By Aaron Earls
Most American churches have 80 or fewer worshippers each week and fewer than 45 percent of churches have grown more than 2 percent in the last five years, according to a study from the Hartford Institute for Religion Research.
Ultimately, it is God who brings growth to churches, but research shows several factors that are common in growing churches.
Analysis of the American Congregations 2015 study finds seven statistics played a role in which churches experienced significant growth since 2010.
1. Growing location — The old real estate adage applies to churches. Growth is connected to “location, location, location.”
More than half (59 percent) of churches in a new suburb grew at least 2 percent in the past five years. Those in other locations were less likely to experience similar growth—only 44 percent grew at that rate.
2. Younger congregation — Churches whose membership was at least a third senior adults were less likely to grow than other churches.
Only 36 percent of churches heavily attended by senior citizens grew 2 percent or more in the last five years. Almost half (48 percent) of churches where seniors were less than one-third grew.
3. Innovative worship — Congregations who describe their worship service as “very innovative” are almost 10 percent more likely to grow than others.
Less than 44 percent of churches that say they have little to some innovation in worship grew, while more than 53 percent of churches with very innovative worship grew.
4. Lack of serious conflict — Fighting churches are not growing churches. Serious conflict stunts growth.
For churches that maintained relative calm—no serious conflict in the past five years—more than half grew. Only 29 percent of churches with serious conflict did the same.
5. Involved church members — Simply put, the more laity is involved in recruiting new people the more likely a church will grow.
How likely is it that a church grew? For those whose laity was …
- Not at all involved: 35 percent
- Involved a little or some: 45 percent
- Involved quite a bit: 63 percent
- Involvement a lot: 90 percent
6. Unique identity — If churches worked to discover and present to their community what makes them different from other area churches, they are more likely to grow.
Almost 58 percent of churches who distinguished themselves from other congregations grew, compared to 43 percent of churches who showed little to no difference.
7. Specialized program — Similarly, if churches establish a program as a congregational specialty, they are more likely to grow.
Close to 52 percent of churches that have at least one specialty grew, while less than 42 percent of congregations who claimed no specialty did the same.
These seven statistics from the American Congregations 2015 study give a picture of the churches bucking the trend of decline across U.S. churches.
Aaron is the senior writer at Lifeway Research.