Anglicans slip to third-biggest Church: survey

Pentecostal churches move into second place for weekly attendance

By Stephen Cauchi

December 9 2019 

The Anglican Church has slipped to number three in Church size by weekly attendance, according to data from the National Church Life Survey (NCLS), with the Pentecostal Australian Christian Churches (ACC) now at number two.

The Catholic Church easily remains the biggest Christian Church in Australia, according to the Director of NCLS Research, Dr Ruth Powell.

Dr Powell told the Australian Community and Church Summit leaders’ briefing on 8 November that the rise of the ACC was a “key change in the Australian Church landscape”.

“In the last 25 years, we have observed that in the size of denominations, the order has changed,” Dr Powell told the Whitley College briefing.

“We see a shift where it used to be Anglican at number two. The big change is that ACC … is now the second largest church in the country in terms of weekly attendance estimates.

“I think that’s new”.

Dr Powell said that in 1991 and 2001, the size order of Australia’s top denominations was Catholic, Anglican, Uniting, Baptist and ACC.

But by 2016, when the latest survey was held, the order was Catholic, ACC, Anglican, Baptist and Uniting.

Although Anglican numbers have held steady since 2001 – at about 10-11 per cent of weekly Australian Church attendance – the ACC attendance has doubled from 6 per cent to 12 per cent.

This has put ACC into second position, said Dr Powell.

Although exact numbers are not available, the ACC probably still holds its second place position even though Hillsong Church withdrew from the ACC last year, said Dr Powell.

“Our estimates were based on the 2016 NCLS, so at that point Hillsong were part of ACC,” Dr Powell told TMA.

“However, it is worth adding a note that these figures may change in future estimates now that Hillsong is independent. It is unclear at this stage, till we get updated figures, whether it would be enough to change the rankings overall.

“Hillsong are certainly already larger on their own than a number of Australia’s smaller denominations.”

Dr Powell told the briefing that that there were other Pentecostal denominations besides ACC. If Pentecostals were counted as one denomination, their lead over Anglicanism would be even larger.

In other data from the NCLS briefing:

  • Monthly church attendance in Australia has declined from 45 per cent in 1950 to around 15 per cent, although the rate of decline is slowing;
  • Weekly church attendance has stopped declining and has now held steady since 2011;
  • Protestant church attendance is growing, driven by Pentecostals and the “other Protestant” category. Mainstream Protestants are in decline.
  • The Catholic Church has gone from a 50 per cent share of church attendance in 2001 to a 39 per cent share in 2016;
  • 60 per cent of church attendees are female;
  • 26 per cent of the Australian population is aged over 60, but among church attendees, the figure is 48 per cent;
  • 37 per cent of church attendees have a university degree, whereas the figure for Australians generally is 25 per cent;
  • Attenders most value Holy Communion and “sermons, preaching or Bible teaching”;
  • Attenders’ top priority for the next year is “spiritual growth”;
  • 28 per cent of churches are multicultural while 1 per cent are non-English speaking. The rest are mostly “Anglo” churches;
  • Only 37 per cent of Australians overall had confidence in churches, versus 42 per cent for Federal Parliament, 61 per cent for courts, 72 per cent for business and 80 per cent for schools.

Gospel communities give non-attenders ‘a sense of belonging’ at GWAC

Gospel communities – Christian communities for those who don’t attend church – is a concept being tried out with great success by Glen Waverley Anglican Church (GWAC).

The Revd Bree Mills, a senior associate pastor at Glen Waverley, told the Australian Community and Church Summit how Gospel communities could be used to reach people who were open to faith.

Mrs Mills told TMA that 26 per cent of Australians actively practised their religious or spiritual beliefs. But there was another 26 per cent of Australians who were religious but “non-practising” and the Gospel communities aimed to tap that demographic.

Mrs Mills said Glen Waverley Anglican had Gospel communities aimed at particular sub-groups within the community.

“We have them at Monash Uni, we have them with Mums in Vermont, we have some ones around themes like craft and Mandarin speakers.”

Gospel communities also reached out to kids who were creative because Glen Waverley was such a strongly academic area, she said. “They feel unwanted because they’re not highly academic or they are highly academic but don’t get to express their creativity as well.”

The Gospel communities gave people “a sense of belonging and community”, she said, while also being “Christian communities”. “There is absolutely Bible study and prayer,” she said.

The communities followed the “up, in and out” formula, she said: time with God, time for itself, and then time in outreach to the local community.

“All of the Gospel communities have different rhythms,” she said. “Most of them look like a fortnightly Bible study basically.”

The Gospel community at Monash University did outreach by serving pancakes at its chaplaincy centre every Tuesday morning, she said.

The group met every Wednesday night, alternating between a Bible study and discussion night and a meal night.

“It’s what they call a family meal, which is just getting together, having a meal, hearing what’s been going on in each other’s lives and then praying for each other.”

Some members of the communities will not go to church because they had had poor experiences of it in the past, she said. 

But many others did end up attending church regularly.

“We have a great story of a young woman who started connecting with our community at the university who was an outright atheist,” she said.

“She’s now a regular member of our evening service, came to our young adults camp, and is a regular with our Bible studies.” 

Visit for more information.