Thursday, January 04, 2007

Worship, Websites, Conflict Affect Growth in Congregations

Worship, Websites, Conflict Affect Growth in Congregations:

The Presbyterian News Service picked up this report in an article titled "Study says conflict, race influence church growth" while The Christian Science Monitor, describing the same research report, titled their article "From US churches that are growing, a sound of drums."

I went over to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, affiliated with Hartford Seminary, and read their summary report which listed the following as their main findings:
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 – “purpose-driven growth.”
  • 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.
Since these main points do not mention a percussion section, I would have to give the nod to the Presbyterian News Service version as being a little more accurate, if not complete in their assessment of the report.

To be sure, the actual report DOES mention that drums are a stronger factor than even multimedia in their correlation with growing churches, but it appears that even stronger are the clarity of mission and expectations of members that characterize growing churches.

The report acknowledges that, in general, mainline protestant denominations are in a decline while evangelical protestant denominations are growing, but is reluctant to propose theological conservatism as the reason. Fair enough. It seems to be generally true that such congregations also have a strong sense of purpose, and that IS a strong factor in church growth.

Beau Weston, who has studied such trends in the PC(USA), sees clarity of beliefs along with clear expectations of church members as characterizing growing congregations. (I hope I haven't oversimplified his findings, but I'm sure he'll correct me if I'm wrong).

The full report is available in pdf and is titled "FACTs on Growth".


Michael W. Kruse said...

Denis, thanks for hunting this down. I will post it tomorrow as well excellent stuff.

Denis Hancock said...

Some of their findings could be filed under "no kidding, Sherlock" -- like the bullet points on conflict and attracting young families with children.

But in general the findings seem to confirm my intuitive feeling that congregations that know what they believe, where they stand, and what they are called to do are the ones that people seek out.

BTW -- I really enjoyed the comments on your posting on the CSM article. I had no idea that bongos were out and congas were in.

Quotidian Grace said...

Since "Kruse Kronicle" comes before "Reformed Angler" in my bloglines, I saw this at Mike's place first. But I want to thank you for posting it--and putting congas in their proper perspective!

Denis Hancock said...

Thanks, QG.

I should be using the "hat tip" more often than I do, since it often is browsing the blogs that arouses my curiosity enough to go a'googling.

When I saw the "conga" thread in the comments on Mike's original posting, I saw a "conga line" in my mind. Somehow the image of 100 worshipers in a line with their hands on the hips of the person in front of them seems a little odd -- But then I'm a Presbyterian...

Michael W. Kruse said...

"I saw a "conga line" in my mind."

I have this in mind for our next GAC meeting in March.


Denis Hancock said...

Hey Mike -- can you get me press credentials for the next GAC meeting? Have laptop, will travel....

Michael W. Kruse said...

GAC is open to any and all (unless, of course, someting juicy gets discussed; in which case the meeting are closed to everyone) No press credentials needed as far as I know.

If you come, I'll treat you to dinner sometime. We might even let you lead the conga line.