Study finds conservative theology mixed with innovative worship approach helps Protestant churches grow congregations
Churches that are theologically conservative with beliefs based on a literal interpretation of the Bible grow faster than those with a liberal orientation, according to a five-year academic study.
“If we are talking solely about what belief system is more likely to lead to numerical growth among Protestant churches, the evidence suggests conservative Protestant theology is the clear winner,” said David Haskell, the Canadian study’s lead researcher.
The findings contradict earlier studies undertaken in the US and the UK, which attempted to discover the underlying causes of a steep decline in church attendance in recent decades but concluded that theology was not a significant factor.
The results of the new study are likely to fuel anxious debate among church members about the reasons for decline and what measures or approaches might stimulate growth. Those promoting evangelical styles of worship and strict adherence to what they see as biblical truths will be bolstered by the findings.
The authors of Theology Matters: Comparing the Traits of Growing and Declining Mainline Protestant Church Attendees and Clergy surveyed 2,225 churchgoers in Ontario, Canada, and conducted interviews with 29 clergy and 195 congregants. The paper is to be published in next month’s issue of the respected international journal, Review of Religious Research.
The researchers compared the beliefs and practices of congregations and clergy at mainline Protestant churches whose attendances were growing with declining churches. On all measures, the growing churches “held more firmly to the traditional beliefs of Christianity and were more diligent in things like prayer and Bible reading,” Haskell said.
Among the key findings are:
- Only 50% of clergy from declining churches agreed it was “very important to encourage non-Christians to become Christians”, compared to 100% of clergy from growing churches.
- 71% of clergy from growing churches read the Bible daily compared with 19% from declining churches.
- 46% of people attending growing churches read the Bible once a week compared with 26% from declining churches.
- 93% of clergy and 83% of worshippers from growing churches agreed with the statement “Jesus rose from the dead with a real flesh-and-blood body leaving behind an empty tomb”. This compared with 67% of worshippers and 56% of clergy from declining churches.
- 100% of clergy and 90% of worshippers agreed that “God performs miracles in answer to prayers”, compared with 80% of worshippers and 44% of clergy from declining churches.
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SOURCE: The Guardian