Church Growth in the 2010s, Part 6: Ministry

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 sixth covers ministry.

Growth Means Work. 90% of congregations say they want to grow. That’s a good start—especially because the longterm results of the survey reveal that “greater intentionality” is now required. It is not enough to have growth as a value or mindset.  Growth requires action. There’s a strong relationship between growth and member recruitment activity. Of congregations whose member never invite or recruit others, 14% grow. Of those who frequently invite others to church, 63% grow. This is the widest variance of any chart in the survey. In other words, invitations to church are the best way to grow your church. What are you doing to facilitate and grow a culture of invitation in your church?

Programs fuel growth. In spite of the rhetoric around the missional church and the decline of program models, the survey shows that programs are still very good. “Be it Sunday school, Scripture study, fellowship, retreats, youth programs, team sports, or community service, nothing works against growth.” However some are better than others. The three best programs for growth: 1) parenting / marriage activities (64% growing), 2) young adult activities (54% growing), and 3) prayer groups (47%). The first is logical, the second a no-brainer, and the third perhaps surprising, at least according to the hierarchy of some church efforts. A congregation without either young adult or marriage programs is highly likely to decline.

Communication Fuels Growth. What are the best methods to invite people to church? The survey offers little data on this. It initially says, “formal activities, such as radio and television spots, newspaper ads…” and so on only help a little, and says growing churches are good at greeting people, following up with newcomers, and assimilating newcomers. Of course, interpersonal invitations work well, but the data barely explores the variety of communication methodologies available. For instance, the 2005 survey acknowledged a relationship between growth and a congregational website. Now that the majority of churches (75%) have a website, the correlation is weaker. The survey acknowledges the growing variety of technologies available, and in a general way says the more technologies used, the better: 57% of churches that use 5-6 new technologies are growing (versus 30% of churches that use 2 or less). Further, controlling for size reveals that use of these technologies fuels growth, regardless of church size.

I hope future surveys adopt a set of questions related to branding and communication technology.

Part 1: Social and Ethnic Position

Part 2: Age

Part 3: Leadership

Part 4: Theology and Mission

Part 5: Worship