The latest news from Faith Communities Today - with a new look and brand new research findings from over 4400 American congregations.
Growing Episcopal Churches - What do they look like?

The Faith Communities Today (FACT) project is a collaborative venture of researchers from dozens of different denominations and religious groups. We collectively create the surveys we use, jointly collect the data from our individual denominations' congregations and then share the data to create a comprehensive profile of American religious communities. Each individual group is responsible for producing reports on their own denominational material. Occasionally, this newsletter will highlight findings from the work of our partners.
This month we present findings from the report by Kirk Hadaway, head of research for the Episcopal Church. This research was done a few months prior to the national Faith Communities Today study due to denominational timing necessities and therefore was unable to be included in the final collected analysis. Nevertheless, many of the questions are identical to the larger FACT study and Hadaway's analysis is always insightful and instructive.

Below, we excerpt interesting sections from the report focused on congregational growth and decline. While written about 762 Episcopal churches, it has relevance and guidance for all congregations no matter what faith tradition. Our selective excerpt draws out a few of the findings we think fit many congregations, but is only a small portion of the full report. Enjoy our snippet and then read the full PDF report, New FACTs on Episcopal Church Growth and Decline, at your leisure this summer.
Some Episcopal congregations are growing; many are stable in attendance and membership; others are declining. Why do congregations thrive or experience losses?
The 2014 Survey of Episcopal Congregations was completed by 762 congregations out of an initial sample of 1,100. [For this report] growing churches grew by at least 10% in average Sunday attendance (20% of the sample). Plateaued congregations experienced a change in ASA of +5% to -7.4%.   Declining churches decreased by 10% or more (45% of churches). Churches with moderate growth and moderate decline were excluded in order to examine the characteristics of churches that were more clearly growing, plateaued or declining.
The larger the proportion of older people in the church, the less likely is the church to grow and the more likely is it to decline.

In terms of congregational identity, the most important factor was a rating of the congregation as being "spiritually vital and alive." Vital organizations have a different sense to them, which is tangible, but hard to describe. ... There is life in vital congregations and it is contagious. Such congregations tend to be growing.
In terms of the character of worship in Episcopal congregations, churches that describe their worship as "vibrant and engaging" were most likely to grow. This was also the case for churches that described their worship as "fun and joyful."   There is a sense of life in the worship of growing churches that is less evident in most non-growing churches. Part of this vitality may be related to a critical mass of people creating a sense of community celebration, but, of course, vibrant worship is also possible in smaller churches.

Descriptions of the character of worship (joyful, exciting, vibrant and engaging, reverent, etc.) had no independent effect on growth. In past surveys, there was an independent negative effect of having very formal, "reverent," predictable worship. But in the present survey, there is no such strong relationship.
Churches which use Morning Prayer, a combination of Morning Prayer and Rite I, or a combination of Rite I and Rite II are more likely to be declining. Churches which stick to a typical expression of Rite II for all of their services are more likely to grow and less likely to decline. But churches that offer non-typical services, whether imaginative, contemporary, ancient/modern or in languages other than English are much more likely to experience growth.
The creation, and the maintenance, of community is particularly important in Episcopal churches. Almost all congregations see themselves as warm and friendly, but among growing congregations, there is considerable effort to draw people into the life of the church and make them a part of it.
Growing churches tend to have more special events and fellowship activities. Even when controlling for size (because larger churches have more of everything), the effect is independent. There is more going on in growing churches and it adds to the life of the congregation.

A related effect is provided by a coffee hour that draws newcomers in and facilitates interaction among members, old and young. Food and fellowship are good things, but not always present at coffee hours. Creative chaos is even better.

Congregations grow (and decline) for many reasons and it is not possible to examine them all. Also, growth occurs for different reasons within different contexts. Here we look only at the national, gross picture. The relationships are instructive, but there are different avenues for growth and vitality-not just one.

Check out the full PDF report to learn more about growth characteristics in Episcopal Churches.  How does your congregation measure up?
And speaking of growing...

United Church of Christ Congregations in the Faith Communities Today 2015 study that reported at least 2% growth in average weekly worship attendance from 2009 to 2014 (19% of the surveyed churches) had the following characteristics or attributes when compared with churches that did not experience this level of growth:
  • Possessed greater percentages of people under age 50 in the congregation (including greater percentages of children and youth)
  • Incorporated reading/performing by children/youth more frequently in worship
  • More frequently self-characterized worship as filled with a sense of God's presence, nurturing of people's faith, innovative, inspirational, joyful, and intergenerational
  • Were reported to be more spiritually vital and alive
  • Emphasized Bible, scripture or theological studies (other than Sunday School), fellowships or other social activities, community service activities, and youth (13-17) activities/programs
  • Engaged in evangelism and outreach to new people
  • Placed a greater emphasis on the following personal and family faith practices: Talking with friends or other members of the congregation about one's faith, parents talking with children about faith, and living out faith in all aspects of one's daily life
  • Had a clearer sense of mission and purpose
  • Placed greater emphasis on working for social justice
  • Had greater percentages of LGBT participants in the congregation
  • Were more racially and ethnically diverse
  • Expressed a willingness to change to meet new challenges (with many congregations having undergone change in recent years)
  • Were quite different from other congregations in their community
  • Had a positive sense of their future as a congregation

Additional Resources From Our 2015 Study

Faith Communities Today Facts on Growth Report This report, also written by Kirk Hadaway, uses the 2010 survey data from over 12,000 congregations to examine growth patterns and vitality dynamics.  It is an excellent resource. 

Reports from some of the Faith Communities Today Partners:

The United Church of Christ 2015 findings are available in various forms at their Research Office website including: 
A webinar FACTS on UCC Congregations: Findings from the 2015 Faith Communities Today National Survey of Congregations. Click here to watch or download a PDF version of the webinar

Next Newsletter - Survey Reflections on Giving
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