NCLS Research

NCLS 1996

Based on the success of NCLS91 and lessons learnt in the process, the National Church Life Survey was updated in 1996, including a wider range of denominations and survey material.

National Church Life Survey 1996 Methodology

Some 324 000 attenders from around 6900 congregations in 20 denominations completed an NCLS survey form during congregational activities (in fact one of several different survey forms). In addition, the leadership of each congregation completed a much more detailed survey of congregational life.

The design of these forms was carried out by project staff in conjunction with contact persons from participating denominations, academics and church consultants both in Australia and overseas.

Response rates in 1996 were similar to those in 1991; about 80% of congregations receiving forms participated in the survey. Results have been weighted to take into account variations in rates of response and to account for any non-participating regions within denominations.


Different versions of the attender survey form were designed to make the most of this opportunity (12 in 1991 and 22 in 1996). The first set of 35 questions were identical across most survey forms. Most attenders (85–90%) in participating congregations were given one of three ‘primary’ surveys. The remaining 10–15% of attenders were randomly selected and given one of the ‘individual’ survey forms. In this way, random samples of between 2000 and 5000 attenders completed each of these smaller surveys.

In 1996 the Catholic Church included a number of NCLS questions in a study of its own life: the 1996 Catholic Church Life Survey. This has enabled Catholic/Protestant comparisons to be made where possible.


In parallel with the attender surveys, a congregational leader was invited to complete an audit of congregational life, while the senior minister/pastor/priest in each congregation was asked to complete the Leader Survey.

The Congregational Audit was designed to collect factual and historical material about each congregation. The data has been weighted to account for non-participation in different denominations, in order to create national statistics.

The Leader Survey was created to collect information about the senior leader in each congregation: how they found their job role, and levels of stress and how they coped with it. In addition, leaders were asked about their attitudes to a range of church and wider issues. In all, around 4000 leaders across the 20 denominations and other groups completed the Leader Survey. These leaders often represent several congregations, particularly in denominations with multi-congregation parishes.

It is important to note that this is a survey of the senior minister/pastor/priest in congregations and not of all clergy and leaders.

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