What are people looking for in their local church?

When church attenders were asked what they would like 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.

The 2016 NCLS 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 the most commonly selected responses, chosen by a third of churchgoers (32 per cent). The third most frequent response was “Worship services that are nurturing to people’s faith.”

…the primary purpose attenders hold for going to church: to be spiritually nurtured and fed as part of a worshipping community.

These three top priorities clearly display a spiritual fervour among 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 attenders value, enjoy and see as most central to their experience of church.

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 varied in their priorities. 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.

After the top three responses came ministry-oriented choices. Attenders were clear they wanted to be involved. Lowest on the list of priorities were social action, faith sharing and new approaches, church plants or mission ventures.

This may reveal a preference to develop and grow the internal life of their church, spiritually feeding people, bringing people in to 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.

Source: 2016 NCLS Attender Survey (n=189,751)