Education is another area where church attenders do not reflect the community as a whole. Some 23% of attenders
have a university or postgraduate degree, compared to 13% of the Australian population.
There is good news that the education gap between the church and community is closing, but the bad news is that it
is closing, at least in part, because of the absence of young adults.
Anglicans (28%) and Baptists (28%) are among the larger denominations with the highest levels of
university-educated attenders and the Salvation Army (12%) the lowest. There are also higher than average levels of
university-educated people among Catholic attenders (22%). While the percentage of all Pentecostal attenders who are
university educated is 19%, it should be noted that some of the newer Pentecostal denominations have among the
highest levels of university educated attenders (eg Christian City Churches and Vineyard Fellowship).
Employment status: Around half of church attenders are employed: 28% are employed full-time, 14% are
part-time and 9% are self employed. Some 30% are retired, reflecting the older age profiles of attenders at many
denominations. Around 15% indicate that they are performing full-time home duties or family responsibilities and 9%
are students. Around 3% are unemployed.
The highest proportions of full-time employees are to be found among Baptist (33%) and Pentecostal attenders
(35%). Higher proportions of Pentecostal (6%) and Salvation Army attenders (5%) are unemployed.The highest
proportions of retirees are to be found among Uniting (44%), Anglican (37%) and Presbyterian (36%) attenders.
Pentecostals have the highest proportions of tradespeople, labourers and the unemployed, suggesting that they are
connecting better with people from a working-class background than are the other denominations. Pentecostals also
have the highest proportion of attenders living in public housing. The Catholic Church also has above-average
proportions of people employed in clerical work, in sales or as labourers.
WHY IS IT SO?
There has been a range of theories put forward to explain the relative lack of church involvement among people
from lower socioeconomic groups, especially in some Anglican and Protestant denominations, many of which are outlined
in Who Goes Where? (Kaldor, 1987). These are summarised here.
Historical identification of the churches with the ruling classes. Historical sources suggest that the working
class was always under-represented in the Anglican and Protestant churches, a situation inherited from England. The
churches made considerable efforts to bridge the gap, spawning missions such as the Salvation Army and many
charitable institutions. However, while the poor and the working class were prepared to accept assistance, this
relationship with a church did not widely translate into an active church involvement.
By contrast, the Catholic Church in Australia always had close connections to the working class. In the first half
of the twentieth century, the Catholic Church had strong links with the labour movement and the Australian Labor
The use of abstract thinking alienates the less educated. One theory ties socioeconomic status to differing
approaches to thinking. Universitytrained people are comfortable dealing with abstract ideas. Further, those raised
in 'white-collar' households are more likely to have been taught to think in terms of principles of behavior.
Much of church liturgy, preaching and small-group life, particularly in the larger mainstream denominations,
involves abstract thinking. The abstract-thinking approach is underpinned by the educational requirements for clergy
and the use of formal structures and methods of church decision making. The argument follows that Australian churches
today, therefore, automatically favour white-collar and educated people.
Source: Initial Impressions, 2001 NCLS
and Taking Stock, 1999