FACT square logoFaith Communities Today Newsletter 
Issue 14December 2011 

The latest research reports at Faith Communities Today


FACTs on Growth: 2010 


A Decade of Change in American Congregations--Trends 2000-2010


American Congregations Reach Out to Other Faith Traditions 


Holy Toll: The Impact of the 2008 Recession on American Congregations


Plus reports from participating 



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What Produces Growing Congregations?


New information is released from a large survey of religious congregations of all faiths in America

Specific factors that correlate with growth

Nine out of ten congregations say they want to add more members. Across the board, regardless of their religious tradition or Christian denomination, how to grow is a topic of conversation among congregational leaders and in official governing committees. This is especially true at a time when it appears that attendance is down and there are economic pressures, but it is more than that. Religious groups feel strongly that they provide a uniquely important experience for people at a time when most Americans are not regular participants in any faith community.

An analysis of growth factors has been completed using the data from the Faith Communities Today (FACT) 2010 survey. A random sample that includes more than 7,000 local groups provides the data set for this analysis which was authored by C. Kirk Hadaway, Church Officer for Congregational Research, The Episcopal Church, and a key member of the Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership which sponsors the FACT series of research studies. 

What Correlates With Growth?

Location is important. Congregations located in the downtown or central city neighborhoods of metropolitan areas were more likely to grow in recent years. Those in newer suburbs were also likely to grow. This is a significant change from a similar study completed in 2005 when the newer suburbs were more likely to be the location of growing congregations than central city neighborhoods. Congregations located in the South are also more likely to grow than those located in other parts of the country.

New congregations are more likely to grow than are those with a longer history. The majority of new congregations started since 1992 have had significant increases in the number of active participants. This growth advantage does not last forever. "After 15 to 20 years the window of opportunity closes."

If a congregation has a significant percentage of ethnic minorities or is predominantly made up of an ethnic minority it is more likely to grow.

Youth is a key factor. Congregations in which people over 50 make up 30 percent or less of the active participants are most likely to have growth.

A clear sense of mission and purpose is "one of the strongest correlates of growth." There is also a strong relationship between growth and the sense that the congregation is "spiritually vital and alive."

A contemporary worship style also correlates with growth. The use of electric guitars, drums, projectors and an "innovative" approach to worship were combined in a scale that has a strong relationship with growing congregations. There is a similar correlation for congregations that report that their worship has "changed a lot" in recent years and those that have added a new worship service.

A number of specific activities and programs are included in this analysis. There is a strong correlation with growth among those congregations that report follow-up contact with newcomers in worship and conducting special events designed to be comfortable and interesting to non-members. This includes parenting classes and marriage enrichment events as well as other kinds of programs.

What the clergy leader in the congregation spends time on also correlates with growth. Evangelism and the recruitment of new members as well as developing and promoting a vision for the congregation are the key activities.

Considerable additional information is included in the 24-page report, FACTs on Growth: 2010. This is the fourth in a series of reports from the monumental, decade-long research enterprise in which the major religions in America worked together. How the findings relate to specific denominational families and faith traditions is explained in the report and at the FACT web site there are individual reports from a number of the faiths.

A copy of the report entitled FACTs on Growth is available for download at the FACT website.

New Book: The Black Mega-Church
Recently released by Baylor University Press, this book by Tamelyn Tucker-Worgs used data from the FACT 2000 study conducted by the Interdenominational Theological Center (ITC) in Atlanta. It provides an additional analysis of this FACT data specifically related to large, urban African American congregations and their impact on the communities in which they are located.
More Reports to Come in 2012 
Reports on the church and the Internet, what is happening with worship and other topics are being prepared by researchers who are part of the Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership. FACT will publish the first of these reports in January and others throughout the coming year. You may want to forward this Email to friends and colleagues so they can get the information as it is released. Do you know someone for whom this would be a welcome holiday gift?

Resources for Congregational Growth 


Hundreds of books, perhaps thousands, are available on the topic of "church growth." There is some literature on congregational life and growth in each of the major religious traditions. Since the 1950s this has been a major focus for many writers. More than 200 new titles on this topic were published in the last four months.


Unfortunately, few of the books are rooted in the confirmed findings of careful research. Many of these books are simply case studies written by a successful pastor or church planter. They suggest many things for you to mimic with no evidence as to the probability that they will work in your situation. Some of these books include multiple case studies but nothing like a random sample of congregations. A few are written by individuals who have worked as a consultant with a number of congregations. Most lack the kind of research that Faith Communities Today seeks to support and disseminate.


Classics in this field include the works of Donald McGavran, C. Peter Wagner and Lyle Schaller. More recently The Purpose Driven Church by Rick Warren has become widely influential, even beyond the Evangelical Protestant context in which it was written. Perhaps the best information available from the last decade of the 20th Century is Church and Denominational Growth edited by David Roozen and C. Kirk Hadaway (1993, Abingdon Press).


Most denominations and faith groups have a department or resource organization that provides information and assistance to help congregations grow. There are many independent or seminary-based institutes, research centers and resource organizations on this topic. It is impossible for us to list even a few here. We have listed some that we feel are the best providers of research-based information in previous issues of this newsletter.


A research and resource center that specializes in assisting Jewish congregations is Synagogue 3000. At the Faith Communities Today web site you can find a link to this organization and others in each of the denominations and religions participating in the Cooperative Congregation Studies Partnership.   

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