Article: Church study finds diversity, lack of discord boost growth

It’s always fun to find new information, and in a rare find in the local paper, I thought this was worth posting. This article would seem to lend support for the multi-ethnic church, but really, what does that mean? I’ve added hyperlinks and bolded a few things to make it a bit meatier. Enjoy.
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By JOHN BLAKE
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 01/29/07

A major study on church growth discovered that thriving congregations tended to be multiracial, embraced vibrant worship services and avoided major conflict.

The “FACTs on Growth” report, (PDF) based on a 2005 survey of 900 congregations and online is the culmination of a five-year study that attempts to answer why some congregations grow and others decline.

The findings, recently released by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, challenge the conventional wisdom that only conservative suburban congregations are growing.Minister C. Kirk Hadaway, the report’s author, says the study learned that 48 percent of churches in the “downtown” or “central city” reported growth.“As inner-city areas become more gentrified and redeveloped, the churches that are left there are doing better,” he said.

The study also found that congregations were most likely to grow if they:

  • Attract a larger proportion of men, who tend to be less religiously active.
  • Use drums or percussion during worship service.
  • Establish a church web site.
  • Adopted a specific plan to recruit new members.
  • Offer support groups such as marriage counseling, 12-step programs and wellness programs.

One of the most surprising findings revolved around a congregation’s theological orientation and its growth rate. Evangelical Protestant churches that identified themselves as “right in the middle” or “somewhat conservative” reported greater growth than those that identified themselves as “predominantly conservative.”

The number of mainline Protestant churches that identified themselves as liberal reported more growth (29 percent) than their counterparts that identified themselves as predominantly conservative (24 percent).

The study also uncovered a factor that spells doom for church attendance — major conflicts. These conflicts led to situations such as leaders being fired or members withholding money because of ill-will.

“If you avoid major conflict,” says Hadaway, director of research for the Episcopal Church Center, “you’ll grow. If you’re engaged in major conflict, that’s something that’s going to suck the life out of you.”

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