By Aaron Earls
What will help my church be as spiritually healthy as possible?
As pastors and church leaders ask that question, they often and rightly concentrate on relying on the Holy Spirit, developing spiritual disciplines in congregants, and teaching right theology.
Beyond those foundational issues, however, thriving churches share other common aspects.
As part of the American Congregations Study, the Hartford Institute for Religion Research asked churches their perspective on their current situation.
Most American churches say things have been going well and should continue that way, but churches with certain traits are more likely to say they are in an excellent position.
Among the 30 percent of American churches that say they are thriving, five factors show up more frequently than in other churches.
Not too small — The average American church has fewer than 100 attendees. Among those smaller churches maintaining spiritual vitality is less likely, though not impossible.
While around 19 percent of churches with 100 or fewer attendees say they are thriving, 37 percent of larger churches feel they are spiritually vital.
Growing — Spiritual health and numerical growth are not the same thing, but they are statistically connected.
Among churches that grew 2 percent or more in the past five years, 36 percent say they are thriving. Only 19 percent of those that declined 2 percent or more in the past five years say the same.
Able to change — More than 60 percent of thriving churches say they are doing well with change. The numbers drop dramatically for congregations who view their situation as more dire.
Of the churches doing OK, 27 percent say they do well with change. Among struggling congregations, 7 percent handle change well. For churches not sure whether they will survive, only 1 percent believe they adapt to well to change.
Innovative in worship — If you want a thriving congregation, get creative with your worship service.
Among those churches with highly innovative worship services, trying new technologies and instruments, 42 percent say they are thriving. Among those with low innovation, only 16 percent see themselves so positively.
Program specialists — Whether it is prayer groups, Bible study, music, young adult programs or student activities, churches that say they specialize in at least one member-oriented program are more likely to say they’re thriving.
Among churches with at least one specialty, 36 percent feel their congregation is thriving. That number drops to 26 percent for churches with no specialty.
Aaron is the senior writer at Lifeway Research.