Monday, February 22, 2010

Congregational Growth

A church growth guru met with the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church and worked with them on statistics for growth. You can read the full report here.

This pair of paragraphs leapt out at me:
During his statistic-laden hour-long report, Kirk Hadaway, the church's program officer for congregational research, told the council that congregations grow when they are in growing communities; have a clear mission and purpose; follow up with visitors; have strong leadership; and are involved in outreach and evangelism.

Congregations decline, he said, when their membership is older and predominantly female; are in conflict, particularly over leadership and where worship is "rote, predictable and uninspiring."

Most of what is found in both paragraphs totally makes sense to me. Of course congregations grow when there is strong leadership. It sure helps to have communities that are growing. We struggled with this in Northern Michigan, and we struggle in Coos County, NH, too. In both places the population is shrinking. I'm also not surprised that congregations decline in the face of conflict and worship that is "rote, predictable and uninspiring."

What I found distressing is the first part of the second paragraph. "Congregations decline when their membership is older and predominantly female...." So many churches I know fit that description.

While many of the other things on both lists can be addressed, there's not much that can be done about this one. At least not at the start. And frankly, I'm not persuaded that being an older and predominantly female is enough to send a church into decline. I know some incredibly vibrant congregations that would fit that description.

I wish whoever had written the article had simply phrased it differently. My fear is that some churches will see this and essentially throw up their hands, rather than looking at the list of things that help with growth and adopting some of those habits.

I've known small and predominantly older-female churches that were vibrant and large congregations with a variety of ages and both genders in the pews that were not. Let's help congregations identify what makes a church vital - and then help them to asses whether they have what it takes to become more vital (if they aren't there already). That would really help church growth.

No comments: