NCLS Research

Denominational / Combined Inflow and Outflow

It is possible to map the inflow and outflow of attenders for each denomination. This exercise has been carried out as far as possible for denominations that took part in both the 1996 and 2001 NCLS, and the results for major denominations are reported here.

This section starts by presenting the combined models for the Protestant churches and also for the Pentecostal churches. Individual denominations are then presented in alphabetical order.

Combined Inflow And Outflow Models

Protestant Churches Inflow and Outflow

Below shows the combined picture of inflow and outflow for Protestant denominations.

Protestants as a ‘system’: This diagram treats the 16 Protestant denominations (including Anglicans) who were part of the National Church Life Survey in both 1996 and 2001 a single system. As this represents roughly half the church attenders in Australia, the people switching between Protestant denominations have not been included. The estimate of switchers only represents the switching to and from Catholic and Orthodox denominations.

The Protestant Church in Australia – Inflow and Outflow 1996 to 2001

The NCLS Inflow Outflow Model of Attendance Change

Overall, there was an increase in church attendance in Protestant churches of 1% between 1996 and 2001.

The source of this increase does not come from switchers from the Catholic Church – the diagram shows the switchers in and out (from and to the Catholic Church) are fairly matched. Protestant attenders are more likely than Catholics to switch between denominations, but they generally move to other Protestant churches.

The diagram also shows that as a group, Protestant denominations lost greater numbers through death, than are being replaced by young adults becoming involved (7% vs 4%). However, this sector of church life has managed to hold its own because it managed to attract greater proportions of newcomers who were not part of congregations (10%), than the estimated proportion who drifted away and no longer attend church (6%).

Pentecostal Churches Inflow and Outflow

A number of Pentecostal churches have taken part in National Church Life Surveys. Some have been part of denominations, networks or assemblies, while others were independent.

It is not always possible to estimate an individual inflow and outflow model for a denomination. Some are too small to make accurate estimates. Other groups only took part in limited ways.

However, they form a sector of the Australian church that has strong similarities. Using the available data for each period, models of the inflow and outflow patterns for combined Pentecostal churches are presented below.

1991 to 1996 Model: This model includes data from congregations of the Assemblies of God, Apostolic Church, Christian Revival Crusade and Foursquare Gospel.

1996 to 2001 Model: This model includes data from congregations of the Assemblies of God, Apostolic Church, Christian Revival Crusade, Vineyard and Christian City Churches.

It is important to note that, unlike the Protestant model, these models do not treat Pentecostal churches as a single entity. That is, switchers include people who have switched from one Pentecostal denomination to another, as well as those who have switched between the Pentecostal sector and non-Pentecostal denominations.

Pentecostal Churches Inflow and Outflow - 1991 to 1996

The NCLS Inflow Outflow Model of Attendance Change

Pentecostal Churches Inflow and Outflow - 1996 to 2001

The NCLS Inflow Outflow Model of Attendance Change

The pattern of overall growth in attendance is strong and positive. The percentage change between 1996 and 2001 was even greater that for the previous five year period. (18% vs 10%).

A key difference between the two time periods is the improvement in terms of the ‘front and back doors’. The most recent model shows that there are now more newcomers (15%) than there were five years earlier (10%). In terms of outflow, the level of estimated drift out dropped from 15% to 14%. Rather than a net loss for this pathway, the Pentecostal churches present a more balanced picture. This should be a source of real encouragement.

Against this positive change, it does need to be noted the Pentecostal sector has among the highest levels of people who drift out of church life altogether. This could partly be linked to the strong and positive inflow of newcomers from outside churches who ‘try out’ Pentecostal churches. Other research by NCLS Research shows that newcomers do not tend to change churches. If they have not successfully connected, then they simply leave.

The high drift out figure is also foreshadowed by the high levels of switching. It could be the case that more people unhappy with their church experience move from church to church and finally leave. Perhaps more Pentecostal churches are simply the ‘last stop’. More work would be required to test this theory.

Another distinctive feature of these models in both time periods is the high levels of mobility. Many attenders are moving both in and out of Pentecostal churches. NCLS 2001 revealed that only a little over half (53%) were at their current church for more than five years. This high turnover has its own issues for a faith community and it’s leaders.

There is evidence of an ongoing strong inflow from other Pentecostal and non-Pentecostal churches. While the outflow of switchers is not as dramatic, it is higher than for a number of other mainstream denominations.

Pentecostal churches generally have a much younger age profile than average. This lies behind the very low estimate of deaths in both time periods (2%).


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