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.