Learning From the Strengths of Growing Presbyterian Churches

What can we learn from fast-growing churches—those in the top 3% across the denomination in numerical growth?[i]

We compared growing PC(USA) churches (117 growing churches and their 8,000 worshipers participated in the U.S. Congregational Life Survey) with a random sample of more than 500 Presbyterian churches and their 40,555 worshipers. The results are enlightening.

Building on strength. Using worshipers’ survey responses, we studied ten congregational strengths in both types of Presbyterian churches. Guess what? The average strength scores are higher in growing PC(USA) churches than in other typical PC(USA) churches—on seven strengths!

Here are the seven areas where growing Presbyterian churches outdistanced other churches.

  • Growing spiritually—more worshipers in growing churches say they are growing in their faith and feel the congregation meets their spiritual needs.
  • Meaningful worship—more worshipers in growing churches experience God’s presence, joy, inspiration, and awe in worship services and feel worship helps them with everyday life.
  • Sense of belonging—more worshipers in growing churches feel a strong sense of belonging and say most of their closest friends attend the congregation.
  • Caring for children and youth—more worshipers in growing churches report satisfaction with the children and youth program and more have children living at home who also attend there.
  • Welcoming new people—more worshipers in growing churches began attending in the past five years.
  • Empowering leadership—more worshipers in growing churches feel the congregation’s leaders inspire others to action and take into account worshipers’ ideas.
  • Looking to the future—more worshipers in growing churches feel committed to the congregation’s future vision and are excited about the congregation’s future.

Strength scores

Other aspects of church vitality. Growing Presbyterian churches are indistinguishable from other churches in the denomination in two other areas of church life:

  • 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.
  • Sharing faith—similar percentages of worshipers are involved in evangelism activities and invite friends or relatives to worship.

The typical Presbyterian church actually scores higher than growing churches in one dimension of church life—participating in the congregation. Attending worship, participating in other church activities, and giving to the church are part of what it means to be Presbyterian! Churches with many new worshipers need to spend time helping these newcomers learn what it means to be fully part of a faith community.

Presbyterian congregations of all sizes and shapes show great strength and vitality! When congregations identify and build on their strengths, they become more vital in the present and more focused on the future. In turn, new worshipers want to be part of that present and embrace that future, and long-time members renew their commitment to the congregation’s mission.

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 (www.USCongregations.org).


[i] The initial sample identified the 345 fastest-growing congregations within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Those 345 congregations represent about 3% of the more than 11,000 Presbyterian churches across the country.

2 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.