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Survey Reveals Five Indicators for Growing Your Church
Story by Visitor Staff
Monte Sahlin is executive secretary of Cooperative Congregations Studies Partnership, the organization behind the study.
You’ve heard about them before. You may even used to belong to one of them. What am I talking about? Churches with declining memberships. Or church buildings that, because of a lack of worshipers, pass from one denomination to another. Some of those churches have even been permanently shuttered. While keeping a stable flock can help a church stave off permanent closure, most churches are not satisfied with just treading water—they want to grow.
“Growth for its own sake is not a goal for most religious communities in America. But most congregations do want to grow in order to reach more people with their message, or at least to stay viable,” explained C. Kirk Hadaway, author of a newly released report on congregational growth. The report, called FACTs on Growth 2010, comes from a 2010 survey of 11,077 diverse American congregations. Among that number were 400 Seventh-day Adventist churches. The results from the Adventist subset paralleled the larger study and found that growing churches have strong community involvement, a strong spiritual life, are intentional, foster positive relationships and have activities for unchurched people.
We spoke to Monte Sahlin, executive secretary of Cooperative Congregations Studies Partnership, the organization behind the FACTs on Growth 2010 report. Sahlin is also the Ohio Conference’s director of Research and Special Projects and looked at the Adventist surveys. He explains how each of the following ingredients helps churches to grow:
1. Community Involvement: “Growing Adventist churches have a strong correlation with nontraditional community service activities. That is, clothing programs, food pantries and health education classes do not correlate with growth, but job training and job finding programs do. Family counseling services, 12-step groups, homeless shelters, programs for senior citizens and after-school programs for underprivileged children in the neighborhood also contribute to growth.
2. Strong Spiritual Life: “Growing Adventist churches have a strong correlation with a high percentage of the attendees (members and nonmembers) reporting that ‘this church helps me feel close to God.’ Prayer Ministries, small groups, etc., are key in this.”
3. Intentionality: “Growing Adventist churches focus on mission more than anything else and develop specific goals and strategies for reaching out beyond their membership.”
4. Positive Relationships: “Growing Adventist churches are more likely than the average Adventist church to be congregations that are welcoming, warm and open. They do not pressure people or have much conflict.”
5. Activities on Sabbath for Unchurched People: “This can take the form of a community Bible class, a “seeker” worship service on Friday night or Sabbath afternoon, or more occasional events such as a “Friend Day” when all of the members are encouraged to bring an unchurched friend.”
For those seeking more guidance on how to implement these principles, Sahlin recommends reading Ellen White’s Ministry of Healing. He sees a clear relation to the above five steps on page 143, where she recommends Christ’s Method Alone for outreach. The North American Division also provides full resources for this approach via ifollowdiscipleship.org.
Are you implementing these things at your church? Visit our Facebook page and let us know what has worked for you!