Mainline Churches See Slowest Growth, Research Shows

Compared to other religious groups in the U.S., mainline denominations had the slowest growth rate with only 19 percent of their congregations reporting growth between 2005 and 2010, according to a researcher from The Episcopal Church.

By contrast, conservative Protestant churches had the highest growth rate at 43 percent, followed by non-Christian congregations with 33 percent.

C. Kirk Hardaway, Congregational Research Officer for the Episcopal Church and chairman of the research task force for the Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership, presented the findings on Tuesday.

The research findings were based on surveys conducted by around 11,000 American congregations representing various Christian and non-Christian congregations. The growth rate of said congregations was measured from 2005 until 2010. Those filling out the survey were the leaders of the congregations, including clergy and laymen.

Hardaway attributed the strong growth of conservative Protestant churches to them being largely concentrated in the South, as well as having other attributes found in stronger churches that were measured by the research. This included more innovative worship practices, having a clearer mission and purpose, and having more newer congregations.

"Newer institutions are more concerned at their own survival," said Hardaway, adding that "older congregations … may take their existence for granted."

According to the research done, the American South has the largest congregational growth, more so than the rest of the country. Hardaway attributed this to multiple factors, including the religious culture of the South as well as its higher population growth.

"We found that growth was much, much more likely in the South than outside of the South," he noted.

Also among the findings, there were some changes in old trends. For example, according to Hardaway while suburbs continue to be the areas for the largest church growth in the country, urban and downtown areas are catching up.

"Growth can occur in various places," said Hardaway, noting that suburbs were not sources of "automatic growth" or older places being sources of "automatic decline."

The Cooperative Congregations Studies Partnership is an interfaith organization seeks to produce resources for congregational development in order to aid religious groups seeking to enhance their congregations' growth.

The research was part of an effort by the CCSP called Faith Communities Today (FACT). According to their website, FACT "is a series of ongoing research surveys and practical reports about congregational life."

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