LOSING FAITH: 2011 AND 2016 census data reveals a decline in Tradtitional Regions and a rise in Atheism and Pentacostalism accorss the Northern Rivers.
LOSING FAITH: 2011 AND 2016 census data reveals a decline in Tradtitional Regions and a rise in Atheism and Pentacostalism accorss the Northern Rivers. Max Fleet

Region's top religions revealed ... it's not what you think

THE Northern Rivers is losing faith while turning toward an "unlikely" religion, Australia's leading demographer Bernard Salt has revealed.

By crunching numbers from the 2011 and 2016 census, Mr Salt revealed the religion that gained the most popularity across the Northern Rivers was "no religion" or atheism followed by the "up-and-comer", and Prime Minister Scott Morrison's faith of choice, Pentecostalism.

Further, the figures revealed nationally, atheism had increased by 45 percent over five years.

"Census data revealed between 2011 and 2016 the atheist overtook the Catholic as the single largest belief system in Australia with about 7 million preferring it out of 25 million," he said

"That's an enormous jump.

"The most popular religious belief system in Australia is 'no belief'.

"I think it's a response to the royal commission into child abuse ... it's a statement by middle Australians who are generally conservative people who no longer wish to identify with religious affiliations."

Atheism across the Northern Rivers as a whole increased by 41 percent, with Ballina proving the most God-less and moving towards atheism faster than the Australian average, by rising by 50 per cent.

But Byron Bay's "God-less" only rose by 32 per cent, which Mr Salt put down to the influx of atheism there in the 80s and 90s.

He put Ballina's increase down to being "a conservative community that is adopting progressive values, a growing population and more likely to have urban-educated, critical thinking atheist type views".

Clarence Valley followed suit with an increase of 42, then Richmond Valley by 42 per cent, Lismore by 33 per cent and Kyogle by 22 per cent.

"As you move away from the coast the population becomes more God faring with more traditional values," he said.

"Where as the people on the coast may have more urban values."

Aside from atheism, Pentecostalism was also on the rise and was the only other religion to increase in Byron Bay.

"Pentecostals are the 11th largest religious religious group in Australia. There is about 260,000 of them Australia, with the number increasing by six percent over the preceding five years," he said.

"It's almost like you have two extremes - at one end you would have an atheist and the other Pentecostal - and they are both growing in Byron Bay."

Across the board, 8 per cent of the region was Pentecostal.

Mr Sale said religious preference often came down to how active the actual church was.

"There has been quite a development of the Pentecostal Church in the Gold Coast, which may reach down and collect a congregation from Byron Bay, but no further," he said.

"What it shows is there is a fundamental market in spirituality and there are a variety of forms - and it doesn't suit everyone- but some want the comfort and the prospect of salvation and support of spirituality and the Pentecostal Church seems to be doing it for some people in Byron.

"But religious preference is primarily driven by age and the stage of life."