Discovering Strength in New Presbyterian Churches

Seeking to turn around its declining membership, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) recently ignited a movement to start 1,001 worshiping communities in the next ten years.  While newer congregations may face challenges as they seek to become established, they also display many strengths that draw worshipers.

To learn more about new congregations, in 2011 we surveyed 88 newer PC(USA) churches—those organized between 1990 and 2009.[i]   Using worshipers’ survey responses and a list of 10 congregational strengths, we compared strengths from these newer churches to strengths from a random sample of over 500 PC(USA) churches surveyed in 2008/2009.  What are the strengths of newer PC(USA) congregations, and how do they compare to the strengths of PC(USA) congregations in general?

New Church Strengths.  We found that the average strength scores are higher in new PC(USA) churches for the following aspects of congregational vitality:

  • Growing spiritually—more worshipers in new churches say they are growing in their faith and feel the congregation meets their spiritual needs.
  • Participation in the congregation—more worshipers in new churches give 5% or more of their income to the congregation and attend worship weekly or more often.
  • Sense of belonging—more worshipers in new churches feel a strong sense of belonging and say most of their closest friends attend the congregation.
  • Sharing faith—more worshipers in new churches are involved in evangelism activities and invite friends or relatives to worship.
  • Welcoming new people—more worshipers in new churches began attending in the past five years.
  • Looking to the future—more worshipers in new churches feel committed to the congregation’s future vision and are excited about the congregation’s future.

Shared Strengths.  New PC(USA) congregations show a level of strength that is similarto other PC(USA) congregations in four additional areas:

  • Meaningful worship—similar percentages of worshipers experience God’s presence, joy, inspiration, and awe in worship services and feel worship helps them with everyday life.
  • Caring for children and youth—similar percentages of worshipers report satisfaction with the children and youth program and have children living at home who also attend there.
  • Focusing on the community—similar percentages of worshipers are involved in social service or advocacy activities and work to make their community a better place to live.
  • Empowering leadership—similar percentages of worshipers feel the congregation’s leaders inspire others to action and take into account worshipers’ ideas.
Strength scores
Although they are younger than many congregations, newer PC(USA) congregations have valuable strengths they can build upon.  New congregations promote spiritual growth and evangelism, encourage participation and belonging, and enhance worshipers’ excitement about their congregation’s future.  Yet no matter how young or old, each congregation has strengths that can attract new worshipers and minister to current members.

What are your congregation’s strengths? Compare your congregation to the national average, to the Presbyterian average, or to the average of growing or new Presbyterian churches by taking a snapshot of your worshipers. Your congregation can take part in the U.S. Congregational Life Survey to learn more about who worships there and what they value, to identify your congregation’s strengths, to deal with change whether your congregation is growing or declining, to get ready to call a new pastor, or to renew or update your strategic plan.

Call 800-728-7228, ext. 2040 to get information about using the U.S. Congregational Life Survey in your congregation, or see the section titled “Survey Your Congregation” on our website (

[i] A total of 426 newer PC(USA) churches were identified and asked to participate in this 2011 survey.

[ii] Higher scores indicate greater congregational strength in that area.  Strength scores are calculated using the combined responses of all worshipers in each congregation.  With the exception of “welcoming new people,” strength scores combine responses to several related questions.  Questions with different response scales make up each overall strength score so it is inappropriate to compare scores from one strength to another.