data from the Fact2000 study
Larger congregations are more likely than others to welcome change , especially if they are Evangelical and located in growing suburban areas or Western states. Smaller and declining congregations, especially in towns and rural areas, do not feel as receptive to innovation.
[Note: The Historically Black and Roman Catholic denominations did not ask the change questions.]
Congregational age also makes a difference. Older congregations have more established patterns, and seem less willing or able to make changes, while more recently organized congregations appear more responsive to change.
Change happens when congregations receive new members. All groups report an acceptance of these new members. But Historically Black churches report more acceptance than other Christian groups. And acceptance of new members is rated even more highly among some World religions (Bahá’is, Mormon, and Muslim), which include faith groups that are growing at an exceptionally rapid rate.
Location makes a major difference as well. Congregations in suburbs are more likely to be growing, while those in rural areas are apt to be losing members, regardless of their openness to change or willingness to accept new members.
Where populations make it possible, change for many congregations also means an effort to increase their racial/ethnic diversity. Congregations most committed to increasing diversity are in the centers of metropolitan areas, while faith communities least committed to increasing their racial-ethnic diversity are located in rural areas, villages and towns, where the opportunities are fewer. By denomination, the Catholics report the highest level of effort to increase the inclusiveness of their congregations.
Changes in congregational worship, like growth, are associated with size and location, apparently as congregations respond to changing community and cultural conditions.
Congregations are more likely to have changed their worship in the past five years if they are larger, older and located in metropolitan areas. Evangelicals are the most likely to have changed worship, while Liberal Protestants are the least likely.
Congregational change in worship reflects a major strategy by congregations to adapt to socially transitional communities.
** Data from other sources (such as annual denominational reports) suggest a slight “halo effect” concerning growth in this report, that is, that congregational observers are giving the most favorable interpretation of their faith communities’ real conditions. Although their reported figures may be slightly – but not greatly – inflated, we believe these observers are providing significant insight about what works, and what does not, in their congregations.