Yesterday I mentioned a survey which was reported on by The Guardian in an article titled “Literal interpretation of Bible ‘helps increase church attendance.'” I’m not impressed with whoever wrote the headline, for I think they missed some of the most important aspects of this study. The study was published online May 24, 2016, in a journal article titled “Theology Matters: Comparing the Traits of Growing and Declining Mainline Protestant Church Attendees and Clergy” in the Review of Religious Research. (I mistakenly said yesterday that it wasn’t coming out until next month.)
Since I have a degree in social sciences, I do need to note that this survey was carried out among mainline churches in the province of Ontario in Canada. It’s not as broad of a study as I initially thought. Still, I find the results enlightening.
I noted yesterday how telling a leadership’s view of evangelism was in determining whether or not a church will grow. The study also notes a real difference in a church’s mission and purpose. In the first place, the author’s noted, “growing church attendees were significantly more likely to agree” that their church has a clear mission and purpose. Secondly, the survey ended with an open-ended question which asked church members to state what their church’s purpose. In growing churches, almost thirty percent put evangelism at the top; in declining churches, this number was less than 10 percent.
The authors noted:
In terms of the purpose of the church, there was a wide range of responses among both growing and declining congregants, but growing church congregants were more likely to identify evangelism as the essential purpose of their church, a result which is again consistent with their greater theological conservatism, specifically their belief in Christian exclusivity (seen in their responses to belief questions about the importance of encouraging non- Christians to become Christians and the equivalence of world religions).
Since I noted above the limitations of this study, I should include this quote as well:
This finding that growing churches place more emphasis on evangelism is consistent with the work of other researchers who have identified evangelism as a statistically significant factor in church growth (Bibby and Brinkerhoff 1973, 1983, Bibby and Brinkerhoff 1994; Bouma 1979; Hadaway 1978; Nelson and Bromley 1988; Donahue and Benson 1993).
If a church wants to grow it needs to be reaching out to lost people. This outreach needs to be intentional and obvious. The church needs to see this as one of its major reasons for existing. If we believe that Jesus is the Christ, that he is the only way to the Father, then we have a responsibility to share that with others. We do so not only to see growth in the church, but to help those around us not only benefit from Kingdom values, but become members of the Kingdom.