Spiritually hungry

Church attenders want to be spiritually nurtured as part of a worshipping community

When asked what church attenders would like to see priority given to in the coming 12 months, spiritual growth and building a stronger sense of community in their church were top of the list.

These findings come from the 2016 National Church Life Survey, when adult church attenders were asked for their opinion about what should be given priority by their local church in the next year.

The survey question posed 12 options for current priorities. 'Spiritual growth (e.g. spiritual direction, prayer groups)' and 'Building a strong sense of community within this local church' were most commonly selected responses, chosen by a third of churchgoers (~32%). The third most common response was 'Worship services that are nurturing to people's faith'.

These three top priorities clearly display a spiritual fervour amongst those who attend church. It could be argued that these desires reveal the primary purpose attenders hold for going to church: to be spiritually nurtured and fed as part of a worshipping community. In fact, these three priorities align with the NCLS Internal Core Qualities which focus on the inner life of churches: Faith, Worship and Belonging. Do attenders have an alive and growing faith? Do they experience vital and nurturing worship and do they feel a strong and growing belonging? These 'internal' core qualities are regarded as foundational to church life. This is a reminder of the main qualities of church life that church attenders value, enjoy, and see as most central to their experience of church.


Believe or belong, which comes first? It varies slightly with age and denomination

Overall, there were differences between age groups. In general, those aged younger than 60 chose spiritual growth as their highest priority and building community as their second choice. Those aged 60 and over gave highest priority to building community, followed by nurturing worship and third, spiritual growth.

Attenders in different denominations vary in their priorities. For example, attenders in Uniting and Lutheran churches chose nurturing worship first and spiritual growth second. Catholic attenders most commonly highlighted building community first and then spiritual growth. Attenders in Pentecostal groups strongly endorsed spiritual growth as their first priority with ‘encouraging people's gifts’ as their second priority.


Wanting to contribute and nurture

Following the top three responses, came ministry oriented choices- attenders are clear they want to be involved. ‘Encouraging people’s gifts and skills’, 'ministry to children and youth' and 'ensuring new people are welcome here' all align with the development and growth of ministry. Using gifts and skills in a ministry of all believers, nurturing future generations and newcomers all build a picture of strengthening the life of the church.

Lowest on the list of priorities were social action, faith sharing and new approaches, church plants or mission ventures.

This may reveal an internally focussed attendership, one that wants to develop and grow the internal life of their church, spiritually feeding people, bringing people into the congregation and empowering them to contribute and belong. Whether that comes at a cost of losing an outward focus into the local neighbourhood is open for question.

Sam Sterland, Ruth Powell, Kathy Jacka
Data Sources:

Powell, R., Pepper, M., Hancock, N. and Sterland, S. (2017) 2016 NCLS Attender Survey [Data file]. Sydney: NCLS Research.


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