US ecumenical study shows why some congregations grow
British Church Newspaper – 2 February 2007
British Church Newspaper
A plan to recruit and incorporate newcomers, clarity of mission and ministry, contemporary worship, involvement of children in worship, geographic location, a website and the absence of conflict are key factors in why some congregations in America are grooving, according to the latest national survey of U.S. faith communities.
The survey, found that wanting to grow is not enough. Congregations that grow must plan for growth. "Congregations that developed a plan to recruit members in the last year were much more likely to grow than congregations that had not," according to a report on the survey written by C. Kirk Hadaway, Director of Research at the Episcopal Church Center in New York.
The survey showed that the average so called "mainline" congregation was less likely to grow than non denominational, evangelical congregations, Hadaway told ENS. More surprising to many people, Hadaway said, is that Roman Catholic congregations are not growing in a way comparable to the increased number of Roman Catholics in the United States.
The report notes that "when all congregations are combined, there is very tittle relationship between growth and theological orientation. In fact, the proportion growing is highest on the two end points: predominantly conservative congregations and liberal congregations (growth rates of 38% and 39%, respectively)
"More important than theological orientation is the religious character of the congregation and clarity of mission and purpose," the report continues. "Growing churches are clear about why they exist and about what they are to be doing."
The latest report, "tests the continuing salience of long 'taken for granted' principles of growth (e.g., location, conservative theology) as well as the more recently proposed (e.g., contemporary worship, spiritual practices and purposefulness)."
"Perhaps most importantly, it suggests several newly emergent dynamics to consider (e.g., the potential for growth in downtown areas and within multi racial/ethnic congregations)," said. David A. Roozen, Director of the Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership, which was responsible for the survey.
Among the other findings in the new FACTS on Growth report:
The survey was sponsored by the Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership (CCSP), The survey findings are available in "FACTS on Growth." The data was taken from the Faith Communities Today 2005 (FACT 2005) survey of 884 randomly sampled congregations of all faith traditions in the United States. The survey updates results from a survey taken in 2000, and is the latest in CCSP's series of trend tracking national surveys of U.S. congregations. [Episcopal News Service]
- Congregations that change worship format and style are more likely to grow. More than half the congregations that use contemporary styles of worship have experienced substantial growth since 2000. Frequency is important as well: The more worship services a congregation holds, the more likely it is to have grown. Over half of the congregations that use drums and or electric guitars often or always in their worship services have experienced "substantial growth" from 2000 to 2005, the report says. "The relationship is fairly strong in the overall set of congregations, but considerably stronger among evangelical churches and weakest among mainline churches," according to the report.
- Congregations located in new suburbs are more likely to experience growth. But surprisingly the second best area for growth is the downtown of metropolitan areas.
- Congregations that have experienced major conflict are quite likely to have declined in attendance. The strongest correlate of growth is the absence of serious conflict.
- Congregations that have started or maintained a website in the past year are most likely to grow. The effort to have a website indicates that the congregation is outward looking and willing to change by non traditional means, the study found.
- While most congregations in America are composed of a single racial/ethnic group, those that are multi racial are most likely to have experienced strong growth in worship attendance.
- More important than theological orientation is the religious character of the congregation and clarity of mission and purpose. Growing churches are clear about why they exist and about what they are to be doing.
- Congregations that involve children in worship are more likely to experience significant growth. Also, important to growth is the ability of congregations to attract young adults and children with families.
- Almost all congregations say they want to grow, but it takes intentionality and action for growth to occur. Congregations that developed a plan to recruit members in the last year were more likely to grow than congregations that had not. Particularly helpful in achieving growth are sponsorship of a program or event to attract non members or the existence of support groups.