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:
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.
- 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.
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".