Saturday, September 04, 2010

Methodist study finds four commonalities among vital churches

Today's paper presented an article detailing a survey sponsored by United Methodists. The survey sought to determine what makes some churches grow in a denomination that is experiencing overall decline. The hope is that lessons learned from growing churches can be applied to declining churches.

Four factors were discovered that are believed to be responsible for keeping churches vital:
1. Small groups and programs, such as Bible study and activities geared toward youth.
2. An active lay leadership
3. Inspirational pastors who have served lengthy tenures at churches.
4. A mix of traditional and contemporary worship services

These findings are in line with many other surveys on church health. Nothing new here. However, a correlation does necessarily mean a causal relationship. In other words these factors may not be what created the vitality. It is possible that they are the product of vitality not the cause.

It is a little naïve to think that by applying these four factors a declining church can quickly turn around. There are some truths to be explored in these four factors.

First, small groups are vital to the church's ability to expand it's community. I am sure that there are few churches that don't have activities that are appropriate to their demographic. You cannot have youth activities without youth. A vital church will grow the demographic they have, the rest will follow.

Second, an active lay leadership is a two edged sword. Dying churches tend to have the highest percentage of it's members involved in leadership. The key is to get newcomers involved. This is very hard to do when the established group is reluctant to let outsiders into the inner circle. Starting new things will help get newcomers involved.

Third, it is expected that pastors who are viewed as successful last longer than those whose churches are declining. Pastors of declining churches are either fired, move on to greener pastures or quit out of discouragement. There is some truth here in regards to the importance of leadership.

Fourth, multiple worship services is something that growing churches do. Most declining churches will need outside help to pull it off.

Churches that wish to spark a renewal will succeed by improving their strengths and avoiding their weaknesses. For example a church that is made up of seniors can focus on ministry to seniors. Churches with large buildings can share space with other groups.

Instead of looking at the largest churches as successful models, visit nearby healthy churches and see how they do it. Travel to communities similar to yours and look for models that can be adapted to your local situation.

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