In our aggressively secular age, there are many reasons to believe the Church is on the back-foot, but when Pete Greig recently visited Melbourne to help launch 24-7 Prayer Australia, he sensed God on the move in a fresh way


Sydney, Australia

Could Australia actually, weirdly be building towards a major move of God?

Look, I realise it seems like a ridiculous question. Smacks of naivety. Whiffs of hype.

But as I reflect on our recent time in Melbourne (helping launch 24-7 Prayer Australia), and then on #TheGoldCoast (at the inaugural Exponential Australia church planting conference) I’m surprised to find myself wondering if revival might indeed be stirring Down Under.

I’m surprised because, well, let’s be honest, this isn’t the way we think of Australia. Beaches, blokes and barbies? Yes. A nation primed for revival? Not so much.

And of course the signs of rampant secularism and systemic church decline are easy to observe.

Post-Christian church

For instance, in Melbourne my friend Mark Sayers, a brilliant cultural apologist, took Sammy and me to a splendid, old ecclesial building in which a community is busy synthesising its own new religion blending secular humanism (all the usual stuff), with eastern mysticism, and a seasoning of those bits of the Bible which they (currently) wish to retain. Worryingly this self-confessingly ‘post-Christian church’ in the heart of Melbourne retains its membership within one of Australia’s largest denominations.

Walking a little further into the city we came upon Foundry Lane and ‘Wesley Place’, where Methodists once ministered to the urban poor, preached the gospel and worshipped the Lord Jesus Christ. Their former buildings – a church, a manse, and a school-house/dispensary – have become immaculate monuments to truths no longer held. Perfect punchlines to long-forgotten jokes. In this place the iconography and history of Methodism have been meticulously preserved, but the beliefs that burned in the heart of its founder (who stands in stone outside) appear to have been meticulously expunged.

Seeing such signs of decline, is it really even remotely tenable to think that such a secular nation could turn again to Christ?

The dogs that died

Writing at the end of the 19th century, when Wesley Place was in full swing as a centre of dynamic Christian witness, G. K. Chesterton observed wryly that “On five occasions in history the Church has gone to the dogs, but on each occasion, it was the dogs that died.”

Could it actually, counterintuitively, be the dogs and not the Church that will take a turn for the worse in Australia?

There is increasing evidence that Westerners, far from becoming more secular, are becoming spiritually hungry. Research commissioned by Alpha discovered that one in four Australians would willingly come to church if invited. Let that sink in! One quarter of the population – more than 6 million people – await a half-decent, reasonably friendly invite to church.

What’s more, a whopping 70 per cent of this supposedly secular nation freely admit that they regularly talk to the God they’re no longer supposed to believe in. (This is higher than the UK and many parts of America.)

70% of this supposedly secular nation pray

Meanwhile, in spite of such extraordinary opportunity, another study has discovered that only 2 per cent of Australian churches have any kind of vision for growth and multiplication.

I’m reminded of Jesus’ words: “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few” (‭‭Matthew‬ ‭9‬:‭37‬).

Turns out that the challenge we’re facing in Australia (and, I suspect, in many other Western nations too) is not at all what we’ve been told. The problem we face is less spiritual apathy in society than spiritual complacency in the church. Like Wesley Place, we have buildings and history without the faith and the fire of our forefathers.

Jesus continues: “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (v38‬) Before we turn in blind panic to plans, programmes and projects, looking for a solution, Jesus says that we must return to the Lord of the Harvest in prayer. We must ask because, as John Wesley himself said: “God does nothing in the earth save in answer to believing prayer. And as the late, great New Zealander Joy Dawson said: ‘Anything not born in prayer, is born in pride.”

Supernatural commission

It was in response to this specific challenge that a group of senior Australian leaders approached 24-7 Prayer, asking us to help mobilise a fresh movement of prayer in their nation. We are acutely aware that many others have been praying for many years, and that we are just a small part of something much bigger, but it certainly felt timely to be holding our first National Gathering last week in Melbourne.

Our new National Director, Trudi Sayers, had literally journeyed through cancer and chemotherapy to make it to this moment, and we were blown away by the response. So many people came from all across Australia and New Zealand that we couldn’t fit in our original venue and had to move to a larger space, which was also filled.

The hunger and the stories among those gathered were incredible. I talked to a young Indian man called Johan who is studying in Melbourne. He explained how God had spoken to him several weeks ago, calling him to mobilise 24-7 Prayer on his university campus before he knew anything about us or our launch! Over the years I’ve learned to pay attention to signs like these; indicators that the Lord is going ahead of us.


From Melbourne Sammy and I flew up to the (distinctly sunnier) Gold Coast for the first Australian Exponential Conference. Exponential is a proven and powerful ministry with which we’ve partnered elsewhere in the world, committed to catalysing effective church multiplication. Their thrilling vision in Australia is to grow the number of multiplying churches from just 2 per cent to 10 per cent over the next ten years.

One of the other speakers was Melinda Dwight who said that Alpha in Australia expects to welcome their millionth guest on the course by 2025. And then they are working towards another million guests in the decade after that, half of whom will be under the age of 35. God willing this means that one in every 26 Australians will explore the gospel through Alpha in the next 10 years, not just once, but over an eleven week journey. (To put a grid on this, it’s the equivalent of 13 million Americans doing Alpha.)

Sober hope

Clearly a couple of cool conferences can’t change the world! I don’t want to overstate their significance. The challenges are vast and we are very small. And of course many others have been at this far longer and far better than us. Millions of Australians in many different denominations are reeling from public scandals, while weeping over loved-ones who’ve abandoned the Family of God. For them the church still seems very much to be going to the dogs, and if anything, the dogs seem healthier and more numerous than ever.

But these two conferences do at least represent something bigger than themselves: a new ambition in the nation; a willingness to conspire cross-denominationally to serve existing networks and ministries with new spiritual and strategic resources at a time of increasing spiritual hunger. They are at the very least a Wesleyan ‘method’.

These initiatives are not everything we’re praying for, but they are certainly something.

It’s something significant when prayer is growing again in Australia, and when churches are being mobilised in new ways to multiply. It’s something significant when the vast majority of Australians are actually praying, and one quarter of them are interested in attending church. And it’s certainly something significant when one million Australians will soon have explored the gospel through Alpha.

There is good reason for hope, but none for hype. Many parts of the Australian church do indeed seem to be ‘going to the dogs’, but Jesus insists, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew‬ ‭16‬:‭18‬).

Perhaps Chesterton’s right and it’s the dogs of secular humanism that really need to worry!