NCLS Research

Church Attendance as a Percentage of the Australian Population (2001)

Church Attendance as a Percentage of the Australian Population

Based on the 2001 NCLS, it is estimated that around 1.5 million people attended services at participating Anglican, Catholic and Protestant denominations each week in 2001. In addition there were another 137,000 people attending small Pentecostal and Protestant denominations and groups, based on 1996 estimates. Assuming that this remnant figure hasn't changed much since 1996, weekly attendance in 2001 would be about 1,660,000 for Anglican, Catholic and Protestant churches. This equates to 8.8% of a population of 18,769,249.

It should be noted that the weekly attendance estimates discussed here are conservative when it comes to evaluating the proportion of the population that attends church frequently. The reason for this is that people who attend less than weekly will tend to be undercounted in an estimate based on attendance in a typical week. The actual number of Australians attending church say over a month would be expected to be higher, particularly in the larger mainstream denominations.

There is evidence here that the proportion of the population present at church in a typical week has declined since 1996. In 1996, NCLS Research estimated that there were 1,759,000 people present in a typical week in all Anglican, Catholic and Protestant churches (Kaldor et al, 1999, p.15). This equated to 9.9% of the then population of 17,752,829 (Bentley and Hughes, 1998, p.10). Weekly attendance as a proportion of population has thus dropped markedly from 9.9% in 1996 to 8.8% in 2001. This change is due to two factors:

  • a decrease in church attendance over this period
  • an increase in the size of the Australian population by around 6% over the same period.

There is other survey evidence that the proportion of the population attending religious services has decreased over the period. The 1998 Australian Community Survey found that 20.0% of the population claimed to attend religious services at least monthly or more often. The 2002 Well-being and Security Survey found that this figure had dropped to 18.6% of the population.

For more detail, see Occasional Paper 3 - 2001 Church Attendance Estimates

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