"If your church can change, it can grow"

The Washington Episcopal Clergy Association is highlighting a research study by Faith Communities Today entitled FACTs on Growth: 2010.

Prepared by C. Kirk Hadaway, Church Officer for Congregational Research at The Episcopal Church, FACTs on Growth finds that churches that are more like to experience growth are spiritually vital and alive, have strong, permanent leadership, enjoy joyful, innovative and inspirational worship, have multiple worship services, and a clear sense of mission and purpose.
The clear message of the FACTs on Growth: 2010 report is that in today's environment of rapidly changing demographics and shifting paradigms, church growth and decline are primarily dependent upon a congregation’s internal culture, program and leadership, and therefore a congregation’s own ability to change and adapt to the changes around it without losing its core vision and values.

The article brings out several other findings in the report including commentary on "Vitality, Vision & Mission", "Joyful Worship", "Children in Worship", and "Members who invite New People".

Comments (5)

Most of our parishes can't afford full time priests and support them and their families. Seems like the opposite is true for us, the more it changed, the faster it shrunk.

Nicole - you've only provided a very high level overview of what happened to the parishes in your area. However, what you said sounded a bit like the subtext that I've heard in some Episcopal churches when we discussed changing, for example, worship styles: we don't need change, we just need to try what we're doing harder and I'm sure we'll get more people. However, if the church takes that stance and the demographics keep transitioning, then they'll be in a situation where there'll be fewer and fewer, and older, members. They won't be able to support full time priests as a consequence of the demographic changes, not because of the consequences of changes the parish tried to make.

Well, if the demographics are moving against the church, like the new entrants to the neighborhood are younger and not White*, or that they're younger and many of them are unchurched, or that the neighborhood simply isn't growing and is therefore aging, then your addressable market is shrinking. So, the church needs to adapt somewhat to at least keep the lights on. Doing the same thing harder may not cut it. It certainly isn't cutting it for my last church in downtown DC.

* I point out race because the mainline churches are majority White. People of color are generally less likely to go to them. Naturally there are exceptions, but I'm trying to discuss the trend here. If you're in an area where the new entrants are mostly young non-Whites, that means your church's typical demographic is shrinking by default.

But this is going on in multiple parishes in multiple dioceses. It's just the truth.

In my opinion I think it's important to note that it may be that some of the details here need to be adjusted to fit our specific circumstances, but the overall point of this article rings true with my experience. Just today I had a very powerful experience of the church of the elderly doing what we like to do because it pleases us with little or no regard for whether it actually connects with the young people or even with any forward thinking older folks. If we don't wake up and start to live as if our very life (as the Episcopal Church) were in danger we will be dead before we know it. God calls us to live and life means change.

I'd add that my parish, here in Northern VA, is doing fine. We're Anglo-Catholic, albeit not the highest church in the DC area, but we're fun, friendly, inclusive, and we do good things in the world at large (and let's not forget wine, cheese and more after services).

Sure, like any parish we have some gaps, and there are areas in my life where I look to other parishes for things, but to my mind that's healthy as well. After all, it's always best not to be a one-church mouse!

Eric Bonetti

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