Attender preferences in music style

Churchgoers prefer traditional hymns and praise choruses in worship services

Resource Type: Article

Topics: News Jun 2019 churchgoers worship music

The results of the 2016 NCLS confirm the popularity of traditional hymns followed by praise music and choruses in church worship services.

Contemporary hymns and other styles of music were less popular among Australian churchgoers.

In the 2016 NCLS, church attenders surveyed from across faith traditions were asked to assess ‘which of the following styles of music do you feel would be most helpful to you in congregational worship'? (Mark up to TWO).

Churchgoers ranked traditional hymns (47%) closely followed by praise music and choruses (41%) as the main styles most helpful to attenders. Contemporary hymns (29%) and other music or songs (15%) were placed next on the preferred list of style of music. Only 1% of churchgoers expressed a preference for no music or songs in their worship services. 

Table: Denomination differences for indicators of vital and nurturing worship

  In worship services attenders always/usually experience... Preference for music style
  Preaching helpful to my life Music I appre­­­ciate Inspira­­­tion A sense of God's presence Growth in under­­­­standing of God Challenge to action Tradi­­­­tional hymns Praise music & choruses Contem­­­­porary hymns
% % % % % % % % %  
All Attenders 79 83 72 83 77 61 47 41 29
Denominational Groups                  
Catholic 71 79 67 86 74 53 53 29 26
Protestant 85 88 76 81 81 67 43 52 31
Mainstream Protestant 82 86 70 77 77 59 57 42 34
Pentecostal 91 93 89 90 88 81 22 57 31
Other Protestant 83 85 74 78 79 64 41 65 27

More than half of Protestant and Anglican attenders (52%) rated praise music and choruses as their most preferred music style compared with 29% of Catholic attenders. 

Catholic churchgoers were most likely to rank traditional hymns as their preferred music style. Just over of Catholic attenders (53%) ranked traditional hymns most popular compared with 43% of Protestant attenders.

Our research highlights that while there is some diversity in music preferences across denominations, almost all churchgoers say they would have a preference for some form of music or song in their church worship service, rather than none. In the coming years it remains to be seen whether contemporary hymns, being a relatively recent development, become more popular and widespread in their use in worship services, particularly amongst younger generations.

More information on traditional vs contemporary styles of worship and music across generational groupings is available in the article Builders and Boomers: a bridge from faithful tradition to contemporary choice. 

Ruth Powell
Data Sources:

Data source: Powell, R. Sterland, S. Pepper, M. and Hancock, N. (2016). 2016 NCLS Attender Survey [Data file]. Sydney: NCLS Research.

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