What Growing Congregations Do
Over the next few newsletter issues, and on our Facebook page, we will explore many of the factors that strongly correlate with numerical growth in congregations. We realize that growth in numbers isn't always the best measure of spiritual vitality or a rich religious experience. However, it is a question we are often asked. In later months, and in an upcoming report, we will broaden this perspective on congregational health and vitality signs.
We want to focus specifically on those traits and practices that are present in growing faith communities that a leadership team might be able to also implement in their own setting.
We begin this series with one of the most powerful connections to the growth of a congregation in our research - that is getting the membership involved in inviting others into the life of the congregation. "This may seem like a no brainer," stated our 2015 report, but "the more a congregation's laity is involved in recruitment the more likely growth is-and the effect is dramatic (see the figure below). Our study found that just 14% of over 4000 congregations surveyed said their laity was "quite" or "very involved" in recruitment.

Getting your members both excited about their involvement in the congregation and also willing to share that excitement with others outside the church is key to any congregational growth strategy.

Our latest report, authored by David Roozen the director of the project, includes 18 pages of significant findings in text and graphics. This is the first of several focused reports to be released in 2016 from the national survey of over 4400 U.S. congregations. These other reports will include a closer look at growth, young adult ministry, measures of vitality, and the use of technology.

 Check out the report for yourself
Our Partners' Results:
Beginning this month, one of the faith group collaborators who help to make the Faith Communities Today research possible will offer findings from their specific group's research.

Our first report comes from the United Church of Christ (UCC) researcher Kristina Lizardy-Hajbi and addresses growth trends within the UCC data.
From our 2015 survey of 910 UCC churches, we specifically examined the congregations that reported at least 2% growth in average weekly worship attendance from 2009 to 2014 (19% of surveyed churches). These growing churches had the following characteristics or attributes when compared with congregations that did not experience this level of growth:
  • Had a positive sense of their present and future as a congregation
  • Were better at incorporating newcomers into the congregation
  • Were more spiritually vital and alive
  • Placed greater emphasis on working for social justice
  • Claimed to be in good financial health overall
  • Engaged in evangelism and outreach to new people
  • Characterized their worship as joyful
  • Emphasized the practice of living out one's faith in daily life
All of the characteristics above reported strong levels of statistical significance (p ≤ .05) when compared with congregations that grew by less than 2%, plateaued, or declined from 2009 to 2014.

Many other characteristics also showed statistically significant differences between the growing and plateaued or declining churches. Some of these traits included prioritizing young adult ministries, emphasizing youth (13-17) activities/programs, and being different from other congregations in their community. Visit the UCC research site for the full details of our study.

News & Additional Resources: 

Check out two interesting news stories featuring our data written by David Briggs at Ahead of the Trend on the Association of Religion Archives website.

The Amazon effect: Worshippers flocking to larger churches

The '1 percent' in mainline Protestantism? Congregations attracting young adults

Also Sojourners and USA Today ran our RNS story last month.

Additionally, the survey's data were reported in three other stories in Christianity Today, the Colorado Gazette and the Orlando Sentinel.
The United Church of Christ research website is a great resource for research and thoughtful commentary. The Center for Analytics, Research and Data (CARD)  offers extensive analysis of the 2015 survey as well as many other excellent resources. Their blog Vital Signs and Statistics investigates questions of importance for the UCC, and us all, through research and statistics. It is worth checking out!
If you missed it, several years ago Faith Communities Today produced a report on congregational growth based on the 2010 research entitled Facts on Growth: 2010 

And a few other resources for helping with Congregational Growth:
Obviously, a holistic understanding of church health is more important than numerical growth as Pastor Rick Warren makes clear in this helpful article.
Along that same idea, the Unitarian Universalist Association has an interesting video that describes a multi-dimensional understanding of congregational growth.
Let us know if you have favorite health or growth-oriented resources and we might feature them in upcoming issues. Email us your suggestions.

The Data Says:
If you get your congregation's members excited about their involvement, they will probably share this enthusiasm with other people and your congregation is more likely to grow. Find ways to tap into the passions of your people and help them grow spiritually. As a result, they will likely tell others about your faith community.
What questions do you want to ask our survey data?  
Email us or post a question to our Facebook page.
We won't have all the answers, but we will share what we know.

Faith Communities Today | fact@hartsem.edu  |  www.faithcommunitiestoday.org 
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