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Who Cares? Exploring Pastoral Care in Dutch Protestant Parishes Using the Church Life Survey (CLS)


Pastoral care in parishes is a rather “silent” religious practice. As a result, data regarding the quantity and quality of regular pastoral care in local churches is scarce. To address this deficiency, we added several questions about pastoral care and support to the Church Life Survey and then carried out the survey with church attenders (N = 2,854) from 30 Dutch Protestant parishes. The results show that church attenders mostly receive pastoral care from their minister or professional pastoral worker. Church attenders also frequently advise others in their community to ask for pastoral support. They feel that their congregations should not only pay attention to particularly joyful or painful circumstances but should also direct more pastoral attention towards a general interest in people’s lives. By and large, respondents acknowledged that pastoral support is done in a competent and safe atmosphere. This study reveals a wide range of quantitative and qualitative insights into the frequency and quality of pastoral care as a religious practice, a practice that is not often discussed but which is of great importance to church attenders and is now a practice that is being given a voice through data.

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Availability of data and material


  1. See NCLS Research,

  2. See Research and Statistics, The Church of England,

  3. The report can be found here: Welcome to the National Congregations Study!, NCS, The fourth-wave report (2018–2019) is coming soon. Pastoral care is put into the larger category of caregiving activities—providing support in terms of food, housing, etc.

  4. The LISS panel is a representative sample of Dutch individuals who participate in monthly Internet surveys. The LISS panel is a data set hosted by CentERdata (Tilburg University). See LISS panel—Listening to people, LISS Panel,

  5. Appendix A provides a full overview of the module with the new questions.


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This pilot study was financed by three parties: the Maatschappij van Welstand, the Protestant Church of the Netherlands (PCN), and the Protestant Theological University of Groningen, the Netherlands. We thank all three parties for their confidence in and financial contributions to this pilot project. The authors have benefited from feedback by Ruth Powell, Miriam Pepper, and the rest of the NCLS Research Australia team and from helpful insights regarding statistical details and the current pastoral situation in the PCN by Ronald Bolwijn and Theo Hettema (PCN church office). Joris Kregting from KASKI pointed us to data available in the LISS panel. Statistical analyses were carried out using R 4.1.0 (Team, 2021).


This study was financed by three parties: the Maatschappij van Welstand, the Protestant Church (PCN), and the Protestant Theological University (PThU).

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Appendix A: module with questions added to the dutch version of the church life survey (NL-CLS)

Appendix A: module with questions added to the dutch version of the church life survey (NL-CLS)

  • Question 56: Have you received pastoral care and support in your church in the last 2 years? Yes, I met with . . . (Mark all that apply). Answer options: A minister or pastoral worker; One of the elders [staff members]; A pastoral volunteer in this church; Pastoral help outside this church (including digital help); Professional help, e.g., counselor, psychologist; Other person(s), such as family and friends; No, but I wish I had; No, and I did not need to.

  • Question 57: Have you referred anyone else to any of the above in the last 2 years to receive pastoral support? Answer options: Yes; No.

  • Question 58: Have you been approached by anyone from your church for a pastoral visit during the last 2 years? Answer options: Yes; No.

  • Question 59: This church should give more pastoral attention in person to . . . (mark no more than 2). Answer options: Joyful (family) occasions, e.g., birth of a child, anniversary; Painful circumstances, e.g., illness, stress, grief; Guidance in relationships; Guidance in faith and spirituality; Guidance in ethical dilemmas; Special groups, e.g., children, professionals; Those who need to be called to account for their behavior; A general interest in people’s lives; Other, namely: (write response here).

  • Question 60: Which of the following most closely characterizes the pastoral care situation in your church? Pastoral care . . . Answer options: is available only when urgently needed; is mostly available; is always offered and available; Don’t know.

  • Do you agree or disagree with the following statements? (Mark one box on EACH line) Answer options: Strongly agree; Agree; Neutral/Unsure; Disagree; Strongly disagree.

  • Question 61: The pastoral workers (pastor, elders, volunteers) in this church show an interest in my spiritual life and in the spiritual life of my family.

  • Question 62: Pastoral care in this church is done in a competent and safe atmosphere.

  • Question 63: Pastoral care in this church is directed towards discipleship and holiness.

  • Question 64: Pastoral care is meant for those who are experiencing a crisis or have problems in their lives.

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Pleizier, T., Zwijze-Koning, K. & van der Meulen, M. Who Cares? Exploring Pastoral Care in Dutch Protestant Parishes Using the Church Life Survey (CLS). Pastoral Psychol 71, 345–358 (2022).

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  • Pastoral care
  • Church Life Survey (CLS)
  • Quantitative research
  • Protestantism
  • Church
  • Congregational life