“If congregations can change, they can grow.” That is one of the major findings of a survey of American congregations titled “Facts on Growth: 2010.” The survey produced by The Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership (CCSP), analyzed responses from 11,077 randomly sampled congregations of all faith traditions in the United States. It measured change in attendance between 2005 and 2010. You can read the full report at www.faithcommunitiestoday.org
Here, in a proverbial nutshell, are the other major findings:
• Congregations located in downtown or central city area are more likely to experience growth
• Congregations started since 1992 are most likely to grow
• Growth in predominantly white congregations is less likely
• Growth is correlated with a clear mission and purpose
• Joyful worship services and worship services that include children are associated with greater growth in the congregation
• Congregations whose members are heavily involved in recruiting new people have a definite growth advantage, as do congregations that use multiple methods to make follow-up contacts with visitors, that regularly invest in special events or programs to attract people from the community, and whose senior clergy spent priority time in evangelism and recruitment.
• Having congregational programs of all kinds is related to growth, especially young adult activities, parenting or marriage enrichment activities and prayer or meditation groups.
• Congregations with strong leaders, especially leaders 35-39 years old, are most likely to be in growing congregations.
• Congregations that say they are willing to change to meet new challenges tend to be growing congregations.
• Congregations with little or no conflict are most likely to grow.
• Congregations that saw themselves as not that different from other congregations in their area tended to decline in growth
So what are we to make of this? Some factors, like location, age of the congregation, and community demographics may be difficult to impact. But look at how many of these factors are well within the ability of congregations to do something about: Having a clear mission and purpose, having joyful worship services (the study finds a positive correlation between electric guitars in worship and growth in congregations), engaging the congregation in recruitment of new members (see my previous blog on Friendship Sunday), implementing a variety of programs for people of varying ages, cultivating strong leaders, managing conflict, creating a niche. These are not all easy to establish, but they are certainly well with in the range of possibility if we are truly committed to growth.
The Reverend Dan Dick, Director of Connectional Ministries for the Wisconsin Annual Conference, said this, “Turnaround churches almost all agree: They knew what they needed to do before they did it. Churches that truly want to grow do so. Churches that want to serve do so. Churches that want to climb out of financial hardship do it. For every declining church you can name, there is a growing one just like it in most ways. The key difference? Declining churches expect their answer to come from the outside; growing churches take responsibility for their own solutions.” Rev. Dan goes on to say that, “The hard reality is that our own health, vitality and future rest squarely with us—no one else will guarantee them for us . . .”
And David Roozen, Director of Hartford Seminary’s Hartford Institute for Religion Research, which oversaw the Facts on Growth 2012 study, concludes, “The clear message…is that in today’s world growth and decline are primarily dependent upon a congregation’s internal culture, program and leadership, and therefore a congregation’s own ability to change and adapt.”
So it seems like it’s up to the members of the congregation to make the decision to stay or grow, to roll up their sleeves and to go about the difficult work of creating a stronger and more vital spiritual home. As a consultant, I would hate to think that you couldn’t do it without me. But I know this. Without a willing and committed congregation, you couldn’t do it at all. So find your focus, commit to your vision, prioritize your tasks and get to work. And it wouldn’t hurt to get out that electric guitar either.
CERG Regional Growth Development Consultant