Church Growth in the 2010s, Part 3: Leadership

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 third covers leadership.

Leadership Profile. Not surprisingly, congregations without a leader are least likely to grow (16%). However, solo leadership may not be the best approach. Only 30% of churches with a solo full-time leader are growing. However, 46% of churches with multiple full-time leaders are growing. Further, the survey revealed the single biggest issue here is transition and leader tenure.

This fits with my previous study of growing United Methodist congregations, which revealed that the fastest growing churches had an average pastor tenure of over 14 years. Further, leaders aged 35-39 are most likely to helm growing churches (44%), followed by leaders aged 40-49 (42%). The percentage of leaders of growing congregations after 50 years old declines steadily. This data suggests that pastors need time to learn their craft, and have an ideal window of perhaps 20-25 years, depending on when their career begins, for growing a church.

Leadership Activity. The survey says, “What leaders do is also related to congregational growth and decline.” The top three activity areas for growth, according to leaders in growing churches who say they spend a “great deal” of time on the respective activity: 1) evangelism and “recruitment”, or invitation: 51%; 2) promoting a vision or purpose for the congregation: 48%; 3) teaching people about the faith and the Scriptures (number unspecified).

Surprising are the activities that have the least correlation to growth. The smallest correlation to growth was…

“planning or leading worship” – WHOA!

… followed by “administration, supervision and committee meetings” and “providing pastoral care.”

Church growth literature often emphasizes that maintenance and chaplaincy leadership is not effective, but the worship correlation is surprising. As I note in other posts, two of the top variables for growth are a culture of invitation and a culture of innovative worship. Invitation is reflected in the leader’s activity, but worship isn’t. Perhaps this indicates that a culture of invitation requires strong tactical leadership at the senior level whereas the practice of innovative worship is best left to specialists.

Part 1: Social and Ethnic Position

Part 2: Age