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U.S. Congregations:
Research, Resources, and Results
Congregational Life Survey
Resources for Congregations
Community Profiles

The U.S. Congregational Life Survey

What Growing Churches Do

The research says congregations using the following strategies or approaches grow in numbers and ministry effectiveness:

Strong churches welcome new people.

  1. Increase the number of worship visitors.
  2. Increase the visibility of the congregation in the community (e.g., Web site, paid newspaper and telephone book ads, good outdoor signage, participation in community events).
  3. Encourage members to invite others; equip members to invite effectively (e.g. Bring a Friend Sundays, special events).
  4. Identify and make personal and telephone follow-up contact with all visitors, especially first time worship visitors.
  5. Offer a group for new people.
Strong churches encourage participation.
  1. Fast-track new people into meaningful ministry roles. Ask them what they feel passionate about. What do they see as their ministry?
  2. Identify what types of new people the congregation attracts (e.g., returnees, switchers). Ask new people what made the church attractive to them.
  3. Create additional small group experiences, such as prayer or study groups.
Strong churches offer meaningful worship experiences.
  1. Evaluate current worship service(s) for vitality. Are service(s) connecting with all age groups and relevant local cultures (e.g., ethnic groups, family types)?
  2. Offer more worship service options (e.g., additional services, more variety in worship and music styles, different types of services).
Strong churches help people grow spiritually.
  1. Focus on the long-term development of disciples (spirituality or faith, financial stewardship, and ministry).
Strong churches commit to a positive future.
  1. Use multiple ministry methods and strategies all the time.
  2. Identify congregational strengths. How can the church optimize and leverage these strengths? How can the congregation be more effective in the areas that encourage numerical growth -- such as, care for children, participation, and more new people?
  3. Evaluate current church organization and committee structure. Minimize the number of maintenance committees. Create ministry teams.
  4. Try new strategies. Evaluate efforts. Learn from failed efforts. Fix it and try again.
The research also says denominations and local judicatories using the following strategies help congregations grow in numbers and ministry effectiveness:
  1. Take action and set policies to help congregations undertake the above steps.
  2. Start new churches.
The research says many churches are not yet using the strategies or methods listed above. This lack of action occurs in many denominations that are declining in membership in recent years.

A major research question remains unanswered: How do we address the issue of motivation? How do we get pastors and lay leaders to take the actions that research demonstrates works? Accurate information must marry motivation and action. Otherwise, fewer and fewer children of God will gather in our churches.

Learn more about growing congregations:

Beyond the Ordinary: 10 Strengths of U.S. Congregations

Book Image:  Beyond the Ordinary Now available! Order from Amazon. Or order from the publisher online Westminster John Knox Press or by phone 1-800-227-2872.

Learn more! Listen to radio interviews with the authors.

A Field Guide to Congregations: Who's Going Where and Why

Book Image: A Field Guide to U.S. Congregations This book presents the first comprehensive portrait of congregational life in the United States . . . based on the results of the U.S. Congregational Life Survey of more than 2,000 congregations and over 300,000 worshipers from across many denominations. The Field Guide seeks to answer questions like, “What are the characteristics of satisfying worship?E“How involved are worshipers in their communities?Eand “How can congregations both recruit new members and retain existing members?EIt provides a portrait of congregational life today in four dimensions: spirituality and faith, activities in the congregation, community involvement, and worshipersEvision for the congregation’s future.

Order online now from the publisher, Westminster John Knox Press.

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Last modified January 10, 2005 by U.S. Congregations Home Page Manager