This is the last of the research oriented pieces of my "modest proposal." Tomorrow I will move into my proposed action steps related directly to the Revitalization of the Quaker Message in the United States. But first, a bit more from the various congregational studies -- both to inform and dispel a few more myths.
One of the things I hear posited as "conventional wisdom" is that only Evangelical and theologically conservative churches are growing. So what role does theology play in numerical growth?
- There is very little relationship between growth and theological orientation
- Highest growth is predominantly conservative congregations (38%) and liberal congregations (39%)
- Among Evangelical denominations it is the less conservative churches that are most likely to grow (30%)
- Growth is lowest among congregations in the middle (27%)
That's not to say theology is irrelevant. Of course, it's not. But a congregation's theology does not seem to be the prime indicator of whether it will grow or not. So if theology (conservative vs liberal vs whatever) isn't the factor, what is? The answer is -- a clear sense of mission.
- More important than theological orientation is the religious character of the congregation and clarity of mission and purpose
- Growing congregations are clear about why they exist
- They grow because they understand their reason for being and they make sure they do the things that are essential to their life as a religious organization
That last point leads to an obvious further question -- what is essential? The research says:
- Essential to the mission is to create a community where people encounter God
- Congregations that involved children in worship were more likely to experience significant growth -- congregations that did not were much more likely to experience decline
There is a strong relationship between growth and the sense that the congregation is “spiritually vital and alive. And that it is welcoming and hospitable.
Congregations that grow do more than say they are welcoming and hospitable. They live those things out in very intentional ways.
- They engage in a variety of recruitment-related activities (special events, community gatherings, bring a friend Sundays, etc)
- Attendees tell others about their congregation
- They make themselves more visible through various forms of advertising
There is one programmatic activity that is most strongly related to growth -- establishing or maintaining a web site for the congregation Congregations that have started or maintained a web site in the past year are most likely to grow.
This last piece, and moving beyond it into using social networking, is crucial. It is not a fad (or only for the young -- the fastest growing segment on facebook is 55-65 year old females).
So the third part of this modest proposal is to learn to be more mission-centric and people oriented. Why are we here and how do we let know others that we'd be happy to have them join with us? In a word, we need to think like a missional church.
Below is a list of some of the resources I've used in helping me prepare these thoughts. And some sites about the missional church movement.
Tomorrow is the first of my Friendly specifics.