The latest news from Faith Communities Today - exploring 2015-16 research findings from over 4400 American congregations.
New Report Uses Faith Communities Today Data to Compare Trends

A new report utilizing denominational oversamples from the Faith Communities Today 2015 Survey provides some interesting insights into how various Mainline Protestant traditions compare with one another. 

Kenneth Inskeep, Director of the Research Office for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) analyzed data from six denominational oversamples-the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS), the Seventh-day Adventist Church (SDA), the United Church of Christ (UCC), the United Methodist Church (UMC), the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), and the ELCA. 

Here are just a few key findings from the completed report.

All of the denominational compared declined in worship attendance from 2009 to 2014, except for the Seventh Day Adventist Church which increased nearly 10% in that time period. This resulted in a median worship attendance decrease of 15 people in the ELCA, 10 people in the LCMS, 2 people in the UMC and UCC, respectively, 3 people in the UUA, and an increase of 2 people in the SDA.


Change of worship style for congregations within each denomination resulted in different, but mostly positive, outcomes. In the ELCA, the UCC, and the UUA, changing worship style or adding a new service with a different style of worship correlated with fewer losses in worship attendance. In the LCMS, where the fewest congregations made a significant change, those that did experienced an increase in worship attendance, as did the UMC. In the SDA, those that changed or added a different style worship service experienced greater growth than those that did not.

According to Inskeep, "About a third of all congregations claim to be innovative [describe their worship service as quite or very innovative], with congregations in the UCC and the UUA communities most likely to be so, and congregations in the ELCA and LCMS least like to be so." In general, innovative worship was not related to growth in worship attendance, except in the UMC where being innovative was related to modest growth and in the UUA where innovation mitigated loss.

"Only congregations in the SDA, and to a lesser extent the congregations in the UMC give prayer, meditation or spiritual retreats a lot of emphasis or consider them to be a specialty," writes Inskeep. "In relationship to growth, the 26% of UMC congregations that emphasized prayer or meditation groups or spiritual retreats also experienced a 3% growth in worship attendance between 2009 and 2014."

Emphasis on religious practices in congregations is related to worship attendance in different, but positive, ways across denominations. A strong emphasis is correlated with an increase in worship attendance for the SDA, UMC, and, to a lesser extent, for the UUA, or a moderating of the decline in worship attendance for the ELCA, the LCMS and the UCC.

Each tradition possesses varying degrees of theological liberalism and conservatism within its respective congregations. The SDA tradition, with the highest number of congregations with a majority of conservative participants, is growing at the highest rate. Denominations with a more complex mix of liberal, moderate, and conservative congregations-as is the case for at least the ELCA, the LCMS, and the UCC-are declining in worship attendance. Interestingly, when looking at all congregations regardless of denomination, congregations with a majority of moderates are the ones to show the greatest rate of decline. Inskeep theorizes that perhaps the potential for conflict within more moderate or theologically diverse congregations is greater and thus presents a contributing factor for this decline.

These findings were just a few among many other interesting comparisons between traditions. The complete report will serve as a thought piece for each of the denominations whose data sets were included, and plans are being made to discuss the full report with respective leaders in some of these traditions. Once the report is made public on the web, we will inform our readership in this newsletter.
Coming Next Month:

To follow up on the positive Seventh-day Adventist trends reported by Kenneth Inskeep in the above article, we will highlight a report by Petr Cincala, Assistant Professor of World Mission Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary and Director of the Institute of Church Ministry in our December newsletter.

Resources from a Recent Conference

A number of the Faith Communities Today researchers, along with other experts in congregational research, presented in multiple sessions at a recent Religious Research Association conference. Four sessions designed for Clergy and other religious leaders were organized to address issues of importance in many churches. The topics include youth and young adult ministry, reaching the Nones, church vitality, and clergy attrition. The PowerPoint slides from these sessions' presentations are available along with contact information of each of the authors. These are fascinating research reports, including a sneak preview of the next Faith Communities Today report focusing on congregational vitality. Check them out!
Pew Research recently posted two interesting articles from their data analysis on subjects that are not always discussed.

The first addresses the level of shared religious beliefs in married Americans. It turned out, according to their data, that sharing religious beliefs with your spouse ranks fifth in importance behind common interests, sexual relations, money and like ideas about household chores. 

The second, and related report, examines the American families that are designated as interfaith, mixed religious tradition, marriages , totaling nearly 20 percent

And in the spirit of analyzing the Election to death... Pew also has the latest information  about how religious beliefs shaped voting patterns.

Faith Communities Today Reports in the news:

Joseph Crockett, author of our recent report on the Teaching and Learning in congregations, recorded a summary discussion of his findings. It can be found online at George Bullard's FaithSoaring Churches as a podcast. 

Remember there is also a similar FaithSoaring Churches  podcast there based on the subject of our previous Engaging Young Adults Report link by Kristina Lizardy-Hajib

The Religious Education Association also posted a note about this Religious Education report on their website.
Lessons from Churches that Reach Young Adults from the website  Leading Ideas from the Lewis Center for Church Leadership. 

Congregations Connecting with Young Adults
The Center for Congregations, Indianapolis, IN will host a workshop with facilitator Kristina Lizardy - Hajbi in late January. At this workshop participants will learn tips for engaging young adults regardless of your congregation's particular context.

Studies Reveal How To Serve Youth And Young Adults Better 
In the Spokane FAVS on September 9, 2016 - Kristina Lizardy - Hajbi , the writer of the report and the director of the United was highlighted in an article on how religious congregations are engaging young adults in America.

Passion, not money, needed for vibrant young adult ministries
In the Baptist News on Aug 26, 2016 .... " But they aren't totally powerless, either, says Kristina Lizardy - Hajbi , ... and author of its newly released 2015 report, " Engaging Young Adults .".

Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are!
From the United Church of Christ research blog Vital Signs and Statistics...  " Dr. Kristina Lizardy - Hajbi recently published a special report for Faith ... (FACT) titled, American Congregations 2015: Engaging Young Adults ."

What Churches Do Young Adults Attend? 
Oct 22, 2016 - From the Episcopal Church Cursillo Ministry newsletter ..." Engaging Young Adults , by Kristina Lizardy - Hajbi , draws on the American Congregations 2015 survey by Faith Communities Today."
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