Attenders hold varied preferences for worship styles

Quiet, energetic, consistent or new? Church attenders vary on their preferred worship style in church.

According to Australian churchgoers surveyed in 2016, they vary quite substantially from one another on their preferred worship service style.

While some express clear preference for a quiet place of reflection, others like enthusiastic energy. Some would like the same week to week whereas others express a desire for the new and spontaneous. Does denominational type or age grouping have any bearing on preferred styles? It seems younger attenders might be the most eclectic and inclusive in embracing different styles.

Preferences for Worship Styles

Some 47% of attenders surveyed, stated that they preferred worship that is quiet and reflective; another 30% preferred worship that is enthusiastic and energetic; and 23% had no preference.

Similarly, 41% of churchgoers said they preferred worship that is consistent from week to week, whereas 33% preferred worship that offers new experiences each week. Some 26% had no preference.



Denominational differences

Catholic attenders were more likely to prefer a quiet and reflective approach and a consistent approach compared to Protestant and Anglican attenders (see table below). Over half of Catholic mass attenders surveyed (55%) expressed preference for a quiet reflective worship style.

Quiet and reflective worship was the top selection of Protestant attenders (at 40%), however this was still lower than the level of preference expressed by Catholics (55%).  More Protestant church attenders preferred enthusiastic and energetic worship than Catholic mass attenders (33% of Protestants vs 27% of Catholics) or held no preference (27% of Protestants compared with 18% of Catholics).

In regard to new experiences versus consistent styles, amongst Protestant attenders, preferences were more evenly spread. Some 37% said they preferred consistency week to week while 35% preferred new experiences each week. Some 28% reported no preference.  


Table: Attender preferences for worship styles by denomination group

  All Attenders Catholic Protestant
 Enthusiastic and energetic 30 27 33
 Quiet and reflective 47 55 40
 No preference 23 18 27
 New experiences each week 33 30


 Consistent week to week 41 46


 No preference 26 25


Source: 2016 NCLS Attender Survey (n = 1,374 to 1,385)


Age differences

Older attenders also share these preferences, however, as the chart below shows, there are also significant groups of all age groups who prefer different styles, or have no preference. For example, more than a quarter of attenders aged 70 plus preferred enthusiastic and energetic worship and New experiences each week. Those aged 15 to 29 years split into three equal groups in their preferences on quiet or enthusiastic worship styles. Thus it appears that younger attenders might be the most eclectic and inclusive in embracing different styles.


Vital and nurturing worship is clearly important to most church attenders across denominations and age groups and is also, largely, their experience. However, the results of the 2016 NCLS highlight how diverse the styles of worship services can be, especially across faith traditions. What makes these services meaningful also shows a great variety.


Kathy Jacka, 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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