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by Rev. Kristina Lizardy-Hajbi, Ph.D.
The following is adapted from a presentation delivered at the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion/Religious Research Association meeting in October 2018.

As U.S. culture and society have shifted over the last several decades, congregations have responded to these larger shifts in various ways. Many congregations have resisted these changes or have rejected them altogether, others have adapted in some ways but not in others, and still others have embraced these changes wholeheartedly. In any case, a congregation’s ability to change or adapt has become an important factor in recent years that requires deeper investigation.
In the FACT 2015 Survey , a series of questions on change was introduced as part of a new module on vitality. The substance of these questions is summarized as follows:

  • How are congregations doing in terms of change / have they made change in recent years?
  • What factors were important in making the change or hindered the ability to change?
Of the 4,436 congregations that participated in the survey, 1,260 (30.3%) stated that they were “doing pretty well making the necessary changes” or “pride[d] [them]selves on [their] embrace of—and success in—constantly changing to improve and adapt.” For these “high change” congregations, roughly one in ten (11.1%) indicated that leadership with training and expertise in leading change helped their congregation change “quite a bit” or “a lot.” This was the most significant factor, followed by rigorous assessment and planning study of the congregation and its community (8.3%) and familiarity with concrete models that provide realistic, vitalizing alternatives to the status quo (7.4%). Interestingly, only 5.1% of high change congregations indicated that assistance from the denomination (advice, money, etc.) helped them to change.

While these results provide some clues as to what factors are most helpful for congregational change, none of the survey options provided were selected as being the singular significant factor for the changes they made. When asked what other factors helped them to change, no factors were named frequently enough by respondents to be of general significance. At least for now, there seems to be no single factor that congregations can identify as being the catalyst for their ability to change; rather, there is likely a combination of several factors—both named and unnamed—that assist congregations in making changes.
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