Thursday, August 21, 2008

What Causes Churches To Grow Or Decline?

I have never had a conversation with a church leader that did not have some measure of concern whether their church was growing or declining. It's the common denominator among ministers because it's a barometer of church health. Dan Garland writes an excellent article addressing the internal and external factors that affect church growth or decline. See it below and be sure to read the rest of the article at the link.

What Causes Churches to Grow or Decline?
Written by Dan Garland

The American Church Research Project evaluated the following ten external factors to see what causes churches to grow or decline:

1. Median income of the zip code of the church.
2. Median age of the zip code of the church.
3. Average household size of the zip code of the church
4. Average educational attainment of the zip code of the church
5. Location of the church – rural, small town, large town, suburban, or urban.
6. Average percentage of households with children under 18 in the zip code of the church.
7. Average percentage of poor households in the zip code of the church.
8. Average percentage of residents who were “white alone” in the zip code of the church.
9. Year the church was founded.
10. Population growth from 1990 – 2000 of the zip code of the church.

The surprising finding of this study is that only one of the nine external demographic factors correlated with the growth or decline of established congregations (the change in the population of its zip code). This suggests that most of the reasons for growth or decline are internal factors. Source:
The American Church in Crisis, by David Olson, pages 131-134

Olson’s conclusion correlates with the research findings of Essential Church? Reclaiming a Generation of Dropouts, by Dr. Thom Rainer and Sam Rainer. The main question addressed in Essential Church is, "Why do so many young adults (18 to 22) leave the church, and what will it take to bring them back?"
The book is based on a study of one-thousand so-called "church dropouts" who were interviewed about why they left. Their answers are quite surprising, having less to do with "losing their religion" and more about the desire for a community that isn't made stale by simply maintaining the status quo.

Thom and Sam Rainer offer churches four concrete solutions toward making their worship community an essential part of these young people's lives again:

1. Simplify - develop a clear structure and process for making disciples.
2. Deepen - provide strong biblical teaching and preaching.
3. Expect - let members know the need for commitment to the congregation.
4. Multiply - emphasize evangelism, outward focus, and starting new churches.

The churches that reach and keep young adults, that is churches who have experienced growth in the 18-22 age group, are churches who have addressed the internal structures, processes, expectations and elements of church. Namely, these churches have focused on the four internal factors of simplify, deepen, expectations, and multiply.

Read the rest of this article here.

Until next time...share the journey and enjoy the ride!

Pat