Not all hope is lost, however. In his January 22 eFocus message, Presbytery Pastor Brad Munroe summarized the findings of a new Hartford Seminary longitudinal study on congregational growth like this:
- There is a clear correlation between growth and the sense that a congregation is spiritually vital and alive along with a clear mission and purpose.
- Where a worship service is considered joyful, a congregation is more likely to experience substantial growth. And congregations that involve children in worship were more likely to experience substantial growth.
- Growth in predominantly white congregations is less likely, in part because this population has zero growth demographically. The members tend to be older as well and less likely to have contemporary worship services.
- Congregations whose members are heavily involved in recruiting new people have a definite growth advantage, as do congregations that use multiple methods to make follow-up contacts with visitors, that regularly invest in special events or programs to attract people from the community, and whose senior clergy spent priority time in evangelism and recruitment.
- Congregations that saw themselves as not that different from other congregations in their area tended to decline.
What do these findings mean to our church?
Over the past several years we’ve made considerable progress toward becoming a “growth-prone” congregation. We’ve reviewed and revised our mission statement. We’ve agreed that we want to work toward more diversity, inclusion, involvement, and education. Our efforts to contact new residents in our area and follow up with visitors to our church have increased. Under David’s leadership, we’re experimenting with additional ways to add joy to our worship services and fellowship events. The enthusiastic response to our new “Wish List” has also demonstrated that the people sitting in our pews believe we are “spiritually vital and alive.”
So, in terms of growth, we are at the “bud” stage—planted, green, and ready to flower—and each of us can help to make that flowering happen. Think about volunteering to help with summer worship services; we can always use greeters, ushers, sound booth help, and musical talent. Take another look at the Wish List to see whether you would like to adopt all or part of one of the projects on it. And most critical of all, invite your friends and relatives to visit us on Sunday or for a social event. (Yes, we mean the kids and grandkids, too. Fathers Day is this month!) Tell them why they should come—what makes First Presbyterian special. If we believe we are different from other congregations in our area, it’s up to each of us to spread the word!