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Survey results reveal drift to Protestant denominations

The Pentecostal and Churches of Christ are drawing members away from more established churches, according to Initial Impressions, the preliminary results from the 2001 National Church Life Survey, which will be released in Adelaide today.

While number of people attending church remained static with new churchgoers representing only 2%, some protestant denominations have benefited greatly from attracting members from other churches.

The survey found 7% of churchgoers had switched from another denomination in the past five years, with most of those switching were aged between 15 and 29.

The Churches of Christ and Pentecostal (Apostolic, Assemblies of God, Christian City Church, Christian Revival Crusade and Vineyard Fellowship) have benefited the most from the migration.

27% of those switching were attracted to the Pentecostal church and 24% were attracted to the Churches of Christ, compared to only 1% for Catholics.

However, Catholics still had the highest devotees overall, attracting more than half the nations' Christians.

The results show young Catholics are poorly represented at Mass and those who are there generally report low levels of satisfaction. The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference's Bob Dixon, a researcher with National Church Life Survey, says the age of regular Massgoers is much older than the profile of Catholics in the national census.

"The picture is that young attenders ... are very poorly represented in proportion with their place in the Catholic community, and if that continues we'll have a continuing decline of attendances," he said. "So it's a numerical thing that's the biggest challenge."

Among the 15 to 18-year-old demographic, Mr Dixon says, only 53% are satisfied with what their parish offers them. That number drops even lower - to 46% - in the 19 to 25-year-old category. "That's the lowest of any of the denominations reported," Mr Dixon said.

The Catholic Church has the lowest level of newcomers (as opposed to people who have switched parishes) of all the Christian denominations.

But Mr Dixon said the results showed a lot of positive signs also.

"They're often vibrant, there's lots of things happening," he said. "The difficulty is that there aren't many members these days.

More than 435,000 people attending church from about 7000 parishes and congregations took part in the NCLS in 2001. It included 19 denominations representing more than 80% of regular churchgoers throughout Australia.

National Church Life Survey

The Advertiser/Catholic Weekly

17 May 2002