Observers of church growth may be familiar with the ongoing Hartford Institute study of congregations in America. For over 25 years, the Institute has tracked data related to the vitality of congregations. Their latest survey, covering the period from 2005-2010, offers several fascinating insights on the current state of church growth in America. If you lead a church in any capacity or work with those who do, these findings may be helpful. I highlight a variety of results in a series of six blog posts. The second covers age.
A 15-20 Year Window. Typically, younger congregations grow faster than older congregations. Over half of churches planted after 1993 are growing. The older a congregation, the less likely it is to grow. There are several reasonable variables for this, but interestingly, there is an ideal period for a church to grow.
The survey says, “After 15 to 20 years, the window of opportunity closes up and the “adult” congregation does not grow as much, on average, as it did when it was more “youthful.”
Growth and Age Structure. Congregations in which adults age 50 years or older constitute less than 30% of all active participants are most likely to grow. On the other hand, congregations in which more than half of participants are 50 are older are highly unlikely to grow. This is not due to age, per se, but due to the high presence of attributes that inhibit growth.
Notice the relationship of church age and church member age as noted above. This suggests that in many ways, church growth is very pragmatic. As a church is young, it attracts young people. As a church grows older, its participants age. Suddenly the church is full of older adults, and they are no longer growing. According to this dynamic, a church must be intentional and strategic about change as a value, or about re-inventing itself, or it will find itself declining in viability.