We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

FPC Log: "Facts on Growth 2010" (ix)

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In late 2011, Hartford Seminary's Faith Communities Today program issued a report entitled, Facts On Growth:2010, which contains important statistical insights into what constitutes a growing church in the early 21st century.  The report considers five key areas of church life: (1) context & composition of the church; (its identity & orientation; (3) worship; (4) programs & recruitment of new members; and (5) leadership.  Under each category, the author, C. Kirk Hadaway, sifts through the data to discern the characteristics of churches that are growing and those that are not.  Some of its findings will surprise no one, but some do, and a key contribution  of the report is the way in which it quantifies most of the parameters of ecclesiastical growth.

Insights include the fact that in metropolitan areas downtown churches were more likely to be growing than suburban congregations, an important change in recent years.  The data confirms that Southern churches, newer churches, and churches with more young people are more likely to be growing churches.  Hadaway notes that churches that, "have a healthy mix of ages tend to be growing, but most important to growth is the ability of congregations to attract younger adults and families with children.” (p. 5)  As has been found in other studies, there is little correlation between theological orientation and growth, although conservative or evangelical churches are more likely to have characteristics that encourage growth.  Hadaway observes that,
“More important than theological orientation is the religious character of the congregation and clarity of mission. Growing churches are clear about why they exist and about what they are to be doing. They do not grow because they have always been at the corner of 2nd and Main. They do not grow because they are focused on themselves. They grow because they understand their reason for being and they do the things well that are essential to their life as a religious organization. One of the stronger correlates of growth was the extent to which the congregation “has a clear mission and purpose.” (p. 8)
Other key factors in growth include a joyful worship life, a commitment to growth, excitement about one's church, and particular types of programs including marriage enrichment.  Hadaway writes, “The programs that produced the strongest relationships with growth were: 1) young adult activities; 2) parenting or marriage enrichment activities; and 3) prayer or meditation groups.” (p. 16)  In the reports' concluding section, Hathaway states that congregational growth is more likely if a church is located in a growing geographic location, has a clear sense of identity, is younger, is spiritually vital, belongs to a conservative denomination, has innovative worship, emphasizes evangelism, and is led by a younger and full-time pastor.  In every category, however, there are growing churches that do not exhibit the usual characteristics of growth.

From all of the data and insights contained in Facts on Growth: 2010, the most important insight seems to be that churches that want to grow have to commit themselves programmatically to growth, have innovative, joyful worship, and run other programs that meet people's needs in their community, such as marriage enrichment courses.