Hard Truth: Research shows more churches are declining than growing

Christ Church Yankalilla

The proportion of churches declining rather than growing is now larger than before according to a new analysis conducted by NCLS Research. “It is estimated that 18% of local Protestant churches have experienced a net growth of at least 10% in their weekly attendance over the 2016-2021 period, while 69% have declined,” according to “Growth, Decline and Planting,” a report sponsored by Exponential Australia a group that “champions healthy church multiplication.”

This latest stat contrasts with the previous five years, which were unaffected by Covid. During the 2011 to 2016 period, a larger proportion of churches – 31% had attained 10% growth, and a smaller proportion, 50%, had declined.

“Declining” is defined as when a church’s weekly attendance has declined by 10% or more¬†between 2016 and 2021. “Growing” means a growth of 10% in the five years.

Church growth is more likely in larger churches, according to the report. “Churches of larger size are more likely to have experienced attendance growth, with 28% of churches of 100 or more attenders experiencing growth.” But also, “The effects of the pandemic have clearly affected attendance levels across all church sizes, disrupting previous patterns where larger churches were at some advantage.”

The data set surveyed of 1,526 churches is weighted against the denominations involved in the NCLS.

Growth, Decline and Planting is available on the NCLS website.