New Survey Indicates Many Churches Are Unwilling to Adapt

The traditional worship at Oak Grove United Methodist Church in Atlanta (pictured) complements its contemporary service. (Photo courtesy of Oak Grove UMC)
The traditional worship at Oak Grove United Methodist Church in Atlanta (pictured) complements its contemporary service. (Photo courtesy of Oak Grove UMC)

Research shows that while many churches have found success by embracing change, many more view adaptation much more skeptically.

A new study reports that American churches are increasingly less willing to make changes to worship, programs and ministries needed to best reflect and meet the needs of the communities around them.

Oak Grove United Methodist Church in Decatur, Ga., is not one of those churches.

After experiencing the typical slump of urban churches from the 1970s to 1990s, Oak Grove has made a comeback as a contemporary service and small group ministry were added, said Glenn Ethridge, the senior pastor.

The congregation emphasized invitation and discipleship and watched as the membership grew in numbers and generational representation, he said. Their identity also helped propel growth.

“Given our context and who we are as a church, we are trying to create that small-town feel in the city,” Ethridge said.

‘A boost in growth’

But some new evidence suggests that attitude to be increasingly rare among U.S. congregations.

It’s what David A. Roozen of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research found in “American Congregations 2015: Thriving and Surviving,” which was released earlier this month.

The survey presented some positives — including better financial health and that, overall all, more churches are thriving than struggling.

But for how long?

The survey offered a shot across the bow in a number of areas. Spiritual vitality is trending down and young adult ministry is not a high priority for most congregations.

And perhaps most concerning is what it described as a continuing decline in “the embrace of change.”

Congregations open to “adaptive change,” the survey said, “are much more likely to have higher levels of spiritual vitality than those who struggle with change,” the report said.

The importance of change is that it is directly connected to congregational vitality and that, in turn, to growth.

One of the reasons for this is that changes in worship help distinguish a congregation from others in its context, the study said.

“Such differentiation,” the survey found, “provides a notable boost in growth.”

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SOURCE: Baptist News Global
Jeff Brumley