Debunking Myths about Church Growth with Research

Want to move beyond speculation and mythology about what is actually working in growing churches? The U.S. Congregational Life Survey provides a rare look at the facts. Myth #1. Only congregations in growing areas are adding members
  • Fact: Three strengths are positive predictors of growth — Caring for Children and Youth, Welcoming New People, and Participating in the Congregation.
  • Fact: Other factors don't predict growth — denomination or faith group, congregational size, income levels of worshipers, average age of worshipers, and population growth around the church
Myth #2. Only new or recently established congregations are growing
  • Fact: Less than half of fast-growing Presbyterian churches were established after 1960. Most are older.
Myth #3. Only large churches grow
  • Fact: 39% of fast-growing Presbyterian churches have fewer than 200 in worship. Small congregations grow, too!
Myth #4. Most people have been attending their congregation for years and years
  • Fact: One-third of worshipers are new in the last five years; in fast-growing churches one-half are new.
Myth #5. Most new people are new to the faith
  • Fact: Most new people attending their congregation for five years or less have changed congregations within the same denomination (transfers: 57%). Only 7% are first-timers who are new to the faith. A few (18%) are returnees who used to attend worship but recently have not been involved, and 18% are switchers who changed denominations.
Myth #6. Denomination is irrelevant to church seekers
  • Fact: Most new people (73%) say denomination is important in their search.
  • Fact: Denomination is less important to mainline Protestants (59%) and those under the age of 25 (48%).
Myth #7. New people usually learn about the congregation from advertising
  • Fact: Many new people (47%) visit for the first time because someone invited them; only 6% came for the first time due to advertising.
  • Fact: Most new people visit between 1 and 3 congregations before choosing their new home.
  • Fact: Advertising helps raise awareness of the congregation and can make current members feel proud of their congregation.
Myth #8. New people usually come back after the first time because of the coffee hour
  • Fact: People return because of the quality of the sermon (36%), the friendliness of the people (32%), and the overall worship experience (30%).
  • Fact: Too many new people (38%) report no follow-up from the congregation after their first visit. In Catholic parishes, 53% of new people report no follow-up.
Myth #9. Growing congregations rely exclusively on church signs and big advertising campaigns
  • Fact: Growing congregations use multiple methods to attract new people.
  • Fact: Growing congregations are more likely to hold events to meet new people or to add members, advertise in the newspaper or telephone book, use email, have a church Web site, and send materials to or telephone first-time visitors.
Myth #10. All congregations do the same things to integrate new worshipers
  • Fact: Growing congregations use multiple methods to integrate new worshipers.
  • Fact: Growing congregations are more likely to have a specific group for newcomers and to invite such people to take part in small groups or service opportunities.
Myth #11. New member integration methods are successful
  • Fact: New people are less involved in their congregations than those who have been there for longer.
Myth #12. Worship services in growing churches offer only contemporary music
  • Fact: Almost all worship services in growing Presbyterian churches (89%) include traditional hymns.
  • Fact: Services in growing congregations are more likely to include contemporary music and laughter.

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