How many people attend church?

Coming from a science background, I've always been interested in numbers. As a christian, one of the numbers I'm interested in is just how many are there here in Oz. I've heard, or read, of estimates ranging from less than 1% to 80% so obviously most of these must be wrong. Further, most "estimates" seem to be little more than simple wishful thinking and are pretty generous guesses at that. Sometime back I came across a few surveys and numbers and a few back of the envelope calculations (literally!) eventually turned into the following.

If you don't wanna have to go through a stack of statistics and calculations, the summaries are given here:

church attendance in Australia = 8%
estimated No. Christians in Oz = 4%

   church attendance in the UK = 11%
     est. No. christians in UK =  5.5%

Estimated number of christians globally : 5%

The numbers below come from a variety of newspapers (both secular and christian) and a book, Operation World. Unfortunately I didn't make note of the newspapers sources.

A recent report has the following things to say about the Oz anglican church ... In the Sydney diosece there are 47,000 attenders, which is 40% of the national total (117,500), a disproportionately large percentage (the diosece contains around 15% of the Oz population).

The report also examined the "beliefs" of church attenders (from the Church Life survey, several years ago) that one would hope are pretty essential for any christian.

70% of sydney anglican attendee's believe in a divine judgement after death yet only 37% of those outside Sydney. 68% in Sydney "know" they are going to heaven, while only 38% of the rest believe so. As for eternal life 68% of sydney anglicans and 42% of the rest believe you get it by faith. 29% of those outside Sydney believe obedience gets you eternal life and 12% of them believe everyone gets it (oh, and 3% don't believe in eternal life - wonder why they are there in the first place?). The figures for sydney are much lower in these latter categories

To my mind, taking into account how central these points are, this says to me that 68% of Sydney's anglicans are potentially christian, while only 38% of those outside Sydney are. Nationally that's only 50%.

Okay, now it's time to go through some calculations. Any figures not previously mentioned come from Operation World, 1994 edition.

From all the surveys and census figures, it could be possible to calculate how many people attend church, just from the anglican figures and knowing what proportion of "claimed" christians are anglican (or nominally). However there is an additional factor that needs to be taken into account. Moreso than any other denomination, anglicanism has a problem with nominalism, that is, people who are formally members (by baptism), yet who never attend church and, in fact, will more often than not admit they neither believe in a god nor that they are a christian. This can be largely overcome by using the numbers of people confirmed (or the equivalent) instead of the baptism figures for the comparision betwen the various denominations.

The following figures are from 1990.

church      attenders   confirmed  %confirm.  claim  %claimed
                                   attending         confirm
anglicans   117,500      0.66M      17.8%   3.67M    18.0%
all others      ?        4.13M        ?     6.39M    64.7%

The great disparity between anglicanism and the other christian denominations can be seen in the last column. The value for "others" is an average of all denominations and has a standard deviation of only 5%. It should be pointed out that this is not necessesarily a condemnation on the anglican church, rather it reflects the public opinion that the anglican church is the "national church", thus people will tend to get baptised, married and buried through it more than the other denominations.

What we want to know is the total for column one.

Assuming the same % of those confirmed actually attend for anglican and non-anglican denominations, then:

  non-anglicans who attend regularly = 4.13M x 17.8% = 735,100
    thus total church attendance = 735,100 + 117,500 = 852,600

(Excluding the effect of rampant anglican nominalism a total of 341,400 is obtained.)

Then ..... %Oz attending = 852,600/16.95M = 5.03%
      and % Oz "believing" = (dito) x 50% = 2.52%

All other, reliable, estimates of the national church going numbers all suggest a figure of 10 - 12%. However, in these cases the figure is quoted as being "optimistic", that is, an upper value. In my calculation I have taken the reverse stance, that is a pessemistic one. Naturally not every christian will attend church every day (especially in the country areas or families with children), thus the real figure is somewhere between the two extremes. From personal experience I know that the 10 - 12% figure includes all those actually on the church rolls. This often (with many churches) includes non-attending spouses and children, those who are Christmas-Easter attenders and those who have recently moved to another church (and so are double counted).

Combining these two sets of figures, we come up with a hopefully unbiased figure for the number of church attenders in Australia, and the number of Christians (tho' this has much less certainity).

           church attendance = 5 - 11 = 8%
          total christians = (dito)/2 = 4%

After having done those calculations, I then came across a figure for anglican church attendance in the UK. A similiar answer arises, though differences are evident UK anglican church attendence was reported to be 900,000. As above, the remaining figures come from Operation World.

Denom.  Affiliated  Members  % Affil  Attenders  %Members    Est.
                            also Member          who attnd  Attend.
Anglican     23.80M  1.54M     6.5%     0.90M      58.4%     ---
Other proddy  6.49M  3.01M    46%        ---         *       1.76M
RC + Orthdox  6.17M  2.21M    36%        ---         *       1.29M
Total (Est.) 36.46M  6.76M    18.5%      ---         *       3.95M

+ Affiliated are those who have been baptised or the equivalent.
+ Members are generally taken to mean adult baptised/confirmed.
* "% members who attend" is assumed the same for all denominations.
This figure is likely uniform to within +/- 10%.

Thus total est. church attendees in the UK = 4.0 +/- 0.5 million. Note that while the Church of England (anglican) is the national religion, in numbers of _attenders_ it comes second to the Roman Catholics.

Repeating the same calculations as for Australia:

         Population of UK = 57.4M
      Attendees at church = 4.0 +/- 0.5M
          % attend church = (7.0 +/- 0.9) %
assuming similiar % of attendees believe as for Oz (50%),
       % christians in UK = (3.5 +/- 0.5) %

This probably compares best to the "pessemistic" estimate. I do not have an "optimistic" estimate, but assuming a similiar range as for Australia, one obtains:

   attendees at UK church = (11 +/- 2) %
     christians in the UK = (5.5 +/- 0.5) %

A quick look through the various figures listed in Operation World, especially for countries when christians face persecution, suggests a global figure of about 5% christians as being realistic (in contrast to the "claimed" 33%). It certainly makes christians a minority group. Mind you, I daresay other religions are in the same situation.

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