These huge multi purpose buildings' concrete floors are already poured. When all approvals are done, with local Council support, a huge team of professional volunteers from all over Australia come together on a weekend, and 'up she goes'. The congregation's activities are ready to roll from day one.
The need for Christian worship in tourism areas is indeed significant. The Gold Coast is sometimes thought of as 'tinsel towns', yet clearly, there is an increasing variety and number of Church activities. These Christian churches cater for ordinary families who are the backbone of the area, in order that 'Australians at Play' can have a 'decent' place for their holidays.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html