Churchgoers experience of disability

More than half of churchgoers have an experience of or connection with disability

In the 2021 NCLS we asked churchgoers about their personal experience or connection with disability. More than half of church attenders indicate that they have an experience of, or connection with disability. 

Some 13% of churchgoers report having a disability themselves, whilst 23% say they have a close family member with a disability. These figures have remained relatively constant between the 2016 and 2021 NCLS.

Further, some 28% of churchgoers say they experience a health problem that affects their involvement in church life, at least occasionally. 


One in seven churchgoers report having a disability themselves

When asked about their personal experience of disability, some 13%, or one in seven Australian churchgoers report having a disability themselves. Of this, 11% describe their disability as mild, and 2% as severe or profound. These are similar figures to the 2016 NCLS.

Whilst the proportion of attenders who personally have a disability, severe or mild, increases with age amongst churchgoers, attenders in the 30-49 year old age group are much more likely to indicate they have a severe or profound disability (2.8%) compared to those in the 15-29 and 50-69 age groups (less than 1% of both groups).


Substantial connection between churchgoers and people with disabilities

Regarding social connections to someone else with a disability, such as a family member, friend or colleague, our research suggests fairly substantial levels of connection.

Nearly a quarter of church attenders (23%) say they have a close family member with a disability (no change since 2016). Having a close family member with a disability is at its highest among attenders aged 70+, at 29%.

Social and workplace relationships are also evident, with 12% of respondents saying they have a friend with a disability and 18% having a work or other connection with someone who was disabled.

With more than half of church attenders (55%) having an experience of, or connection with disability, this suggests a broad awareness of disability exists within congregations. 


Experience of disability more common for those in leadership roles

We compared attenders with and without a leadership role at their church, and their connections with people with a disability. We found that attenders with a leadership role were more likely to have a connection with people with a disability outside their family, i.e. friend (16%), connection from work or elsewhere (23%), compared to 9% and 14% respectively, of attenders not in a leadership role.



Given substantial experience of and connection with disability amidst church attenders, do churchgoers highlight problems that prevent them from participating in church life? We examine health and physical access problems listed by attenders.


Physical access and health limitations 

Almost all attenders (91%) say problems with physical access have never prevented them from being as involved in their local church as they would like.

Some 8% say access problems have prevented them occasionally, 1% often and 0.5% mostly or always.

More attenders have, however, been prevented from participating in church life due to their health.

Some 28% of church attenders say they experience a health problem that limits their church involvement. Close to a quarter (24%) experience such limitations occasionally, 3% often and 1% mostly or always. 

N.B. Not included in these numbers are some 9% of attenders who skipped the question about physical access, and 8% who skipped the question about health.


The frequency of experiencing problems with health that prevents involvement at church differs by age.

Perhaps understandably, the experience of such health problems tends to increase with age.  Attenders aged 70+year are the cohort most likely to indicate that their health often, mostly or always prevents them from being as involved in their church as they would like, but it was interesting to note that those aged 30-49 years (3%)  are more likely to indicate that health is a barrier, compared to the 2% of 15-29-year-old and 1% of 50-69 year-olds.  


With such rates of personal experience of, and connection with, disability amongst churchgoers, it should be asked, what are churches doing to cater for people with disabilities at church? How welcome would people with disabilities feel at church? Are staff being trained to include a diversity of needs and facilitate inclusive gatherings?

Research results on these questions are available in the free report 'Disability, inclusion, provision and care: trends in local churches from 2016 to 2021'.


Data Sources:




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