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DAVID ADAMS takes a look at the first impressions of last year’s National Church Life Survey…

Australian churches are in good health and vitality and are putting an increasing emphasis on activities aimed at spiritual growth, according to preliminary findings from the latest snapshot of church life in Australia.

The findings come from the 2011 National Church Life Survey, a five yearly census of the church, also show that while the decline in church numbers appears to have flattened out but that the average age of church members – at 55-years-old – remains above that of the average age of Australians – 52-years-old.


If the church was represented as a congregation of 125 people including 25 children aged 0-14 years and 100 aged 15 and over. Of the 100: 

• 15 are aged 15-29, 25 are aged 30-49, 35 are aged 50-69 and 25 are 70+ 

• 60 are female

• 34 hold a degree

• 51 are employed, 9 have full-time home duties and 33 are retired

• 22 were born in a non-English speaking country

• 43 give more than five per cent of their net income to the church

• 44 have a leadership of ministry role in their church

Source: First Impressions results from the 2011 National Church Life Survey

The survey involved more than 3000 churches from 23 denominations and independent churches and involved some 260,000 adult church-goers, 6,000 church leaders and 10,000 children aged between 10 and 14 years.

The first impressions document shows that 25 per cent of church attenders reported having experienced “much growth in their faith” through their local church in the previous 12 months, a figure three per cent higher than it was in 2001 and that most attenders reported a strong sense of belonging to their church. 

While 35 per cent said they had invited someone to church in the 12 months to the survey, slightly down on the 37 per cent recorded in 2001, there has been a rise in the percentage involved in evangelistic or outreach activities – up from 14 per cent to 18 per cent.

The percentage of people new to the church in the past five years remains stable at six per cent including two per cent who have never attended church and four per cent who have returned after a long absence.

Other findings showed:

• 32 per cent of attenders are strongly committed to the vision, goals and direction of the church – up from 27 per cent in 2001 – while only 30 per cent say they are unaware of any clear vision, goals or direction, down from 43 per cent;’

• while 64 per cent say their church leaders inspire them, only 51 per cent says their leaders encourage them to use their gifts (down from 55 per cent in 2001);

• the percentage of attenders who agree their church is “always ready to try something new” grew from 62 per cent in 2001 to 67 per cent in 2011 while 67 per cent agree their leaders encourage innovation;

• the proportion of attenders involved in community service or social justice has increased from 19 per cent in 2001 to 25 per cent in 2011; and 

• 73 per cent of those who had arrived at a church in the last five years said they had found it easy to make friends at their church.

Elsewhere in the survey, respondants were asked what aspects of the church they would like to see given more attention in the coming year. The most commonly selected aspects were ‘building a strong sense of community within the congregation’ (32 per cent), ‘encouraging the people to discover or use their gifts’ (29 per cent), and ‘spiritual growth’ (27 per cent). Only 11 per cent ticked ‘starting a new church or mission venture’.

The data also shows that Pentecostal churches had overwhelmingly the greatest percentage of people aged under 30 years while the Uniting Church had the greatest percentage of people aged over 70 years.

In summary, the researchers have concluded that the initial impressions show a “greater strength in the measures of the health and vitality of churches” and an “increased emphasis on activities related to spirtual growth”.

“In these times of change, how the churches reposition themselves in the ‘public square’ and re-engage wider Australian society is yet to fully unfold,” they wrote.


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