Australian church attendance
A pastor-friend asked:
The National Church Life Survey showed that in 1960 41% of the Australian population attended church at least monthly, but by 1980 this figure had declined to 25% and was heading down to 20% by 2000. (Kaldor, Peter et. al. Build My Church: Trends and Possibilities for Australian Churches. Sydney: Openbook, 1999, p.22)
Has anyone got more up-to-date figues from more recent reading or stats for the lastest equivalent figure of church attendance at least monthly?
Grace & peace,
Here’s the best source – http://www.ncls.org.au/
If you follow the links on this site you’ll come across such statistics as below (and much much more):
(Pardon the plain text-mangled formatting, but you’ll get the drift):
* Shalom! Rowland Croucher * * http://jmm.org.au/ * (17,000+ articles, 4000 clean jokes/stories)
Statistics from the latest National Church Life Survey (NCLS) indicate that attendances at church services in the large Christian denominations, including the Catholic Church, are continuing to decline. The present figures were based on a five-yearly survey conducted in 2001 – the previous one being in 1996.
In 2001 around 435,000 church attenders from over 7,000 parishes and congregations in 19 denominations took part. Other figures from surveys conducted by individual churches between 1996 and 2001 were taken into account.
NCLS statistics on beliefs and practices among the Churches will be released during the year and are likely to parallel the decline in church attendances.
Earlier figures from the Catholic Church Life Survey of 1996 (run in conjunction with the NCLS) and surveys of Catholic secondary school students by Br Marcellin Flynn and of students at Australian Catholic University by Professor Denis McLaughlin have indicated low levels of belief and practice among the young Catholics who represent the Church’s future.
For the Catholic Church, the one positive in the latest NCLS survey is that Catholics, while just over a quarter of the population, are by far the nation’s largest church-attenders (50.2 percent). Anglicans are a distant second at 12 percent.
But, compared with 1996, Catholic church attendance has declined by 13 percent. Uniting Church numbers have fallen by 11 percent and Anglicans by just two percent. The Anglican figure, as the NCLS report indicates, “masks different experiences in each diocese” with declines in rural dioceses “counterbalanced by a significant increase in attendance in the Sydney diocese”, by far the largest Anglican diocese.
Significantly, Sydney is Evangelical and conservative, as are the various smaller Protestant denominations that continue to grow, such as the Assemblies of God and the Baptists.
Overall, the NCLS survey predicts a bleak future for the major Churches: “It is now unlikely that the large mainstream denominations, with their older age profiles, will be able to replace the large percentages of attenders who will inevitably be lost to death or infirmity in the coming years.”
The proportion of the Australian population present at church on a typical weekend in 1996 was 9.9 percent; in 2001 it had fallen to 8.8 percent. At the same time, the proportion of people claiming to identify with a Christian denomination had fallen from 71 percent in the 1996 Census to 68 percent in 2001.
Proportions of the memberships of major denominations at church on a typical weekend were as follows: Anglican five percent, Uniting 10 percent (down from 11 percent in 1996) and Catholic 15 percent (down from 18 percent). By contrast, attendance figures for small fundamentalist Christian Churches were high: Churches of Christ 74 percent, Pentecostal 73 percent and Seventh-day Adventist 68 percent.
Declining levels of belief in Church teachings identified by the 1996 Catholic Church Life Survey are likely to parallel the falling church attendances, given that younger attenders have lower rates of belief.
The 1996 survey found only 63 percent of those aged 15-39 attending weekly Mass accepted the central article of Christian faith that “There is one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” while 83 percent of those over 60 did so. 80 percent of those aged over 60 affirmed that the consecrated bread and wine “Truly become the sacred Body and Blood of Christ,” but only half of those under 40 did so.
Under the category of “The Faith Experiences and Beliefs of Church Attenders”, Catholics, compared with the other 21 Christian denominations surveyed, were ranked second last on the proposition: “Strongly agree Christ was God, human, rose from dead.” Presumably non-attending Catholics would have even lower levels of belief.
On the question of abortion, only 36 percent of Mass attending Catholics agreed that “Abortion should never be permitted”, while 10 percent thought “Abortion should be more generally available.”
Media Release – 28th February 2004
Australia is experiencing a dramatic shift in its religious landscape with people flocking to high-energy, contemporary Pentecostal and Evangelical churches, while most traditional denominations are experiencing significant decline.
This is the clear picture presented by the latest National Church Life Survey – the nationwide ‘census’ of Australian church attendance.
Key findings of the changes between 1996 and 2001 include:
· Strong growth in Pentecostal and some Evangelical denominations (eg Baptist)
· Anglican and Protestant denominations grew by 1% as a sector
· Catholic mass attendance declined by an estimated 13%
· Overall, weekly church attendance in Australia declined by 7%
The latest church attendance estimates released by the National Church Life Survey (NCLS) show that the Catholic Church is the largest denomination in Australia, accounting for about half of church attenders in participating denominations (50%). They are followed by Anglican attenders (12%), the Uniting Church (8%), the Baptist Church (7%) and the Assemblies of God (7%).
The 2001 NCLS reveals dramatically varying fortunes among denominations, ranging from 42% growth to 17% decline between 1996 and 2001.
The net growth of Anglican and Protestant denominations (1%) has not been sufficient to counterbalance large declines in Catholic mass attendance, resulting in an overall decline in weekly church attendance of 7%.
Father Brian Lucas is the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference representative on the NCLS Steering Committee. He commented, “The decline of weekly attendance at mass, for us as for other denominations, is of great concern. However, we are heartened that the national census tells us that over 5 million Australians continue to identify themselves as Catholic (27%).”
Declines in the mainstream Anglican and Protestant denominations (Lutheran, Uniting and Presbyterian) appear to have been offset by increases in attendance across some major Evangelical denominations (eg Baptist, Churches of Christ) and Pentecostal denominations (eg Assemblies of God, Christian City Church).
There were significant internal differences within the Anglican Church that point to a similar pattern. An overall decline of 2% in the Anglican Church masks significant falls in attendance in most rural dioceses. Metropolitan dioceses tended to be stable. The exception was the strongly evangelical Sydney Diocese, which grew by 9% over that period.
Asked to comment on the result, Archbishop Peter Jensen said, “It was certainly heartening to note the growth in the Anglican Diocese of Sydney. The Diocese has placed a high priority on finding new ways to take the gospel out to where Australians live and work. This is reflected in the resources being allocated to starting many new Bible-centred meetings in Sydney and the Illawarra through our Mission strategies. However we need to work harder to make our churches more accessible to the many different ethnic groups within our city.”
The growth and decline of churches are the result of several factors affecting both inflow and outflow. “We were not surprised by the patterns” commented Dr Ruth Powell. “The older age profiles of most mainstream denominations mean that older people can no longer attend and they are not being replaced in the same numbers by younger attenders.”
She added, “Growth occurs where denominations are effective in attracting newcomers to church life, while at the same time working to retain teenagers and young adults.”
Among those Pentecostal and Evangelical churches that experienced high levels of growth was the Christian City Churches.
Dr Phil Pringle, founder and President of Christian City Church International, a Pentecostal denomination, commented “Our vision is to preach the gospel and plant churches, ministering to 21st Century men and women in a manner that is both biblical and relevant. This is great news”.
Dr Powell notes that, “While it will be difficult for the church to change its older age profile, the NCLS has demonstrated that even small increases in the proportions of newcomers or decreases in the proportions choosing to leave can have a large impact on future attendance trends, provided such changes can be maintained into the longer term.”
A full report, NCLS Occasional Paper 3: 2001 Church Attendance Estimates, is available from March 1st on the NCLS website – http://www.ncls.org.au.
Table 1: Changes in Weekly Attendance, 1996-2001
Denomination 2001 Estimated Weekly Attendance % change since 1996
Anglican 177700 -2%
Apostolic 9100 20%
Assemblies of God 104600 20%
Baptist 112200 8%
Bethesda Ministries 2700 na
Christian & Missionary Alliance 4100 na
Christian City Churches 11400 42%
Christian Revival Crusade 11400 -7%
Church of the Nazarene 1600 33%
Churches of Christ 45100 7%
Lutheran 40500 -8%
Presbyterian 35000 -3%
Reformed 7100 -1%
Salvation Army 27900 -7%
Seventh-day Adventist 36600 na
Uniting 126600 -11%
Vineyard 2500 -17%
Wesleyan Methodist 3800 -7%
ANGLICAN/PROTESTANT* 759900 1%#
CATHOLIC 764800 -13%
TOTAL 1524700 -7%#
NCLS does not include Eastern Orthodox churches or non-trinitarian denominations such as Latter-day Saints. Decline in some Pentecostal denominations appears to be mainly due to some congregations changing denominational affiliation between 1996 and 2001.
* The total for Anglican/Protestant does not include non-participating Pentecostal and small Protestant denominations and groups. These were estimated in 1996 to total around 130,000 additional attenders.
#Percent change since 1996 excludes Bethesda, C&MA and Seventh-day Adventist.
Australian Bureau of Statistics – 4174.0 Sports Attendance, Australia (02/12/2003)
2001 Census of Population and Housing 2001 Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Catholic Count of Attendance. 2001 National Church Life Survey 2003 Well-being and Security Survey
Church Attendance as a Percentage of the Australian Population
Based on the 2001 NCLS, it is estimated that around 1.5 million people attended services at participating Anglican, Catholic and Protestant denominations each week in 2001. In addition there were another 137,000 people attending small Pentecostal and Protestant denominations and groups, based on 1996 estimates. Assuming that this remnant figure hasn’t changed much since 1996, weekly attendance in 2001 would be about 1,660,000 for Anglican, Catholic and Protestant churches. This equates to 8.8% of a population of 18,769,249.
It should be noted that the weekly attendance estimates discussed here are conservative when it comes to evaluating the proportion of the population that attends church frequently. The reason for this is that people who attend less than weekly will tend to be undercounted in an estimate based on attendance in a typical week. The actual number of Australians attending church say over a month would be expected to be higher, particularly in the larger mainstream denominations.
There is evidence here that the proportion of the population present at church in a typical week has declined since 1996. In 1996, NCLS Research estimated that there were 1,759,000 people present in a typical week in all Anglican, Catholic and Protestant churches (Kaldor et al, 1999, p.15). This equated to 9.9% of the then population of 17,752,829 (Bentley and Hughes, 1998, p.10). Weekly attendance as a proportion of population has thus dropped markedly from 9.9% in 1996 to 8.8% in 2001. This change is due to two factors:
a.. a decrease in church attendance over this period
b.. an increase in the size of the Australian population by around 6% over the same period.
There is other survey evidence that the proportion of the population attending religious services has decreased over the period. The 1998 Australian Community Survey found that 20.0% of the population claimed to attend religious services at least monthly or more often. The 2002 Well-being and Security Survey found that this figure had dropped to 18.6% of the population.
For more detail, see Occasional Paper 3 – 2001 Church Attendance Estimates
Changes in Weekly Attendance
As in the previous NCLS survey, some denominations have declined while others appear to have grown over the five-yearly period (1996-2001).
Declines in mainstream Anglican and Protestant denominations (Lutheran, Presbyterian and Uniting) appear to have been offset by increases in attendance across the remaining Protestant and Pentecostal denominations. However such increases have not been sufficient to counterbalance large continuing declines in Catholic attendance. Consequently it is estimated that attendance fell by around 7% across the participating denominations between 1996 and 2001.
Unlike the previous survey, some Pentecostal denominations have shown a decline in attendance. This appears to be mainly due to some Pentecostal congregations changing their denominational affiliation between 1996 and 2001.
A decline of just 2% in Anglican attendances masks different experiences in each diocese. Significant falls in attendance in most rural dioceses have been counterbalanced by a significant increase in attendance in the Sydney diocese. Other metropolitan dioceses tended to be stable in attendance.
Changes in Weekly Attendance Estimates, 1991 – 2001
Denomination 2001 Estimated Weekly Attendance % Change since 1996 % Change since 1991
Anglican 177700 -2% -7%
Apostolic 9100 20% 32%
Assemblies of God 104600 20% 30%
Baptist 112200 8% 9%
Bethesda Ministries 2700 na na
Christian & Missionary Alliance 4100 na 46%
Christian City Churches 11400 42% na
Christian Revival Crusade 11400 -7% 12%
Church of the Nazarene 1600 33% 33%
Churches of Christ 45100 7% 3%
Lutheran 40500 -8% -18%
Presbyterian 35000 -3% -1%
Reformed 7100 -1% -15%
Salvation Army 27900 -7% 1%
Seventh-day Adventist 36600 na na
Uniting 126600 -11% -22%
Vineyard 2500 -17% na
Wesleyan Methodist 3800 -7% 9%
ANGLICAN & PROTESTANT* 759900 1%# -3%+
CATHOLIC** 764800 -13% na
TOTAL 1524700 -7% na
* For the first time, the Seventh-day Adventist total for 2001 includes congregations that do not own property
** The total for Anglican/Protestant does not include non-participating Pentecostal and small Protestant denominations and groups. These were estimated in 1996 to total around 137,000 additional attenders.
#Percent change since 1996 excludes Bethesda, C&MA and Seventh-day Adventist.
+Percent change since 1991 excludes Bethesda, Christian City Church, Seventh-day Adventist and Vineyard
Factors Behind Attendance Change
The statistics in Table 1 highlight that while church attendance overall continues to decline, the situation of each denomination varies greatly. The large mainstream denominations such as Anglican, Catholic and Uniting are declining, but many of the smaller Protestant and Pentecostal denominations are growing, some very strongly.
Previous research by NCLS Research (Kaldor et al, 1999, pp50-58) has identified factors that determine the growth and decline of denominations. Attender numbers increase through three main ways:
· Attenders switching in from other denominations
· Newcomers joining the church for the first time or rejoining after an absence of years
· The birth of children and retention of children in church life
Attenders leave denominations through the following avenues:
· switching out to other denominations
· decreasing their frequency of attendance or ceasing to attend altogether
The attendance change in each denomination is the result of these factors competing with each other. In the case of large mainstream Anglican and Protestant denominations, the numbers switching out to other denominations is greater than the numbers switching in. In addition, the numbers dying are generally greater than the numbers being born into these denominations.
The age profile of each denomination provides the strongest indication of future trends. It is now unlikely that the large mainstream denominations, with their older age profiles, will be able to replace the large percentages of attenders who will inevitably be lost to death or infirmity in the coming years. Nevertheless even small increases in the proportions of newcomers or decreases in the proportions choosing to leave can have a large impact on future attendance trends, provided such changes can be maintained into the longer term
For more detail, see Occasional Paper 3 – 2001 Church Attendance Estimates