Inflow and Outflow Between Denominations: 1991 to 2001

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This paper introduces the NCLS Inflow Outflow Model and maps the inflow and outflow for a number of Australian denominations that took part in both the 1996 and 2001 NCLS.


When churches grow, many assume good things must be happening. Indeed, church attendance growth has been seen by some as the measure of church health. Where there is decline, it is assumed that the church must be unhealthy in some way.

Yet, NCLS researchers argue that a focus only on numbers can be limited and misleading. Is growth made up mostly of people moving in from other churches? What about attracting newcomers from the community or retaining the children brought up within the church? If a church only pays attention to its overall attendance growth or decline, it can draw wrong conclusions about the true nature of their connection with the community

Research in Western countries has shown that much of what passes as church growth is actually people moving between churches, or ‘religious musical pews’. Often it is not the inclusion of new believers as in the New Testament. In Australia it has been estimated that only a quarter of all church growth is comprised of people fresh from the community moving into church life.

NCLS Research offers a more sophisticated, holistic and useful way to think about attendance change. The NCLS Inflow Outflow model present attendance change in terms of its various components. This model helps churches to understand whether their growth is a reflection of effectiveness in mission or whether it is being driven by other factors.

Authors: Sam Sterland, Ruth Powell, Keith Castle


Sterland, S., Powell, R., and Castle, K., (2006) Inflow and Outflow between denominations. NCLS Research Occasional Paper 08. Sydney: NCLS Research.