Church Attendance Rates among Young People: Some Notes

How many young people in Australia attend a church? The question is a simple one. Obtaining an accurate answer is not. The following discussion demonstrates some of the issues in achieving reliable information in research.

NCLS Research suggests that 25 of the attenders in a typical congregation of 125 would be under 15 years of age. Another 15 would be aged between 15 and 29 years (NCLS 2012). This means that on a typical Sunday, approximately 14 per cent of all children under 15 and 8 per cent of young people aged between 15 and 29 years would be in a church.

The Australian population censuses provides very detailed and reliable information about identification with religious groups, but does not provide any information about levels of involvement. Sample surveys, such as the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes, indicate that 27 per cent of those who identify with a denomination attend a church monthly or more often. However, this figure varies greatly from one denomination to another and from one age group to another, and cannot be used to infer how many young people attend a church. When young people do interviews, even over the telephone, there are selection and ‘social desirability’ factors which come into play. To some extent, people will present the best account of themselves in interviews. They may not be lying, but will skew the information to sound good. For example, the person who attends a church for several weeks in a row, then misses a month, will say they attend weekly. They do attend weekly … sometimes.

Surveys of school students indicate that if both parents attend a church monthly or more, their children are more likely to attend. In surveys of young people attending church-associated schools, of those young people who attended church: 52% attended with both parents, 20% attended with just the mother, 6% attend with just the father, and 22% attended without either parent attending frequently. If both parents attended monthly or more often, only 4 per cent of their children said they did not attend as frequently. However, 48 per cent of all young people whose mothers attended a church indicated that they themselves did not attend, and 24 per cent of young people whose fathers attended a church said they themselves did not attend.

More research is needed on who does and does not attend a church among young people, and what forms attendance take. For example, the surveys suggest that many young people attend if they have a particular role such as playing in a band. Such research would be best achieved by asking young people themselves through a random survey. However, the discussion above demonstrates how difficult it can be to achieve a reliable random sample of young people. It could also be achieved by more detailed questions in surveys of adults in which they are asked to report on the frequency of attendance of their children We hope that more reliable and comprehensive information will be available in the future.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 23, No. 1, Pages 7-8

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