CHANGE & Research finds if congregations can change, they can grow.

by Hartford Seminary American Congregations Project.

Congregations Can Change, They Can Grow Congregations that are spiritually vital and alive, have strong, permanent leadership, and enjoy joyful, innovative and inspirational worship are more likely to experience growth, this 2011 study found. Other factors that support growth are being located in the South; having more weekly worship services; and having a clear sense of mission and purpose. These are among the conclusions that stood out in a Faith Communities Today report on American congregations titled “Facts on Growth: 2010”. “They almost seem commonsensical,” said David Roozen, Director of Hartford Seminary’s Hartford Institute for Religion Research, “but it is surprising how many struggling congregations puzzle over the challenges of growth.” FACT released this report to help and provoke the reflection of just such congregations — those seeking to discern which issues help and which hinder growth. The author is C. Kirk Hadaway, former Church Officer for Congregational Research, The Episcopal Church. The report was one in a series produced by The Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership (CCSP), based on a 2010 survey that analyzed responses from 11,077 randomly sampled congregations of all faith traditions in the United States. “Location, Location, Location used to be the kind way that researchers described the extent to which the growth or decline of American congregations was captive to the demographic changes going on in their immediate neighborhoods,” said Roozen. “Congregations cannot totally ignore what is going on in their context, but the clear message of FACTs on Growth: 2010 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.” Hadaway wrote, “Decline is more prevalent today than it was five years ago and congregational economics are much more precarious. Still, many congregations in America are growing. What are they like and what are they doing?” Among the findings in the report: In a shift, congregations located in the downtown or central city area are more likely to experience growth than congregations in other locations. Previous surveys found that newer suburbs were associated with the greatest potential for growth. The South, from Maryland to Texas, is better for growth than any other region. The youngest congregations, those started since 1992, are most likely to grow. Growth in predominantly white congregations is less likely, in part because this population has zero growth demographically. The members tend to be older as well and less likely to have contemporary worship services. Denomination matters – growth is more likely among conservative Protestant groups and least likely among mainline Protestant congregations. There is a clear correlation between growth and the sense that a congregation is spiritually vital and alive along with a clear mission and purpose. While only nine percent of congregations have three services on a typical weekend and five percent have four or more, these congregations are more likely to have grown. It is unclear, however, whether churches grow because they have more services or they grow first and add services. Where a worship service is considered joyful, a congregation is more likely to experience substantial growth. And congregations that involve children in worship were more likely to experience substantial growth. 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. In general, having congregational programs of all kinds is related to growth. Be it Sunday school, Scripture study, fellowship, retreats, youth programs, team sports, or community service, nothing works against growth. The programs that produced the strongest link to growth were (1) young adult activities (2) parenting or marriage enrichment activities and (3) prayer or meditation groups. Congregations without a leader or an interim leader are least likely to experience growth. Generally, the younger the leader, the more likely a congregation has grown. Leaders 35 to 39 years old are most likely to be in growing congregations. Congregations that saw themselves as not that different from other congregations in their area tended to decline.
Read more here … https://faithcommunitiestoday.org/facts-on-growth-2010/

SIGNATURE MINISTRY & A case-study showing why a signature ministry is one of the 7Systems.church of a healthy church.

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 8/15/17.

I have categorized “7Marks of healthy churches” from the exhaustive research of the American Congregations 2015 Survey (available at http://www.faithcommunitiestoday.org/sites/default/files/American-Congregations-2015.pdf)

The 7Systems.church are:

  1. Visibility (communication system)
  2. Embracing a growing culture (reconciling system)
  3. Supernatural worship (numinous system)
  4. People & places are changed (regeneration system)
  5. Involved volunteers (leadership system)
  6. Lack of serious conflict (unity system)
  7. Signature Ministry (competency system)

Here is a case-study story that illustrates #4: Signature Ministry.


A Minneapolis congregation finds new life through the ancient practice of keeping Sabbath

by Jeff Stickler, Faith & Leadership, 4/4/18.

Lake Nokomis Presbyterian was dying, and everybody knew it — even if they weren’t quite ready to accept it. When Root realized the congregation wasn’t willing to let go — at least not yet — she knew it was the right place and the right time to suggest something radical.

“The people who had stayed were hardy adventurers,” she said. “They were ready to try new things. And I figured that if we went broke in 18 months instead of 24, what difference would it make?”

What would the circumstances have to be in order for your church or organization to make radical changes?

Strictly speaking, Root’s idea wasn’t new. In fact, it was thousands of years old. In a time when congregations are searching for new and different ways of being church, Root proposed that Lake Nokomis reclaim the ancient practice of Sabbath keeping and place it at the core of their identity as a congregation.

That might mean a day with no shopping trip to the mall. No pulling out a smartphone to check on work emails. No paying bills or balancing the checkbook.

And on some Sundays, under Root’s proposal, it would mean not even going to church.

“People weren’t coming every Sunday, anyway,” Root said…

Lake Nokomis Presbyterian is not on the cusp of becoming a megachurch, by any means, but the attendance trend has been reversed. Since the Sabbath practice was launched, the congregation has gained 18 new members and another dozen or so people who attend regularly. About 90 people are now members of the church; 40 to 70 attend Sunday worship services, and 12 to 25 the Saturday evening services.

Young families have joined the church, and the children’s program is back. “It’s great seeing kids running around the church again,” Root said.

Read more at … https://www.faithandleadership.com/minneapolis-congregation-finds-new-life-through-ancient-practice-keeping-sabbath?utm_source=NI_newsletter&utm_medium=content&utm_campaign=NI_feature


For a detail explanation of each of the 7Systems.church and how churches can replicate them, see my series of 7 articles for Church Revitalizer Magazine beginning with the first article at this link: https://churchhealthwiki.wordpress.com/2016/04/18/turnaround-churches/

7 Marks Healthy Church SLIDE.jpg

 

7Systems.church

RESEARCH & Summaries of Most Major Studies of No. American Congregations

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel:  This list, curated by Hartford Seminary’s Hartford Institute for Religion Research, is one of the best curated listings of scholarly research available on the web.


“The study of congregations has become a primary focus of sociologists of religion in the past decade.  The local church is now seen by researchers as an important component of an individual’s faith and religious practice in the United States.  The increased role of congregations in American public life makes the study of these local religious organizations increasingly important.

This section offers summaries of major research projects which have the congregation as a focus of study.  They are listed in rough chronological order.”

Others research summaries coming soon.

View congregational survey question bank drawn from the survey instruments of several of the above projects


More research from Hartford Seminary’s Hartford Institute for Religion Research Page (below):

Visit our research section on Megachurches – This section of the site contains research, writings and an extensive database of megachurches in the U.S.

Women and Religion – Information from several studies on the role of women in religion can be found in this section.  Included are links to other web resources on women and religion.

Religion and the Family – Several recent studies on religion and changing family dynamics are highlighted in this section. Information on the family ministries of churches and denominations is also included.

Religion and the Web – The Internet is changing the face of religion. Several articles discussing these changes are included here. This section also has links to sites about religion and the Internet.

Pentecostalism – Pentecostalism is one of the fastest growing religious phenomena in the past century.  Research on religious groups practicing expressive, charismatic worship is described in this section.

Orthodox Churches in the United States – This section has one of a kind research on the major branches of the Orthodox Church in the USA.  It includes tables of fact, articles and links to more information.

Homosexuality and Religion – This section contains information on this controversial topic.  Included here are reports of denominational debates, research data and links to information on this subject.

Quick Questions – Our quick questions section is the archive of factoids drawn from studies and research reports we feature in this web site.  Individual questions are rotated onto our homepage approximately every week.  These questions are intended to highlight the diverse research findings contained on the Institute web site.

Faith Based Social Services/Charitable Choice – Links to research articles and other useful sites are provided here on the subject of congregations providing social services to address issues of the needy within their community.

CHURCH TRENDS & The American Congregations Survey from Hartford Institute

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: The American Congregations 2015: Thriving and Surviving survey (by David A. Roozen, The Hartford Institute for Religion Research) is some of the most exhaustive and scholarly research conducted on American congregations. Every student of church health and growth should become familiar with this survey. But not just seminary students and budding scholars should will benefit from this research. Even the causal reader will find helpful charts/graphs that will give you a quick, but accurate picture of the Church in North America. The survey is available as a free PDF. I consider it as a foundational scholarly resources that every leader interested in church health and growth should consult.

Download the .pdf here: hirr.hartsem.edu/AmericanCongregations2015.pdf

See also Mark Chaves work at Duke University which resulted in the equally helpful National Congregations Study (NCSIII) downloadable at the link here.

American Congregations 2015 Survey Contents

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