How churches grow, or not

January 29, 2011

A Presbyterian (PCUSA) research group recently posted a document called “Myths and Facts about Evangelism and Church Growth.” Much of it seems plausible enough: denominational affiliation is less important for young people and for mainline Protestants; church size is not a predictor of growth, nor is this or that other demographic factor; old churches are as capable of growth as new ones; it isn’t necessary to have only contemporary worship, though it helps to have some of it in the mix. (I am reminded of the recent Canadian survey that found that people chose their church largely on the basis of availability of parking.)

This item sounds reasonable: “Three strengths are positive predictors of growth – Caring for Children and Youth, Welcoming New People, and Participating in the Congregation.” But then when I went to look at the power-point version I found this list added:

Negative Predictors:
• Growing Spiritually
• Focusing on the Community
• Sharing Faith

Is that a slip-up, or did they really find that spiritual growth and growth in numbers are negatively correlated? Does spiritual growth not just fail to motivate people but actually turn them off? And likewise “sharing faith”? And what do they mean by “focusing on the community”?

Much to ponder… I’ve felt for some time that religion wouldn’t have become the enormously successful phenomenon it is if it were mostly about the things it says it’s about…

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