The latest National Church Life Survey (NCLS) has revealed a decline in attendance at Australian churches and not just because of the pandemic.
More than 2000 churches took part part in the 2021-22 survey which is conducted every five years.
The latest survey is the seventh in what has become the largest longitudinal study of church life in the world.
NCLS Research director Dr. Ruth Powell says the final figures have yet to be tabulated, but overall church attendance continued its 30-year steady decline.
She notes fewer people who have never been part of a church before are joining today’s congregations.
She also says there has been a big drop in churchgoers inviting non-believers to a church service or Christian event.
Dr. Powell told Vision Radio: “Newcomers is a special category where they don’t have a church background and now they are joining a church community. The hard news that we have for the Australian church is that that proportion of people in churches has gone down. It’s been going down for a while, which means we’re not drawing in people from outside the churches in the same proportions that we used to.”
Despite the fall in attendance Australian churches fared better than Dr. Powell expected.
She pointed out that “churches have the highest level of volunteers in Australian society which is a great encouragement and an incredible gift to the Australian community.”
“One of the things we’ve learnt in the pandemic is that involvement in community based groups actually was sustained. It did not go down. A big surprise for me was to see people in churches with service care and welfare justice groups making an impact. The proportion of church attendees involved in serving their communities went up. That is certainly encouraging,” she explained.
Dr. Powell said the survey found young people virtually non-existent in some church communities.
“What we know about young people is that they cluster together. It’s that relationship. They do better when they’re together. And so one of the things I would continue to say to churches is help young people cluster together because that will help embed their faith.”
“If their households are nurturing them in faith, that’s really critical. But they need other young people as well as mentors and wise elders surrounding them. So if you’re a church that only has a few young people I would look for ways that those young people can cluster elsewhere. That means maybe you have to let them go, let them actually get together in bigger groups, and that will help them all transition through church life and sustain their faith into the future. If they don’t embed that faith in the younger years it’s very difficult to come back to faith later.”
Dr. Powell concluded that churches need to refocus on building their community because a sense of belonging to a welcoming faith community is what churchgoers desired most.
Every church that took part in the survey will receive a Church Life Pack which profiles their results.
All individual contributions were anonymous.