FACT square logoFaith Communities Today Newsletter 
Issue 6October 2010 
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Worship renewal is one of the strong elements of congregational vitality today. The percentage of congregations changing their worship style is up and it is contributing to the life of local religious groups. As contemporary worship styles are adopted by more and more congregations, they are more likely to report increased growth and vitality. Changes in worship are also likely to be controversial in most faiths. Change of this kind can be teh cause of conflict. Does this lead to the observation that conflict can be a good thing, related to growing vitality in at least some congregations?

Changing Worship Styles & Growing Congregations 
The number of congregations among all faiths who report "a great deal" of change in worship style over the past five years rose from one in eleven in 2005 to one in eight in 2008. In other words there were a third more congregations who had made significant changes in their worship. This indicates an ongoing pattern of change that is building steam in many sectors of American religion.

Contemporary worship style is strongly associated with growing congregations. 
The FACT research published in American Congregations 2008 shows that congregations that stay with traditional worship forms are less likely to see increases in worship attendance, while those with a contemporary style of worship are more likely to grow. "The affinity between contemporary worship and growth is clear," writes David Roozen, author of the report.  


A sense of God's presence is also more likely to be strong in congregations that have a contemporary worship style. Among congregations that report a lower sense of God's presence, 44 percent have a contemporary worship style while among those that indicate a stronger sense of God's presence 64 percent have a contemporary worship style. (See page 7.)

The surge in contemporary worship has been underway across the nation for at least two decades. "The rate of change appears to have peaked within Evangelical Protestantism, but continues to accelerate within Oldline Protestantism." It has had a generally positive influence on American religion. "Especially congregations that changed to contemporary worship in the past five years show elevated levels of spiritual vitality and of growth in worship attendance."

Worship style is also the cause of conflict in congregations. Only money and leadership are more likely to be the cause of fights in congregations. It is also true that instead of a narrow focus on one issue, conflict in congregations is usually tangled in a number of different issues. A fight about worship style can be the visible piece of a more profound set of disagreements. 
Resources on Changing Worship Style 

The Calvin Institute of Christian Worship includes a guide on how to "lead worship change, not worship war." It nicludes leadership ideas to prevent conflict. You can connect here.


Christianity Today has published an interview with Bryan Chapell entitled "Transcending the Worship Wars." It is available on line here. 


Tim Keller has written on this topic. His helpful thoughts can be downloaded in PDF. 


Examples of contemporary Jewish worship and Unitarian ideas on the topic have been published in the blog Inner Light, Radiant Life.


Synagogue 3000 is a resource center for contemporary forms of Jewish faith and its web site includes a number of relevant tools.


Resources for Catholic Educators provides a list of materials on worship and liturgy, but it does not focus on the topic of conflict over changes in worsip style.


Boys Scouts of America provides a PDF with Islamic readings that have a more contemporary feel.

FACT Data Reported in Christian Century

An article by Lovett Weems in the October 5 issue of Christian Century includes data from American Congregations 2008 and a quote from David Roozen, chairman of the coalition that produces the FACT reports. The information provides key evidence for Weems' analysis that chruch attendance is down across the board among Protestant denominations. He states that "regular" attendance patterns have slipped to twice a month instead of weekly. Weems is distinguished professor of church leadership at Wesley Seminary in Washington DC and director of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership.

New Presbyterian Panel Reports

Research Services of the Presbyterian Church (USA) recently released several reports from the Presbyterian Panel administered by Perry Chang, who is also a member of the FACT steering committee. A survey from May 2009 focuses on environmental issues. The other two reports include a range of topics related to denominational priorities, goals, confessions and resources from August 2009 and November 2009.

Leadership Network Research

Two research reports were released in the last month by Leadership Network, one of the organizations that make up the FACT coalition. Warren Bird, director of research and intellectual capital for Leadership Network and a regular participant in FACT meetings, is the primary author of both reports. Lean Staffing is a look at large congregations that keep their personnel costs at 35 percent or less of their total budget. The 2010 Large Church Salary and Benefits Report is the latest annual tracking survey on the topic. Both can be downloaded here.

New Religion Research

Over the past few weeks four reports have been published with new research on religion from a variety of organizations. The U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey was released September 28 by Pew Research Center with considerable media attention. A study by a religious trade journal Our Church explores how congregations are using Facebook and similar social media. It can be downloaded here and does not have a rigorous methodology. Child Trends, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center that studies children distributed in September a paper entitled The Demographics of Spirituality and Religiosity Among Youth. The Lewis Center for Church Leadership published Clergy Age Trends in the United Methodist Church, an update this year of similar research in 2008. The First Amendment Center completed a poll in August about American attitudes on issues related to religious rights, according to Religion News Service (RNS). Earlier this year Austin Presbyterian Seminary released A Study of the Effects of Particpation in SPE Pastoral Leader Peer Groups.

For further information about FACT, or to learn how to join the Cooperative Congregations Studies Partnership (CCSP), contact David Roozen at roozen@hartsem.edu