Recent Research into Church Growth

statsI came across this piece of research recently conducted by the Jubilee+ team (part of New Frontiers). They surveyed 359 churches last summer about the impact of social action on church growth. You can find more on the study here. Below are some of the things they learned:
The top 10 social action initiatives that have an effect on church growth:
  1. Children’s Club – up to age 11 (apart from church children’s ministry)
  2. Mothers and Toddlers
  3. Special Needs Adults
  4. Pre-school nursery
  5. Bereavement Counselling (apart from church members)
  6. Festivals/Fun days
  7. Primary School Clubs/Summer clubs
  8. Caring for Elderly (apart from church members)
  9. Cafe open to public
  10. Mental Health/Stress Counselling (apart from church members)

Church size also makes a difference to the effect on church growth – the larger the church, the greater the effect. What might be some of the reasons for this? We can suggest a few:

• Larger churches have more volunteers to help in a social initiative – this enables more time to be spent with individuals and creates a buzz.
• Larger churches have more staff to help, encourage and equip their members for social action.
• Larger churches have better facilities. People are used to high standards – think Costa outlet versus a cold Church Hall. What does that communicate about the church?
• Larger churches give a feeling of ‘something is happening here’.  This causes questions.
• Larger churches run many more initiatives and therefore people get ‘multiple touches’. Some people need many nudges on their spiritual journey.
• Larger churches are large because they are evangelistic – it’s in their DNA.
• In smaller churches, volunteers are often focused on ‘keeping the church running’ duties, e.g. Sunday set-up. In larger churches, members can focus outward.
• Volunteers are more empowered in larger churches? The leaders cannot be involved in everything so they have to release people and empower them.
• Larger churches are able to operate quite involved social initiatives, e.g. café.

This study suggests some interesting things with regards to effective outreach. While it’s ultimately got to come from people, effective programmes are a helpful vehicle – it doesn’t have be an either/or. Also (and I know I’ve blogged about this once before) it gives food for thought to those who think planting is the best or only way of reaching the lost. There are some things large churches can do which small ones can’t and we ought to think carefully about whether planting or growing is the best method of reaching the lost in any given context. Thoughts?

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4 thoughts on “Recent Research into Church Growth

  1. Maybe it’s the social interaction and opportunities to help people that these things create that is the key. Small congregations can still have that engagement but in different situations. Acts of generosity, kindness and helpfulness are not dependant on size or numbers – they’re almost always 1 to 1. It always involves investing time to listen to people. This has a lasting and changing effect on people. A balance has to be found between providing services to the community to create those opportunities and becoming a consumer driven church.

  2. I think as well that you’d need to look at wider research re large churches and church plants. I’m not sure that the questions are quite like for like. Is someone saying that a larger church grows more, the same as saying that a plant is the most effective way to reach a community? Is it either/or? I’m happy to see churches of different shapes and sizes. Then as well, planting doesn’t mean staying small. It might mean lots of plants linked into a large church. It might mean a very large church planting a smaller but still large church. It might mean a group of smaller congregations working together as a network. In fact, to some extent, many of our large churches are inter-related congregations, sometimes meeting on the one site, sometimes on different sites. Perhaps our view at times of planting is shaped by our “independent” spectacles.

  3. On the more general points -I think a helpful survey in terms of how things impact on a community. Key thing seems to be that these our outward facing -love that overflows to those around not just kept for ourselves

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