If you want your church to grow, bring in the guitars More than 14,000 congregations of 41 faiths and denominations took part in a survey of U.S. religion
Publication date: 2001-03-18
Arrival time: 2001-03-22
Hartford, Conn. -Strict churches are financially healthy, world religions are outpacing many Christian groups in growth, and congregations that use electric guitars are most likely to attract new members.
Those are among the findings of Faith Communities Today, the largest survey of American religious congregations ever conducted.
The study, released last week by the Hartford Institute for Religious Research, covers more than 14,000 congregations in 41 faiths and denominations, and deals with topics from clergy age to worship style.
"This really afforded us the opportunity to sit down and take a look at ourselves and who we are," said Craig This, director of research for the 8.5 million-member United Methodist Church.
The survey showed that although much attention is given to so- called megachurches, with thousands of members, half the congregations in the country have fewer than 100 regularly participating adults, most are in small towns or rural areas, and a majority were organized before 1945.
Although the stereotypical megachurch is conservative Protestant, the Hartford survey showed that on average Catholic churches are larger than any other group, regardless of geographic setting.
Newer churches -those organized since 1990 -are likely to be evangelical Protestant. But the second-largest group of new congregations -representing more than 20 percent -are "world religions," including Baha'i, Judaism, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) and Islam.
The Hartford study, paid for by the Lilly Endowment, grew out of a discussion at a 1995 meeting of researchers.
Hartford professors David Roozen and Carl Dudley compiled the results of 26 separate research organizations, weighing them so that they would reflect the makeup of the religious population as a whole.
Some participating groups have begun examining their data in addition to the larger study. From a representative sample of 710 Southern Baptist churches, for example, North American Mission Board officials learned that one in 12 Southern Baptist churches conducts two or more Sunday morning services and three-fourths hold Sunday evening worship.
Overall, the Hartford study found that most congregations consider themselves vital and healthy, and half are growing in membership.
Among points of concern: an aging clergy -especially among Roman Catholics, Orthodox and predominantly African-American denominations. Clergy in these faiths have an average age in the mid-50s.
An overview of the study's findings has been published in a 68- page report. The data are available in a "workbook" online through the Web site of the Hartford Institute.
Although the American religious landscape is becoming increasingly diverse, individual worshippers are very likely to be in congregations made up mostly of members of their own race or ethnic group. More than three in four congregations report that most or all of their regularly attending adult worshippers are white -a circumstance that reflects the population of the ZIP code areas in which they are located.
Strong public stands on morality by a congregation are usually linked to financial soundness and growth, the study shows. A commitment to social ministry also seems to correlate with congregational vitality.
But if a church really wants to draw new members and fill its offering plates, it needs two things: an electric guitar and an electronic keyboard -and maybe a set of drums. Says the report: "Changes in worship patterns, especially in using new instruments . . . have a strong, positive association with congregational vitality, member growth, financial stability and other signs of a healthy congregation."
©Copyright 2001, Des Moines Register