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Why your congregation is likely more optimistic about the future than you realize

Unsplash/Jacqueline Munguía

Over 80% of churchgoers predict a promising future for their churches. Is this figure what you would expect? Until I saw the research, I would not have guessed optimism was so high among churchgoers.

Where did this statistic originate? The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) conducted a national survey in August 2022 of almost 6,000 adults in the United States. They reported several findings, but the optimistic figure stood out to me.

  • 45% of churchgoers are very optimistic about the future of their church.
  • 37% of churchgoers are somewhat optimistic about the future of their church.
  • 12% of churchgoers are somewhat pessimistic about the future of their church.
  • 4% of churchgoers are very pessimistic about the future of their church.
  • 2% did not provide an answer.

Amazingly, 82% of congregants have an optimistic perspective about their churches, while only 16% have a pessimistic outlook.

In addition to this optimism, 9 out of 10 churchgoers affirmed the following two statements.

  • “In conversations with my friends, I am proud to say that I am associated with my church.”
  • “I am generally satisfied with the current leadership of my church.”

So, most churchgoers are optimistic about the future of their churches. They are proud to be associated with their churches. And they are generally satisfied with church leadership.

Is there a disconnect between church leadership and congregants? Are pastors inclined to be more negative? Solving problems is an essential leadership task, so church leaders are naturally more aware of challenges and shortcomings. Maybe the average congregant is blissfully unaware. But I think something more is happening. 

The positive view of a specific local church can be detached from an overall negative view of churches. There are many reasons to be concerned about the health of churches in North America. The overall picture does not look good. I believe churchgoers are aware of these problems, at least in part. But they remain hopeful about the local church to which they belong. The lesson here is simple. Progress can be made at your church. Complaining about every other church is not likely to help.

The loss of the periphery strengthened the core. Many churches lost people on the periphery over the last three years. Attendance figures dropped, and pastors worked to regain those who faded away. Most did not return. In response, those who stayed — the core — strengthened. I am not surprised a survey of the faithful produced positive results.

The preference is rising for smaller churches closer to home. Before the pandemic, only 10% of churchgoers were willing to drive more than 30 minutes to church. These drive times are likely shorter now. The reach of regional churches is beginning to pull back. People are considering smaller neighborhood churches in their communities. Smaller churches tend to be smaller targets for criticism. The largest churches tend to draw the most negative attention (whether deserved or not). As the megachurch movement begins to fade, so does some of the negativity.

The competition for attendance growth is diminishing. Average weekly worship attendance is still the metric of success and will likely remain so for the foreseeable future. Churches should grow, but the pressure to be bigger and better than everyone else is fading. Thankfully, the stigma of being a smaller church is not nearly as intense as in the past. 

Optimism is a leading indicator of resilience. Therefore, be hopeful about the future of your church.


Originally published at Church Answers. 

Sam Rainer is president of Church Answers and pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Church in Florida. 

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