A demographic profile of child church attenders
In the 2016 NCLS, the Child Survey gave kids aged 8-to-14 years an opportunity to share their views and experiences on church life.
Results from around 10,500 church-attending children are presented. This article outlines a demographic profile of the child respondents: their age, gender and country of birth. Understanding which types of schools these young survey participants attend also provides some context for interpreting their responses.
Children and Churches. For many faith communities these entities are symbiotic.
Families and younger attenders are often viewed as the future lifeblood of a local church. Some special church services, such as Messy Church, as well as activities such as Kids Club, Sunday School or Mainly Music, are dedicated to nurturing the growth of children at church. Yet for some churches, and for a variety of reasons, there are few children to be seen.
The average age of children who took part in the 2016 NCLS Child Survey was 11 years. The largest age group in the survey, by a small margin, were 10-year-olds (17%), followed by 11-year-olds (16%), then 9-year-olds and 12-year-olds (15% each). As age increases, the proportion of older children at church decreases. Lower percentages of 13 and 14-year-olds were evident in these survey results. (Note: the survey was of children aged 8 to 14, so other age groups are not represented in these results).
Meanwhile, the gender split is quite even, with 49% boys and 51% girls represented overall.
The results also show that most child attenders are born in Australia (84%), with another 9% hailing from non-English speaking countries and 7% being born overseas in English-speaking countries.
Around half of the church attending children attend a public or state school (49%). Some 19% are at Catholic schools, 18% are at other Christian/church schools, while 10% are in Anglican, Lutheran or Uniting Church schools.
Small proportions are in home schools (3%) and very few (1%) are in other independent schools such as Steiner or Montessori.
Clearly, most children surveyed use the state education system, where knowledge and experience of Christianity is most commonly accessed through Special Religious Education classes, chaplaincy or other programs delivered by local churches or Christian organisations. For around four in ten children attending Catholic or Christian schools, faith-based activities are likely to be a more regular part of their day-to-day curriculum including school chapel services, mass or Bible discussions.
As local churches invest in the spiritual growth or faith development of their children, understanding their demographics and educational setting may inform the style of their activities. Noting the age groups where church attendance may begin to decline for children, can help a church prioritise appropriate activities and perhaps establish mentoring relationships with 'tweenagers' as they develop and grow.
Are local churches attuned to the importance of their child attenders? Are they connected with their local schools? Do they seek to nurture the giftings of their young evangelists, helpers, worship leaders and intercessors? For it is this group who will live out their faith for many years to come. They are both part of the Church today and will form it into the Church of tomorrow.
Kathy Jacka and Ruth Powell, NCLS Research with Rod Bennett, WildHive Studios.
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Powell, R. (2020). Views and experiences of children in churches, Occasional Paper 42. Sydney, Australia: NCLS Research.
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