Report: Biblical theology a predictor of church growth

Religion | Thriving mainline congregations remain committed to Biblical beliefs
by Samantha Gobba
Posted 11/23/16, 02:22 pm

The key ingredient for church growth in mainline Protestant denominations is Biblical theology, a recent Canadian study found.

In “Theology Matters: Comparing the Traits of Growing and Declining Mainline Protestant Church Attendees and Clergy,” Wilfrid Laurier University and Redeemer University College researchers reported a strong correlation between growth and literal interpretations of Scripture and “openness to the idea that God intervenes in the world.”

Led by Wilfrid Laurier University’s David Haskell, the group surveyed over 2,255 churchgoers and 29 clergy in Ontario—about half of them from shrinking and the other half from growing congregations in Canada’s four mainline Protestant denominations: Anglican Church of Canada, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, Presbyterian Church in Canada, and United Church of Canada.

“For all measures, those from the growing mainline churches held more firmly to the traditional beliefs of Christianity and were more diligent in things like prayer and Bible reading,” Haskell said.

In growing churches, most clergy read their Bibles daily, agreed that Jesus really rose from the dead, believed God performs miracles, and emphasized evangelizing non-Christians. In shrinking churches, most clergy did not read their Bibles daily, nearly half denied that Jesus really rose from the dead, most denied that God performs miracles, and most often named social-justice programs as their mission. Convictions of attendees generally reflected those of their clergy.

Growing churches, while holding to conservative theology, tended to adapt their styles to fit the modern age, with their musicians playing drums instead of church organs and church leaders cultivating programs for youth.

As a result, the study found, about two-thirds of attendees at growing churches were younger than 60, compared to one-third at shrinking churches. 

“Young people, like all people, are attracted to religion that’s vital and that offers clarity and purpose,” the Institute on Religion and Democracy’s Mark Tooley told me. “They may not agree with all of it, but nonetheless when they choose a religion, they’re not looking for a best friend who is going to tell them what they want to hear, but they’re looking for more of a parental figure who will tell them what they think they need to hear.”

Most mainline churches around the globe are shrinking by about 1 percent per year, a trend stretching back for decades. Last year, the Pew Research Center released findings that mainline Protestant denominations in the United States had shrunk by more than a million members a year between 2007 and 2014. Meanwhile, the number of evangelical Protestants, including those in the Southern Baptist Convention, Assemblies of God, and the Presbyterian Church in America, had grown.

In Canada, where the population has nearly doubled since the 1960s, membership at four mainline denominations dropped by half during that same time period, according to the report by Haskell’s team. 

Samantha Gobba

Samantha reports on the pro-life movement for WORLD Digital.

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  • Ben K
    Posted: Thu, 11/24/2016 10:56 am

    Interesting stuff here. I hadn't seen this anywhere else.

  •  Paul B. Taylor's picture
    Paul B. Taylor
    Posted: Sun, 11/27/2016 01:06 pm

    In judgment we experience first wrath and then mercy.  When reading the prophets, especially Jeremiah, we learn that we must repent and turn back to God before He gives us mercy.  Now, in the Western world of today, we are experiencing wrath.  This wrath is not focused on governments or unbelievers or those of other religions, but on the mainline Protestant churches.  We are being disciplined by the Father for turning away from the Gospel and embracing false doctrine.  Thus, if the Western world is to be granted mercy from the Father, the Protestant churches must return to Christ and the Apostles.

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