Building on 25 years of quantitative analysis via the National Church Life Survey, the largest longitudinal study of church life in the world, NCLS Research identified strong churches on a variety of measures of vitality, including:
- the religiousness of the congregation or parish,
- strength of relationship within and beyond the church,
- agency or capacity of the church to take action,
- the proportion of newcomers attending the church, and
- the proportion of young adults attending the church.
Churches were also growing in size by more than the average rate.
Qualitative data collection and analysis
A selection of churches from a diversity of denominations, states and contexts (including urban, regional and rural churches) served as case studies, to explore how churches become and remain vital. Each church was engaged in a semi-structured interview process:
- Interview with senior leader(s), and
- Discussion group with core group of key leaders.
Interview and discussion group data was analysed to identify practices and approaches that foster vitality.
An online survey was conducted with other vital churches to expand on and illustrate the findings from the case study component of the research. The survey will also enable stories to be shared from a larger number of churches.
Charles Sturt University’s Human Research Ethics Committee has approved this project.
[Protocol number: H19094.]
Human Research Ethics Committee, Ethics and Compliance Unit
Locked Bag 588, Wagga Wagga NSW 2678
Tel: (02) 6933 4628
Frequently Asked Questions
How were churches chosen for the qualitative data collection and analysis?
47 churches were identified as strongly vital churches from the approximately 3,000 churches who participated in the 2016 NCLS. They were identified through a rigorous process as follows:
- The churches had to be adequately sampled in the 2016 NCLS (i.e. a sufficient number of attender survey forms had to be returned).
- Adequately sampled churches were stratified into four denominational groups: Catholic, Charismatic/Pentecostal, Evangelical/Reformed and Other – and their relative strengths, compared to other churches within the group to which they belonged, were assessed. Candidate churches for the qualitative analysis needed to be strong on at least four of the following five measures of vitality, which have been developed over years by NCLS Research in studies on church vitality, and which are derived from church attender responses aggregated to the level of the local church:
- Religiousness of the congregation or parish
- Strength of relationship within and beyond the church
- Agency or capacity of the church to take action
- Proportion of newcomers attending the church
- Proportion of young adults attending the church
- The churches were also not to have declined in size over the previous five years by more than the median rate of decline across all churches.
- All churches within each denominational group were also ranked on their average score across 11 measures that are used in the NCLS Church Life Profiles as indicators of vitality. Candidate churches from step 2 that were not sufficiently highly ranked were excluded. This resulted in 47 churches for the qualitative research.
- The project team aims to conduct interviews and discussion groups with 16 of the 47 churches (four from each denominational group). These churches will be a variety of sizes, from a variety of contexts (inner city, suburban, regional, rural), and from across Australia. The remaining 31 churches will be invited to participate in an online survey.
Documents for Participants
Information Statement for Interview and Discussion Group participants
Information Statement for Online Survey participants