NCLS Research

Overall Inflow and Outflow

The overall patterns of inflow and outflow for all Australian churches are shown below. The model is based on 17 denominations that participated in both NCLS 1996 and NCLS 2001. It represents 1,237,000 church attenders.

Current attenders can be divided into 80% long-term attenders and an inflow of 20% who have joined their current congregation or parish in the previous five years. This inflow is made up of 8% who have switched from a church of another denomination, 5% young adult retention and 7% newcomers, who previously had no church background.

From an overall perspective, one in five attenders are effectively new to their congregation in the past five years. This represents a group of people with potentially fresh perspectives and energy. The source of inflow does make a difference. Switchers bring the benefit of other church experiences and have often been quite intentional in their choice of church. Those who have been children in a congregation have to establish themselves as young adults. Newcomers without a church background, can be tentative and slow in becoming involved.

Australian Churches – Inflow and Outflow 1996 to 2001

The NCLS Inflow Outflow Model of Attendance 


Estimates of the three sources of outflow are as follows: some 8% of attenders switched denominations between 1996 and 2001, 8% died and around 10% drifted out of church life altogether.

One reason attenders switch denominations is because, for many, denominational loyalty holds little importance. The qualities and characteristics of the local church hold greater attraction. Another reason for switching denominations is simply due to the fact that when a person moves somewhere else in the nation, there may not be the option of going to a church of their previous denomination.

The mortality rate of attenders between 1996 and 2001 is estimated to be 8%. While not all denominations have an older age profiles, those who do face the inevitable reality of a higher death rate for decades to come.

In terms of the ‘back door’, it is estimated that some 10% left their church in the five year period and no longer attend anywhere. Previous research shows that people tend to slip away gradually and quietly. For example, moving house is one of primary reasons people stop attending church. Churches face the challenge of not only seeking to make effective connections with the wider community, but also to attend to those on the fringes.

The net effect of these inflow and outflow patterns is a decline of seven percent for weekly church attendance in the period from 1996 to 2001.

All these figures vary quite significantly for different denominations and denominational groupings.

NCLS RESEARCH | Who is NCLS Research? | Staff and Researchers | Board of Governors

PO Box 968, North Sydney NSW 2059 | Phone +61 2 9701 4479 | | ABN 23 256 203 959

© Copyright 2018 NCLS Research. All rights reserved.