Monday, December 01, 2008

Church Growth Keys: Multiracial, Happy, More Males Active

Kirk Hadaway is a veteran church observer of mainline church growth and decline. Recently, Hadaway released the results of a study he completed on mainline churches. I think it has real relevance for our work in North Alabama:

Congregations interested in increasing their weekly attendance would do well to make a plan for recruiting new members, become multiracial and make sure that serious conflict doesn’t take root. That’s the message of an analysis recently released by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research at Hartford Seminary. The “FACTs on Growth” report, based on data collected in a 2005 survey of nearly 900 congregations, found that congregations reporting growth in worship attendance between 2000 and 2005 tended to exhibit certain common attributes.

Multiracial congregations had a better chance of growing than those predominantly consisting of one racial group. Some 61 percent of multiracial churches said they had experienced growth, while just 31 percent of predominantly Anglo congregations said the same.

But even more important may be whether people in the pews, no matter their race, actually get along with one another.

“Whether or not a congregation finds itself in serious conflict is the number one predictor of congregational decline,” writes C. Kirk Hadaway, director of research for the Episcopal Church and author of the report, released in December. “This finding points out the need for conflict resolution skills among clergy so minor conflict does not become serious, debilitating conflict.”

Conversely, congregations were most likely to grow if they:

  • had a clear mission and purpose as a congregation
  • conducted “joyful” worship services
  • adopted a specific plan for recruiting new members
  • had changed worship format at one or more services in the past five years
What’s more, congregations were likely to grow if men constituted the majority of active participants, said Hadaway.

Among congregations in which at least three out of five regular participants were men, 50 percent reported growth, but among churches where no more than two in every five regular participants were men, only 21 percent said they had experienced growth.

“As American congregations become increasingly populated by women,” the report says, “those congregations that are able to even out the proportions of males and females are those most likely to grow.”

-- Excerpts from Christian Century, January 23, 2007, p. 14

Will Willimon

18 comments:

Julie said...

Just because these things correlate to church growth it does not mean that that is what causes them. Moreover even if these things are what causes growth all it means it that they are growing a church and not necessarily the Church.

My problem with any sort of church growth tactics is that often they bypass God. So what do we do from this? Tell our churches to recruit males and minorities and work on getting along? Where is God in all that?

I will put my money on the fact that any church will grow if it is a church that is truly seeking God. Get any church to come together and all pray for an hour a day for a year and it will grow. But we don't do that, we use these tactics. Why? Perhaps for the same reason diets are so popular. We all know it is diet and exercise that really works but still we search for an easier way. Faithfulness it what will grow the Church, is that so hard for us we have abandoned it for another way and been content to just grow a church?

B'ham Billy said...

Conversely, congregations were most likely to grow if they:

had a clear mission and purpose as a congregation
---------------
conducted “joyful” worship services
---------------
adopted a specific plan for recruiting new members
---------------
had changed worship format at one or more services in the past five years
---------------
handle conflict quickly

The church that I'm involved in practice all of these and as a result have experienced very good growth.

Gallagher said...

I find it interesting that the study might assume the word is being preached. I often wonder if people are growing attendance instead of followers of Christ; Or as Julie said, "the Church."

ALl of the things listed are important, but so if filling each life with the precious message of Christ. When people are overflowing in the love and desire of Christ, congregations will grow?

SRB said...

"Tell our churches to recruit males and minorities and work on getting along? Where is God in all that?"

I would dare say that God is completely immersed 'in all that.'

As the author of "Who Will Be Saved?" wrote, "An inclusive, hospitable, pluralistic church keeps closely tied to the Jesus who welcomed and who died for all sinners."

William H. Willimon said...

Julie,

Isn't the point to help others truly seek God? If that is the case, then getting more people into relationships and into worship are crucial to our mission as CHURCH.

Billy,

I'm glad to hear your church is engaged in each of these areas. What are some "faithful and effective" practices from your congregation?

Gallager,

Congregations grow so that there are more disciples reaching out in love and mission. I don't know about you, but it is difficult for one person to do all the work that the Gospel calls for in the world. Our love for others and our love of God's creation beckons us to grow.

Julie said...

SRB said... “’Tell our churches to recruit males and minorities and work on getting along? Where is God in all that?’ I would dare say that God is completely immersed 'in all that.'”

I anticipated that one. God surely can be in all that and those are good things. But the question is to what end? Are we bringing male and minorities in in order to grow? If so we are using then. Are we getting along with the purpose of being attractive to church shoppers? if so we are missing the ministry of reconciliation. these should be done but done for God’s sake not for the sake of our congregation. Motivation is everything.

Willimon: yes, the point is to help others to truly seek God. But when I read these things about church growth the focus never seems to be on the people we are reaching but on what they will do for the church. For example when I hear people say that we need young people in the church (of which I am one) what I hear is we need you so that we won’t die. Not we need you in the church because we have obviously failed at preaching the gospel to your generation and you need to know Christ.

I can’t help but wonder in our zeal to grow churches what we sacrifice to get people into the church. I read the state of the church document a while ago and it talked so much about “attracting” people to the church. And I read things like this and they seem to be to be filled with tactics. I believe that you can make a church attractive and these tactics can work but you have to ask what are you growing and why? Anyone can grow a church, Joel Osteen can grow a church. But what has he grown? I really believe if we put as much effort into growth as we do into calling churches and pastors to a greater faithfulness amazing thing would happen in our church. I do believe that some of the responses to faithfulness would look like reaching out to males, to minorities , changing up worship, and healing divisions in the church. But they would then be done from faithfulness and not from a self-centered desire to keep existing. And that I believe is the very difference between growing a church and growing the Church.

SRB said...

Julie,

Thank you for elaborating. I agree with you. Motive matters. Of course any motives that we have are, at best, flawed. At least mine are. Thus, we are called to seek God’s motive. Blind creatures that we are, we often miss it. We’re so helpless, we can’t serve God unless he helps us to serve him. And he will.

As a fellow lay member, I know that sometimes it is hard to distinguish between tactics and faithful growing. I suppose the best we can do as The Church is for each of us individually to serve to our given strengths. Some are meant to serve in social outreach. Others on the “business” side. It takes a special type to effectively have their hand in each area without losing perspective of what is most important. I call these types clergy.

And no, we cannot as a church or The Church lower ourselves to an acceptable social standard in an attempt to gain numbers. You’re only replacing empty seats with empty heads and empty hearts and with no substance behind your style, those heads and hearts will remain so. We must allow ourselves to be lifted to a higher standard. One even we in the church might find threatening and strange. So that when those heads and hearts and the legs that carry them walk into our church, The Church, we are equipped to share with them He who can fill them. And I believe that is what Bishop Willimon is talking about.

Of course, I am only guessing on what I’ve observed. My experience in such matters isn’t even a grain of sand. Which is why I put my faith (rather, try to put my faith) in God that the leadership of not only my church but The Church, know what their doing. Balancing head and heart so that we as The Church can be blessed to do God’s will and be the Body of Christ. Flabby, hunch-backed, mis-proportioned, poorly groomed body that we are.

Webmaster said...

Julie, look at it from each side: Yes, the focus is on the reconciliation of each individual to God and to others. Yes, we love the church and we do not want to see it die. Why should the UMC die -- it has been faithful in the past, terrible mistakes - yes, but it has been faithful. Let's focus upon restoring the Church...

But let us not stop there. Let's not have a goal of simply getting back to our highest enrollment. Because that is only our second priority.

Andy Rowell said...

Bishop Willimon,
I just posted at Leadership Journal's Out of Ur blog a little more sociological data about what churches are growing in response to an article by Dan Kimball.

Megachurch Misinformation

I am Bishop Ken Carder's preceptor for the Introduction to Christian Ministry course you taught for years and where the Pastor books came from.

The first comment at the Out of Ur post came from a discouraged United Methodist. I encouraged him to come to your blog in the comments.

I continue to cheer you on in what you do.

andy


Andy Rowell
Doctor of Theology (Th.D.) Student
Duke Divinity School
Durham, North Carolina
Blog: Church Leadership Conversations





andy

B'ham Billy said...

Good post here, thanks everyone I enjoyed the thought provoking read. Nothing wrong with being challenged or stepping up to that challenge. Keeps the old iron from rusting.

Bishop said....
Billy,

I'm glad to hear your church is engaged in each of these areas. What are some "faithful and effective" practices from your congregation?

1. faithful to the scriptures (even if a little to fundamental for my taste)

2. effective with a sharp focus on the overall church and quick to make adjustments.

William H. Willimon said...

Andy

Good to hear from you. Thanks for kind words on the blog.

Ken has chided me from time to time for being too influenced by sociologists (which seems a strange thing to say about the guy who told the class “never be guilty of committing sociology in a weak moment”). I do think that sometimes the sociology guys tell us some unpleasant truth we need to hear.

I’m looking forward to seeing Ken at Duke at our meeting next week.

Will

William H. Willimon said...

Billy,

"...quick to make adjustments." I'm afraid most congregations are so engaged in ministry as is that they have not ears to hear. The real test of the church is to have both eyes and ears open at all times so that they can be "quick to make adjustments."

Jay Miklovic said...

Julie-
You make some great comments. I assume you are under 30, and that is the age group where the real reformation is happening right now. The older generation for the most part is missing it. They are caught up on the 'Emergent' church, or the Mega-Church, or whatever model or study they think can grow a congregation, and unfortunately they think that is what we want. They go around and interview everyone, instead of preaching the gospel to them. They view evangelism as getting someone to come to church, and then the church will somehow assimilate them to Christ. You do not find that in the scriptures anywhere.

I work at a church in the West Ohio Conference full time as a youth pastor, and I cannot tell you how pitiful all the growth schemes we look at are. From NCD, to whatever Willow Creek feeds us, to Joel Osteen, and more. They are all void of real power, they produce congregations but not holiness, and without holiness no one will see the Lord. They are so focused on seeker sensitivity, but in the scriptures we see that NO ONE SEEKS GOD, and that there is only one seeker His name is God and He is the only one we need to be sensitive to.

We are in the same environment Wesley was in, he realized God wasn't moving in the churches so he hit the streets and fields. Does our age group, 30 and under, have the courage to hit the streets? The youth I work with have it... we go to outdoor malls, universities, downtown toledo, and to spread the Gospel, and God certainly is upon it. At some point we will stop playing games, stop looking for formulas, and go back to the scriptures.

Google Paul Washer or Leonard Ravenhill, read Wesley, Whitefield, Spurgeon, and even Jonathan Edwards. Look at Detriech Bonhoeffer (I am sure Bishop Willimon is fan of DB given his book on Barth).

And for you older guys and gals, do not miss what is going on here. There is a reason our churches are missing 20-30 year olds, and it is not because we are not reaching out to them. It is because they want reality! Not their parents playing games trying to make church a polished fun place to be.

I apologize for ranting. Bishop you spoke at our Annual Conference (West Ohio) this past year, and I believe the Lord was upon you mightily in your sermons.

B'ham Billy said...

Jay said...
"You make some great comments. I assume you are under 30, and that is the age group where the real reformation is happening right now."

Well I for one am not seeing it but maybe you can be more specfic.

"The older generation for the most part is missing it. They are caught up on the 'Emergent' church, or the Mega-Church, or whatever model or study they think can grow a congregation, and unfortunately they think that is what we want."

So they should stop listening to the commentary of other successful leaders and start listening to yours? On what basis?

"They go around and interview everyone, instead of preaching the gospel to them. They view evangelism as getting someone to come to church, and then the church will somehow assimilate them to Christ. You do not find that in the scriptures anywhere"

So this group that's missing it, they don't preach, they have a warped sense of evangelisim, and they don't know scripture.

hmmm

jeffblythe said...

The interesting part of the post (and I think, largely overlooked in the comments) is the idea of 'multiracial' congregations.

'Multiracial' congregations may be growing, but how many of them are actually out there? How many can be found outside of urban areas?

I think if we look at particular congregations, a majority of these 'multiracial' churches were historically white congregations whose neighborhood demographics have drastically changed and/or ones who have a targeted social ministry to new immigrant populations.

But are these congregations really healing multiracial divisions in their communities? What about the divisions between blacks and whites? Are they giving blacks leadership roles in their churches? Are they addressing racial reconciliation?

And what about Latinos and Asians in these churches? Are they just younger generations who have been Americanized and feel accustomed to being outnumbered by whites? Have these congregations really found ways to incorporate other cultures and languages into their worship, or are they just inviting willing minorities to join in their white American-style services?

This is the reality we don't want to face: Outside of urban areas, America neighborhoods are largely segregated. The few minorities in white suburban churches reflect the demographic makeup of the community.

Why should minorities leave their neighborhoods on Sunday morning to go into white surburban enclaves to worship in an all white congregation?

The ideal of a "multiracial congregation" is a distraction from the uncomfortable issues of race, class and inequality that exists in a majority of American neighborhoods.

Until white suburban congregations are actively engaged in racial reconciliation, actively fighting for housing reform and integrated neighborhoods, these 'multiracial' congregations will only be 'skin-deep'.

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Adam said...

Folks:

The reason I am able to understand those people who talk about the numerical growth of the Church is because something Stevie Wonder sang in his 2005 song "Positivity" - the words he spoke were these:

"Unity is only as big as our vision"

When a vision is committed to heterogeneity then we can truly believe that God is gonna get back everything that belongs to God. Church growth is centered in the vision of unity found in the first Creation story of the Bible and found in one of the throne scenes in chapter 7 of Revelation.

It is the purpose of the Church to go into the world making disciples of all nations because God's dream is to draw all who left Eden into the New Jerusalem.

The more people are involved, the closer we are to satisfying God's thirst for human solidarity and social and political justice.

Julie, for Christians, I just don't think praying is enough. You forget that our Lord Jesus Christ ate and drank and these were some of the signs of the truth about the name from that old war story in Isaiah - Emmanuel (God with us) - when we eat together something spectacular happens, when we drink together something incredible happens - or, let me put it another way, they are visible signs of the invisible God's presence. Just as Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God.

Of course I'm a bit off-topic, but some of that makes sense.

Peace,

Adam Kilner

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